The Why and What of More Successful Returns to Work

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successful returns to work

We’re all looking for new ways to help teams work more effectively. Returning to work after the COVID-19 lockdowns and temporary office closures has created new challenges but also great opportunities to define better ways of working. As we’ve all seen in the news, various companies are beginning to require different in-office behaviors, from mandatory 5-day-a-week returns to hybrid working arrangements.

Some policies have gone down well, while others have created significant angst. One of the biggest issues is that companies don’t always do a good job of explaining why they want people to return to the office. Another is that companies haven’t found great ways to make onsite working drive its intended advantages.

How XY Sense Managed Our Successful Return to Work

XY Sense strives to help clients create ideal working environments. Our technology enables companies to use their spaces productively to maximize business value. But our commitment to empowering working environments extends beyond our devices and Platform.

For our own return to the office, we focused on setting policies and practices that made it a positive experience for everyone. Getting the right outputs requires the right inputs. We conducted an all-employee poll asking what would be most valuable for them. The feedback gave us a powerful insight – most people wanted to spend some time in the office when others would be there. But if someone came into HQ and found themselves the only person in the office, they would rather have stayed home. The value of onsite comes from the interactions, not the walls, desks, or even those fantastic spinny chairs.

Beginning in February, XY Sense instituted a new work model we call Onsite Weeks. It answers the “why” of spending time in the office and “how” we will make that time most valuable. On-Site Weeks is a hybrid model in which employees can work from home most times but come to the office one week per month when other team members are also onsite. Teams use these times to work even more closely together, build rapport, meet with clients and partners, and more.

Planning for Solo and Together Time

Employers continue to trial different tactics to encourage their teams to come back to the office, even if not for the full five days a week. Now with a few months of RTO data under our belts, we’re starting to see the tactics that are actually working.

Forward visibility makes our system work. By scheduling Onsite Weeks well in advance, team members can plan their travel and family commitments to accommodate this valuable in-office time. Staff members say that having a regular cadence has also helped them plan their solo “deep work” time versus deep work time so that people use their home and office time more productively. We were fortunate to have data from our XY Sense Sensors and Platform to inform how we configured spaces. These insights helped foster the right mix of casual and formal collaboration environments.

Our people tell us that they sense that coming in on those days offers unique advantages versus at-home work. It also preserves the “specialness” of these times, especially since we’ve learned to schedule our social activities, team workshops, new starter inductions, guest speaker, and visitor invitations around these weeks. People have learned to focus better, communicate, speed up group projects, and make better decisions.

Onsite Time Replaced XY Sense Offsites

Onsite Weeks are playing the same roles as our occasional “offsite” meetings used to. But better. You remember offsites, when you’d leave the office a forced separation from routine activities, emails, and Slacks. Offsites worked but were difficult to plan, often costly, and too infrequent. They required everything to be jammed into a short time window, with critical business decisions often forced into a few hours. The isolation from email and other tools often halted projects as decision-makers were unavailable to act. 

With Onsite Weeks, we’ve captured the benefits of the out-of-office summit combined with convenience, accessibility, and frequency. Our project plans and other data show that Onsite Weeks increase speed and progress on our most important initiatives. Ideas are shared more freely, questions and concerns get resolved immediately, roles and responsibilities are clearer, and decisions are made and communicated in real time. It’s even helped our wellness initiatives as staff members take mini-breaks with activities like pushups to get the blood moving.

Deliver a Successful Return to Work

Onsite Weeks work for us because we have a relatively small team and sufficient office space to accommodate everyone safely. The suitable model for your business depends on your team, offices, business needs, and company culture. Every business needs to find the right mix of policies and workplace characteristics to deliver their “whys” and “whats.” An engaged and trained workforce will embrace an in-office or hybrid workstyle that fits needs.

Offices must align with your new way of working. This challenge is about more than not packing staffers in like sardines or footing the bill for “mothballed floors” you don’t need anymore. More valuable is having the right amounts and types of space to pay off the value of in-office time.

5 Back to the Office Action Steps

If you’re addressing return to the office, consider this five-step approach to finding and implementing the right direction.

  1. Consult with employees. After two years of working from home, some of your staffers will be desperate to return to the office, while others will wonder why you want to put them back in traffic jams. Don’t make your policies feel autocratic. Find out what people like and dislike about in-office time and how the business operates today. Solicit perspective on how in-office time could help improve their professional productivity and personal experience. 
  2. Learn how your space is being utilized now. The answers may surprise you. Few companies have even basic insights on how many people are in their offices, where they spend time, and what resources they use. If yours is one of them, note that tools like the XY Sense Platform and Entry Sensors provide an easy-to-implement and highly cost-effective way to monitor occupant counts while ensuring unsurpassed security and privacy.
  3. Consider how to accommodate your team’s insights within your current environment. Do you have sufficient space to accommodate every person and group at once? If not, explore shared office space options to supplement. Or stagger onsite days. Develop a plan for the initial return, factoring in elements like staff counts, team dynamics, family demands, health concerns, and potential legal liabilities.
  4. Roll out your back-to-office approach and explain the reasoning. Show how you’ve addressed what staff members say they need from in-office time and how you have striven to balance everyone’s needs and preferences.
  5. As your team returns, leverage occupancy to assess progress and evolve to reflect the new normal. Prepare for both the unique challenges of the initial return and issues like occupancy planning and future office design.
Final Thoughts

In Onsite Weeks, we found a better way to work that has enhanced our efficiency, agility, and workplace culture. With vision and ideas backed by data, you and your company can create an environment and ways to work that are perfect for your needs.

If you’d like to learn more about Return to Work Strategies and the XY Sense Sensors and Platform, book a demo now or contact us.

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