Return to Office: Our team has spoken

And their feedback is surprising

Return to Office Survey
As July ends (where did it go??), talk is quickly turning to the topic of the year: the potential and perplexing Return to Office.

With ongoing uncertainty related to the pandemic, and near-constant public health advisories, it’s a topic that raises a lot of questions, key among them: Who will be working in the office, when and how often?

Employee survey: Design and process

To get some answers and help us prepare to welcome some or all of our roughly 170 team members to multiple offices across the country, we asked our employees for input (download a PDF version of our survey here).

Since we have staff in multiple locations and needed to have a clear sense of who would be working where and when, the survey was private (only HR had access to answers), but not anonymous. It was also important that everyone weighed in, so we aimed for (and achieved) a 100% response rate.

The result? We’re all headed in the same direction, but in different cars. That is, while we’re a connected team aligned on a common mission, we’re also an eclectic group with varying needs, concerns, issues and preferences.

Survey timeline – July 2021

Before we sent the survey to all staff, we gathered input on the questions from our leaders.

  1. Week 1 > Send final survey to all staff
  2. Week 2 > Send reminder
  3. Week 3 > Consolidate all findings (high-level percentages)
  4. Week 3 > Communicate general findings to staff
  5. Week 4 > Explore individual needs: identify technology requirements; assess office space to determine capacity; answer individual questions/concerns
  6. Week 4 and beyond > Plan our hybrid work model; train our leaders; develop our communications model; survey our employees regularly

Our approach: Our employees are in the driver’s seat

To determine our hybrid work model (in office, remote, or a combo), we opted for a centralized approach (company leadership decides based on individual input gathered through the survey), rather than the decentralized approach taken by some organizations (each leader decides for their own team). We felt this was the best way to remove any potential bias in favour of in-office or remote work, which could result in favouring one leader over another, while also ensuring that everyone feels heard.

As we finalize our model in the coming weeks, we are:
  • Developing leadership training materials, so our leaders are better prepared to manage hybrid teams;
  • Optimizing and standardizing our internal communications framework, so everyone is in the loop, regardless of their team and work location; and
  • Ensuring we have one culture for all (rather than an “in” culture and “out” culture), so everyone feels valued regardless of where they’re located and is equally set up for success.

Since the new model will be uncharted territory for everyone, we plan on meeting with each team member regularly to get a sense how it’s working for them. We will also send out a quarterly all-staff survey and will adjust our model based on input.

High-level findings: Hybrid work by the numbers

The results were surprisingly split between in-office, at home or a mix of the two.

ON-SITE FULL TIME AT HOME FULL TIME HYBRID (MIX OF ON-SITE & AT HOME) UNSURE
3% 26% 50% 21%
• 52% may change their mind in future • 41% want a designated office
• 9% want to log in from any office (hoteling)
• 40% want to work on-site sporadically (no schedule)
• 32% want 1-2 days/week
• 15% want 3-4 days/week
• 10% want 1-2 days/month

What our team wants

Aside from the top-level findings (who wants to work where and when) and concerns about safety and COVID (we remain vigilant with all our protocols), we also learned a lot about our team’s individual preferences.

Key takeaway: We all want different things when it comes to our ideal workplace. The challenge now is to see how we can accommodate so many variables!

More fun!

Not surprisingly, many of our team members are craving the office vibe. They miss fun, colleagues, connections, stories—everything that brings a workplace to life. They requested more team-building opportunities, social gatherings (virtual and in-person), opportunities to exercise during the day and ways to recognize team members and give kudos.

More flexibility (schedules)

Multiple team members asked for flexible schedules of almost every kind—four-day work weeks, the ability to work at home in the morning and in office in the afternoon, the flexibility to work on weekends instead of weekdays, the ability to choose when to come into the office—even last minute, and the ability to work when it suits them, as long as the work is done (i.e., the ROWE method).

More flexibility (locations)

Some of our team members want to come to the office only sporadically for team-building events/meetings; others want to move between different office locations and between different individual offices at each location.

Beefed up technology

After 16 months of Zoom calls, it’s not surprising many employees asked for better tech: external monitors, wireless keyboards, more powerful laptops and better headsets. They also asked for support in setting up their remote offices—new chairs and desks.

Surprises!

Most intriguing were the many requests we received for improving work life, both at home and in the office—everything from home lighting and mini fridges to yoga mats and a revamped dress code. Here are some standouts:

Furry, four-legged colleagues

We learned we’re an animal-loving bunch. A lot of our employees are already asking if we can accommodate four-legged team members in the office.

Coffee, snacks, lunch and more

A surprising number of respondents listed coffee, snacks and lunch as key things they’d like to see more of in the office. Fun fact: The topmost requested coffee condiment was oat milk.

We also received a request for a personal mini fridge in the office.

Casual every day

Rather than casual Friday, how about casual every day? Turns out, not many of our team members want to wear “hard pants” these days and are hoping to make more relaxed attire the norm when we return to the office.

Swag

To feel more connected, our team requested more branded items to have at home and in the office—mugs, pens, shirts, notebooks, chargers, highlighters.

Nap pod

Yes, it’s exactly as it sounds:  a pod in the office for daytime naps.

What we want as an employer

We’ll create the most positive workplace we can, with as much flexibility as possible, as long as we continue to achieve the following five overarching goals:

  1. Hire and retain a happy, healthy, engaged, diverse workforce
  2. Be accountable – get the job done
  3. Foster client success – place the best, most qualified candidates
  4. Foster candidate success – match more qualified candidates with the best jobs
  5. Drive business stability and success

What’s next?

We’re now finalizing our hybrid work model. First, we’ll review all input in further detail and will test a few scenarios. For example: Could we have cats and dogs together in the office? How would a team member in a business suit feel surrounded by colleagues in yoga pants and sneakers? Would everyone have mini-fridge envy if one person had a fridge in their office?

Then, it’s time for a team gut check to determine what works and doesn’t work. The key, of course, is a fine balance between team happiness and business outcomes. Stay tuned!

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