Want to Take the Best of Remote Work Back to the Office? Start Planning Now

After some adjusting, many workers came to enjoy the flexibility and efficiency of remote work. As association professionals head back to in-person operations in the near future, organizations can guide them by bringing remote work principles into the office.

We’re not yet returning to the office in full force—but that day isn’t far off. And when the time comes in earnest, professionals may struggle with getting into the rhythm of a shared workspace.

But we don’t need to scrap all that we learned about remote work productivity in the past year. To smooth employees’ transition back to in-person work, associations can take the best of remote work practices and incorporate them in an office setting.

“I don’t think most organizations have thought about it yet,” says Debra A. Dinnocenzo, author and president of remote workplace company VirtualWorks!, on plans to return to the office. “It’s important for organizations to start thinking about the decisions they need to make, and the [remote work] learnings that they need to reflect on.”

Start planning now for a successful return to the office later this year by identifying and incorporating positive remote work principles. Consider these tips from Dinnocenzo as you prepare.

Emphasize Flexibility

For many professionals, the freedom to work on their own terms has been one of the biggest benefits of remote work. Since the pandemic began, many organizations have allowed remote employees to work where they want, pick their hours, and tend to personal responsibilities—such as taking care of young children—during the workday.

Dinnocenzo says organizations should allow the same level of flexibility in the office since, in many cases, productivity has not dipped in the last year. This could mean organizations being more lenient with employee start and end times, and allowing them to work from home when they need to. Efforts can also extend to establishing policies that help working parents care for their children, such as paid family leave or financial assistance for child care. Remote work during the pandemic was particularly tough on working mothers, many of whom left their jobs to take on child care responsibilities at home.

“I think people should have flexibility for personal reasons, like if they need to get their kids to school and they need to arrive at 8:30 instead of eight o’clock,” Dinnocenzo says. “I think we have more openness to flexibility because of how much we flexed in the last year.”

Dinnocenzo argues that such worker flexibility will also benefit organizations, as offering flexible work hours will help with recruitment and retention.

Maintain Meeting Efficiency

As employees battled Zoom fatigue and burnout, there was plenty of discussion about running tighter meetings and avoiding unnecessary ones. Research suggests that meetings, though still frequent, have gotten shorter in the work-from-home setting during the pandemic.

“Remote meetings are pretty efficient: People show up, review the agenda, and start the meeting. We don’t do a lot of socializing, and we don’t do a lot of sidebar conversations,” Dinnocenzo says. “I’ve held [virtual] training sessions and I give people maybe 60 seconds [to join]. In the office, people tend to wander in and we’re chatting until they get there.”

Transfer this mindset into the office setting by employing a few best practices:

  • Keep meeting agendas focused to limit off-topic discussion.
  • Only invite employees who are vital to the meeting.
  • Place a strong emphasis on meeting start and end times.
  • Schedule stand-up meetings for quick check-ins.
  • Send materials to participants beforehand so that you don’t need to spend time in the meeting going through their contents.

Rework Your Performance Management Process

In the past year, remote employees have remained productive without the close, in-person supervision from higher-ups that took place in the office. As a result, some organizations have redefined performance management to focus less on behavioral goals—how a job should be done—and more on outcomes.

“Remote work is, I think, the best thing that ever happened to performance management,” Dinnocenzo says. “This big question has always been, ‘If they’re not here in the office, how do I know they’re really working?’ I would say to leaders that if you don’t have clear metrics, deliverables, or deadlines to know what you want from people and if they delivered it, there’s something totally wrong with your performance management.”


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Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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