May 24

Return to the office: Create a plan that works for your team

As Michigan clears the way for vaccinated workers to return to their offices beginning today, my team and I are starting this Monday as we have for the last 14 months – from our home offices.

Not because we haven’t taken the shot – thankfully, all of us are fully vaccinated. Not because we’ve given up our downtown Grand Rapids office space – we’re still paying our rent, utilities and parking like clockwork. And not because we don’t want to see one another – we’ve all missed our in-person connections during the pandemic.

But because we HAVE worked from home for the past 14 months – and I don’t want our return to 100 Grandville to be as jarring, disruptive and unsettling as our departure was last March.

As we consider heading back to the office, I’ve tried to be deliberate, intentional and inclusive in developing our plan. I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject, most recently this column in the Washington Post, to learn how other offices are facing their reboot. I’ve connected with our attorneys at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP to understand what we can – and can’t do – legally. And I’ve talked with our corporate, municipal, nonprofit and education clients about their plans in my effort to establish best practices.

I’ve figured out two things from all this information gathering: first, there is no-one-size-fits-all approach for heading back to the office. And second, just because you’re allowed to do something doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve taken the following steps to develop our plan, which is still a work in progress – and about as far removed from our head-for-home skedaddle at the beginning of this madness.

  • Talk with your team. As Gov. Whitmer began signaling she would ease COVID-19 restrictions, I asked each of our team members to think about returning to the office. We had the initial discussion in a Monday morning team meeting, then I reserved time in our weekly one-on-one meetings, or O3s, the following week for private conversations. It’s critical, I think, both to give your team time to consider what feels comfortable to them and a confidential setting in which to discuss. I was able to listen and ask questions before developing our plan.
  • Assess client needs. I then took a hard look at our client needs. What have we been unable to handle because of our remote locations? What projects have we been unable to fulfill? Where have we been unable to meet requests? The answer was “very little,” which is a testament to our tremendous team and their agility with roller skates. (See our social contract.) The pandemic made video shoots more challenging, but with an eye to safety and the flexibility of our clients, we even made those work. So, there’s been no great clamor of unmet needs propelling us back to a single office.
  • Consult the professionals. As noted above, I’m talking with our labor attorney about some new policies I’d like to put in place. Warner launched a COVID-19 Resource Center early on in the pandemic, and it has been an incredibly helpful clearinghouse for up-to-date and accurate information. I’ve taken all their helpful counsel into account in developing our plan.
  • Talk with your team – again. I used another of our Monday team meetings to share our return-to-the-office plan with everyone. I’m fortunate our team is of the size that we can accommodate all needs – but I recognize this won’t work for everyone. I gave everyone the opportunity, again publicly in a group setting and privately in our O3s, to ask questions and to share concerns.
  • Be flexible. What sounds good on paper may not work once you actually get back to the office. While it’s important to have a plan, it’s equally as important to adjust that plan to fit with your new reality – and your team’s comfort level.

So, starting Monday, June 7, you’ll be able to find our team back in Suite 301 each and every Monday. On Fridays, which are half-days for us during the summer months, we’ll all be working from our home office. Tuesday through Thursday, it’s dealer’s choice. I’ve asked each of our team to let me know each Monday where they plan to “office” that week.

This approach enables everyone to tailor a schedule that meets their needs – whether it’s quiet time to crank through a big writing project from the solitude of a home office or collaborative brainstorming around our conference room table or somewhere in between. Whatever the schedule, I’m confident we won’t miss a beat – and I’m looking forward to buying donuts in just a few weeks.

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