returning to the office

Why is your organization returning to the office? Does the team really need to be together? If so, should people just suck it up and get back to work like they did in the good old days and quit whining about it?  There’s one question that can help put it all in focus and cut through some of the confusion.

Odds are, your organization is struggling with the whole returning to the office (RTO) process. If people don’t come in, the senior leadership is worried that the culture is suffering and people aren’t really engaged. Many people who have agreed to go back to the office are openly resentful of having to spend the time and money on a commute and don’t really see the advantage to themselves.

Questions to Consider

Whether people should be back in the office full time, part time, or when they darned well feel like it depends on a number of factors:

  • What is the best way to get the work done and service your customers?
  • Is your team being productive as it is currently constituted?
  • What changed (positively and negatively) when they started working apart, and have things gotten better or worse since the RTO?
  • How do people feel about returning to the office?

You could probably create a survey four pages long with all the knowns, unknowns, known knowns and known unknowns about this process. Let’s simplify things.

One simple question (with no-so-simple answers)

Ask yourself, your organization and your individual people this question: What does (or should) happen when you are co-located that doesn’t happen otherwise?

The answers might be more complex than you think. Yes, people can quickly collaborate and get answers. That’s a good thing. There is a chance to socialize and build relationships. Also a net plus. It also can be hard to focus on “thinking work” with all the office hubbub going on. Meetings can be exercises in group-think and being caught up in the moment, with no time for reflection after the fact.

Does having people arrive at work grumpy and already exhausted from a commute make them better workers while they’re there? Are they useless after three o’clock because they are already thinking about their commute or whether they’ll pick up their kids from daycare on time? And the company has a reasonable expectation that they are paying for people’s time, they should adjust accordingly. After all, it’s the company’s dime and misery is optional.

Making more informed decisions about returning to the office

Understanding the answer to our key question can help make better decisions about how people spend their time. For example, if the whole point of having them together is for collaboration and brainstorming, that’s when the meetings should happen. Quiet, contemplative work should be done when people aren’t constantly distracted and interrupted.

Many companies find that it’s easy to have “no-meeting Fridays” when people work from home a day or two a week because they’ve used the time together creatively.  Conversely, bringing people together in a noisy, buzzing environment then expecting them to do the same tasks they did when they were relaxed and focused sometimes seems counter-productive.

There’s no single right answer

There are no absolutes in how your team should work. Being in the same place at the same time might be the right answer, although in the short term it could mean turnover and unhappy people. On the other hand, having people who are glad not to have a commute is not a compelling reason for not getting together when that’s the right answer for  the project or customer.

No matter what the answer to that question is, asking it will help you be intentional and proactive in creating the culture you want your team to build. In a perfect world, what you’ll end up with is not a compromise work situation so much as a new way of working that surpasses what you had before.

Our new book, The Long-Distance Team: Designing Your Team for Everyone’s Success is coming in February, and available for preorder now. It might be a good starting point as you think about what your workplace will look like going forward.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

The latest book from Wayne and Kevin shows leaders how to design a team culture that has a one-team mindset and gets great results under hybrid-work conditions. You can pre-order The Long-Distance Team: Designing Your Team for Everyone’s Success now.

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