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Back to the Office or Happy at Home: What Will Agencies Do?

It’s been almost a year since the COVID-19 pandemic started impacting work life. Like many of you, we quickly adopted or refined policies to make work-from-home (WFH) work for us. You’ve probably adjusted things several times since then to come up with a sustainable solution. So once we can go back into the office, the question is: should we? Here are five factors that may influence your plans for the road ahead.

Before we dive into that, let’s take a moment to establish that the genie is out of the bottle. Now that we’ve proven that full-time remote work can get the job done, it’s going to be difficult for organizations to repeal the policy. In a January 2021 poll, more than 60% of white-collar workers said they want to continue working from home after the pandemic, and 30% said they would quit if forced to return to the office. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that 37% of professional employees were already working from home (at least some of the time) before the pandemic, it seems likely that the offices of the near future will be hybrid cultures, with some employees in person and others working remotely. But that’s a story for another blog…

Factors to consider when thinking about your future workplace and workforce:

  • Change is good: Who would have thought we could launch widespread digital transformation over a few months? Every leader can point to positive things that came out of the world’s largest WFH experiment. For agencies, the pandemic was an opportunity to figure out how to make remote operations work, after years of people saying it couldn’t be done. Let’s use what we’ve learned to solve the challenges ahead, from how to handle snow days or after-hour emergencies, to accommodating working parents or others needing flexible hours.
  • Your workforce knows what they want: If you’re not sure how your employees feel about returning to the office or working from home—just ask them. I think we’ll see employees questioning policies that are inflexible. If they can do the same work from home, they’ll ask, “Why should we come to the office?” I believe we’ll see 20-30% of the workforce wanting to continue working from home, and nearly everyone expecting a more flexible office-to-home situation. There will be those who can’t wait to be back in the office or back with their full teams. Be deliberate in how you accommodate all employees’ desires and use new policies to change culture – and maybe even attract new talent.
  • There is no new normal: Organizations can’t pretend that things will return to how they were pre-pandemic—things are different, employees are different and your employee experience needs to change. Look at the policies that you’ve long held to see if they are mission-critical and don’t be afraid to try something new. Research has shown that productivity rates soared as much as 47% since March 2020. That boost is attributed to no commute, less distraction, more solitary time and more exercise (which relieves stress). What can you do to ensure your workforces’ needs are met and the productivity trend continues at your organization?
  • Consider your economic impact: It’s unlikely that organizations will give up their office space completely, and that’s good news for the cities and regions that support government facilities. The scale of government means that infrastructure and businesses are counting on having employees in offices. From train schedules to mom-and-pop lunch spots, your WFH policies have a ripple effect.
  • Be clear about criteria: It’s important to be clear about the conditions governing when you can return to unrestricted work in the office, be it infection rates,  vaccination rates or other factors. Communication and transparency allow your workforce to understand decisions and trust leadership. It’s also important to establish clear expectations and provide education and safety protocols for employees in the office and at home.

Organization leadership – as well as managers, who haven’t been thinking about the future workplace – should spend time considering the factors involved and the challenges of a hybrid workplace—and prepare to pivot once again.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Winter 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Edward Tuorinsky, Managing Principal at DTS, a government consultant business, is a service-disabled veteran who brings nearly two decades of experience to DTS in the areas of leadership, management consulting and information technology services.

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