Orchestrating a successful “Big Return”


When I think of an orchestra, I think of the different sections of instruments, the strings, the horns, percussion. The musicians who play those instruments all have great affection and commitment to music, but their skill sets are very different as are, most likely, their personalities. It takes a savvy conductor to create the conditions for great music to be played by them all, as one.

So it is with your people. They are all committed to the company, but the skill sets of those in marketing are very different from the skill sets of those in finance. (And you don’t need me to tell you about their distinct individual personalities.) As their “conductor”, you’ll need to be savvy to bring them back to the office in a way that enables them to “make great music”.

How to begin? The natural inclination would be to get everyone on a remote town hall meeting and “tell” them the plan for the big return, perhaps even explain why it’s important for the health of the organization. Both of these things are necessary to communicate for sure, but I would offer that there is something missing, something that is of paramount interest and concern to each of your people; no matter their department, skill set or personality.

It is this: What’s in it for them?

Why would it be beneficial for them to return to the office? What would make getting dressed (like, all the way, not just from the waist up), leaving home for the whole day, and commuting somewhere farther than the kitchen worthwhile? For them?

Lots of reasons not spilling out of your head? I’ll bet. But just because the reasons why they would want to come back to the office aren’t immediately evident, doesn’t make them any less important.  In fact, clearly articulating 3-5 reasons why coming back to the office is good for them could very well mean the difference between a successful or disastrous big return. So, take a deep breath and have a think about it, as my British friends would say. I’ll bet you can come up with some reasons (you only really need five) why returning to the office is good for your people.

Here are a few to get you started.

Connection: Many people spent most of the pandemic alone. Perhaps they’ve grown accustomed to only having live conversations with their cat, but my bet is that the opportunity to be around colleagues and friends would get them out of their sweats and into some work attire.

Visibility: Especially for those who are early in their careers, or those who are eager to be recognized as future leaders, being seen is key. While you don’t want to scare those who will continue working remotely (perhaps because it makes more sense for their department) it’s not a bad idea to remind people that nothing beats being there live and in-person.

Community: If you’ve built a strong company culture pre-pandemic, it shouldn’t be hard to remind your people how much they enjoyed being together. Do you have a tradition of celebrating milestones? Big wins? Holidays? Now is the time to highlight those events, perhaps even forecasting what’s to come.

Variety: Yes, we’re creatures of habit, but we’re also highly susceptible to boredom. Describe for them the dynamic aspect of a day in the office – meetings, walks at lunch, (free snacks?). Being able to work in an environment other than their home may be a welcome change. It will spark their imagination, get creative juices flowing and make their days new and different from what they were for the past almost two years.

Casual Collaboration: One thing being remote cannot do is allow us to bump into one another in a hallway, next to the coffee machine, or on our way into a meeting. These “accidental” meet-ups inspire ideas, support of ideas, additions to ideas, etc. These fortuitous micro-meetings also plant the seeds of recognition, relationship, and reward. And they only happen live and in-person.

Keep in mind, each of these five benefits have one important thing in common: they are benefits to your people  – not to the organization. Each of these is an answer to their question, “What’s in it for me?” And each of your people needs to see a few solid reasons why coming back to the office will be good for them.

As you plan your big return, give a great deal of thought to your people, and why coming back to the office will be in their best interest. It will make the Big Return, and your orchestration of it much, much easier. You’ll all be making beautiful music together, and you’ll be heard.

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