What’s the return to work going to look like? Leaders are facing big decisions. Not only do they need to choose between remote, onsite, and hybrid models, but they also must determine how best to implement their chosen model and navigate its benefits and shortcomings.

But, each time there is a change or a perceived change, it’s actually an opportunity. This moment is a chance for you to return to the basics and carve a new, potentially more effective, path from there. After all, nobody remembers what normal is supposed to look like anymore.

#1 – Listening Must Happen Before Any Big Decisions or Proclamations

Make time to sit down with your team members, ask questions, and listen to their answers. It’s not a sign of weakness to listen or gather information. Rather, listening can be a form of empowerment.

  • Ask your team members about the level of productivity they’ve been able to achieve and the systems they’ve built to help with their work.
  • Find out what they consider vital and important.
  • Encourage them to share their worries and concerns.

Genuinely engage your team members and listen to their feedback. This creates a balance where everyone feels heard and that their contributions are valued. If you’re to get everyone on board with your plans for moving forward, then this is a key step.

If people don’t agree with the models you implement, or they feel as if you aren’t listening to their concerns, they might vote with their feet. The last thing you want is to order everyone back to the office, then immediately have to replace 50% of your team.

#2 – Don’t Do Anything Before You Do the Reading

You also need to take time to educate yourself about industry trends and read through available research. Inform yourself about this new work environment. Being an effective leader means taking advantage of every resource available and gaining a deeper understanding about what’s new, what’s working, and what that means for you.

Assess the situation properly instead of acting rashly and/or imposing positional authority.

#3 – Consider What Works Best for Your Business and Not Just What Works Best

You must fundamentally understand your business, taking the time to analyze how it is organized, in order to ensure success. Every organization has unique needs and, likewise, every work model has pros and cons. 

The Flexibility of Remote Work

Remote work’s main benefit is its greater level of flexibility. Remote team members typically appreciate the dynamic where their productivity is what matters and not the amount of time they log. This can be a powerful retention tool.

The downside of remote work is that it can be very isolating [LINK:<https://www.firedupculture.com/5-ways-to-successfully-engage-remote-employees/>]. Typically, when beginning remote work, there’s an initial spike in productivity but, without an intentional effort to keep people connected, that productivity begins to disappear and even decline after a few months. 

Bringing Everyone Together Onsite

When everyone is working together in an office environment, it cultivates a sense of cohesion. Some people like to go to work. They prefer interacting face-to-face and experiencing variety in their days. Teams are more easily built when people are physically together and conversations occur organically.

However, not everyone finds this model conducive to productivity. Onsite work often comes with longer commutes, more restrictive schedules and, oh yeah, no sweatpants allowed.

Shaping the Hybrid Model

The hybrid model really challenges people’s thinking. Because it is so new, many leaders are still figuring out how it will work, what it will look like, and the best way to set it in motion. If you’re considering a hybrid model, you’ll need to ask yourself:

  • Where do I want to continue to maintain control?
  • Where do I want to empower my team members to take control?
  • When do I need people actually working together?
  • Where can I allow my team members to set their own schedules?

With the hybrid work model, listening is more important than ever. You’ll need the input of your team to ensure the structure you implement will be successful.

#4 – Communication Gets the Team Involved

When your team members feel as if you’ve listened to them and that you’ve communicated the rationale for your decisions, then they’re more willing to do what it takes to make your plans successful. 

If they feel that they’ve been left out of the loop, that prompts a very different response. They might wonder:

  • What’s the point of this?
  • Why are we all coming into the office every single day?
  • Why can’t I come into the office every single day?
  • Does anyone have a good reason for this?
  • Do they care what I think?

These questions can lead to disillusion, frustration, and, ultimately, churn.

#5 – Keep Looking to the Future

If you’re not working on your model, your model is going to work on you. You can’t adhere to the old ways just because they might have worked in the past. Change comes too quickly for that. 

The Great Resignation will push some of these changes, but there will also be an impact from highly skilled individuals, people who figure out what works well, creating the new industry standards that everyone else will follow. You have to decide whether you want to be at the forefront of creating a culture that is supportive and attractive, or if you want to slip further and further behind.

Want more? Read our guide: A Comprehensive Guide to Leading Through Difficult Times