Return to Work Takes on a New Meaning?

By: Pierre Morrisseau

I thought I would share our recent attempts to bring our employees back together face to face, a topic I think is a priority with most business leaders. I also want to share why we think returning to the office and to some level of “normal” is so important.

First, a look backward: Mere days after the pandemic was announced, we celebrated our success at moving all of our more than 200 employees in 18 locations to work-from-home status. Because of our work over the past decade perfecting remote work and video meetings to better serve our clients anywhere at any time, we were able to have everyone up and running in just days.

Now, as the pandemic drags on—heading towards two years—bringing our employees back into the office continues to present enormous frustration and challenges including:

  • Childcare challenges for parents
  • Caregivers in proximity to vulnerable loved ones
  • Schooling and scheduling through continual change in status
  • Fear of contracting the virus from others in the office
  • Increasing infection rates even amongst the vaccinated
  • Changing employee attitudes towards the flexibility of working at home
  • And not least of which, COVID fatigue

Add to this multiple-variant-related surges in infections, and companies everywhere are facing the very real possibility of a permanently altered workplace.

In a recent Korn Ferry survey, 20% of employers said they did not expect to return employees to work until well into 2022 and 32% said that they would never return to an office. This is highly disturbing for companies like ours that believe strongly that collaborating faced to face is essential to solving clients’ most pressing challenges. It is this belief that is guiding us to try new ways to bring our teams back together safely and in a way that employees will feel good about.

Like many firms, we have experimented with rotating small groups into our offices for one to three days each week. In our largest office in Syracuse, this means about thirty people on any given day. All of the usual sanitary precautions and procedures are in place including mask wearing when not at your desk or when you cannot maintain at least six feet of distance from another. Over time, we have had nearly 100% of our employees back into their offices at least one day per week.

As employees became more comfortable with the idea of coming to work, we began instituting a few events including a carnival-like outdoor event with food trucks, dunk tank, games and more. These events were designed to help ease employees’ fear while helping them to relearn connectedness.

Most recently, we held our first large-scale meeting, inviting employees from all our offices to meet at a large offsite venue for a full day we called
Better Together. Our greater objective was to pull people out of their remote work areas with plenty of good food, fun and safe camaraderie. We also wanted to take the time to reinforce how important working face to face is to achieving our mission of solving problems for our clients, helping people, and supporting our communities.

We invited in organizational excellence and leadership development experts, Daneli Partners, to administer a Gallup®  assessment with all attendees. The assessments outlined each person’s strengths and weaknesses and became the basis of the day’s meeting. With data, we were able to graphically see how diverse our workforce is and begin to imagine teams where those strengths may be paired perfectly to create super teams. We then paired teams to work together to solve puzzles.

At the end of the day, everyone had a great time seeing and being with each other again. They learned new things about themselves and their peers and renewed bonds. More importantly, it was just one more step in what will likely be a long process of returning our employees to the workplace.

I would love to hear what others are doing to bring their employees back, and always willing to share what we are doing at OneGroup.