After the trauma of 2020, many of us were hoping that 2021 would be a banner year by comparison. Vaccines had become widely available by early spring, people could once again socialize almost anywhere, live entertainment venues opened up their doors, people started traveling, schools were back in session, and many organizations were starting to send their employees back to the office. But as new variants began to emerge, many of our most optimistic plans have become far less certain.
And that continued uncertainty is weighing heavily on employees who have little guidance to help them plan their lives for 2022 and beyond. If the following conversation sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I hear exchanges like these all the time:
“So, where does your organization stand in terms of returning to the office? Ours claims to be sending us back at least a couple days a week starting sometime in January.”
“All I know is that our organization is moving to a completely hybrid model, whatever that means.”
“Do you have any clue whether all jobs will be done remotely, some of the time, or just some? Do you have a say about where you work, and how often?”
“Even if I wanted to give input, I have no idea how that would work. And I get the feeling no one would listen anyway.”
“How can you plan your life with so little information?”
“It’s almost impossible. It sounds like we’re pretty much in the same boat, doesn’t it?”
“You got that right.”
While many organizations have declared that they will be moving to a hybrid work model “sometime in the New Year,” few organizations I work with have actually communicated many details to their teams as of this writing. Naturally, this dearth of information is making people anxious. They’re asking questions like: Should I reply to the recruiters who are offering jobs with more flexibility? Can our family continue to get by with just one car? Will I be able to drop off my kids at school (or my partner at the train station) before work? Do I need to rearrange my life to build back in 90 minutes of commute time each day? Can I be loyal to an employer that doesn’t seem to care what works best for my life?
So why haven’t more organizations been more decisive about their future work plans? I think it comes down to fear… of losing employees who want more flexibility than the organization may be willing to give, or losing those who don’t feel safe working close to others; fear of announcing return-to-office plans that end up having to be scrapped for one reason or another; fear of getting a backlash from employees who see the new policies as unfair; or fear that a hybrid work model may somehow “dilute” their organizational culture.
Mostly, I think many organizations are stuck because they aren’t sure what it will take to create and implement a hybrid model that works for them. (And many realize that this is no time to force-fit “best practices” from other organizations, if for no other reason that it’s too soon for many organizations to declare success.) Despite assurances from those who may insist that it’s quite possible to make a smooth transition to a hybrid model, in reality, it’s usually a pretty messy proposition, and understandably so.
In working with clients who are planning to move to some sort of hybrid work model, I offer the following questions to help make well-informed decisions that they can defend, which can help pave the way for an easier (but never really easy!) transition to hybrid, whatever form that might take: