Back to School and Back to the Office – Again

Another fall season brought another set of return to office deadlines. The headlines earlier this month were everywhere — “Enough Bosses Say,” “The Office’s Last Stand” and “Will Return to Office Get Serious in September?” were just a few.
Sure, there’s been an uptick in office occupancy this month, but as one recent headline noted, “Many Workers are Back in the Office. It’s Still Nothing Like Before.”
Some look at the rising occupancy levels as a sign that return to office, or the boss is winning.  But, if that’s your focus, you’re far from the real prize — the high level of performance and well-being that are possible with a well-executed flexible work strategy. Issuing a return to office mandate with a one-size fits all hybrid work strategy is NOT well-executed work flexibility.
A winning high performance flexibility strategy:

Leads with the “work (culture, purpose, job tasks)” or “what do we need to do.” Then looks not just at where but how and when that work is done best. The how, when and where are all inter-related and must be in service of the work.
Changes the language to reflect what high performance flexibility actually means. It’s a flexible, dynamic way of operating across workplaces, spaces and time with strategic, coordinated intention. That means “hybrid work arrangement or policy,” which are too “where” focused and infer something that sits outside of the business, is replaced with “flexible work strategy.”
Executes fairly through a consistent process, not policy. A process that operationalizes the flexible way people work based on the unique needs of business lines, teams and individuals.
Is not solely HR’s responsibility. They can’t “own” the day-to-day execution of flexibility. Following the consistent process noted above, business units need to set their own operating guardrails and then plan and coordinate the work within the set parameters. That requires training managers, teams and individual employees in the skills and processes they need to partner for flexible work success.
These basics can move us past the endless false starts of or resistance to RTO. Take the best of what we learned the last two years, the best of what we did before then, and start to experiment with what’s going to be the best next.