The challenges companies face returning to the office

In 2012 the Expedia head of customer experience found that for every hundred customers who booked travel on Expedia, fifty eighty of them placed a call afterward for help. The primary appeal of an online site is self-service, so what was happening? The number one reason customers called was to get a copy of their itinerary. Twenty million calls at an approximate cost of $5 per call, that’s a $100 million problem! He quickly realised that Expedia’s primary focus was on call centre efficiency and productivity metrics but perhaps they had forgotten to look at preventing problems in the first place. The moment they automatically sent out an itinerary after each booking these calls practically disappeared.

We need to be mindful about this story as we transition back to the office. There is much talk around how productive we are being or not being working remotely, but as we transition back we need to consider the larger organisational and cultural issues at play.

Firstly, putting in any sort of a policy about hybrid working like a 3-2 model might give people an understanding of what is allowed in a post-covid world but what happens if those in power all come back five days a week. Is there suddenly an unwritten rule that you ‘go back to the office for a career and you stay home if you want a job’. Without considering the behavioural changes that need to be implemented you could very quickly have a two-tier employee and this no doubt will affect women greater as many of the studies are showing.

Secondly, many employees are very clear on what they want to do post-covid with a clear idea of how they work best and what makes them productive, but they need to understand that unless they are a freelancer, they are part of a collective. There are many things that happen in organisations that we cannot put efficiency metrics on. We all know that the better connected we are with people, the easier it is to work with them, however how will this work if we start to see less and less of people (in real life, not Zoom). Think of the future of 24-hour global teams, people joining for short periods to input their skills all to improve companies agility and efficiency. Perhaps this feels good in theory but it’s not so good for humans who cannot remember the names of their colleagues. Nobody in a leaving speech ever talks about the projects they are leaving they talk about the great friends they have made along the way.

Here are five things to think about as you look at transition back to the office:

  • Experiment for the next year, do not put any firm policies in place, the employer and employee need to figure out what works best for the company and the individual. Also ensure you look at the practices not just the policies of the organisation.
  • Look at how you will reasonably manage a team if only half are in the office at any one time, this is just not a technology problem, it is about pausing to consider what needs to happen to engage everyone regardless of where they are.
  • Remember why you have an office – it’s a place of meeting, workshopping, bumping into people, a place of fun and a place of learning. Its not a place where people sit with headphones on working on their own for eight hours. Use the office for the right reason.
  • Remember all employees fundamentally want the same things – trust, respect, challenge, clear expectations and fairness. This is the same if you are 17 or 70. These are the things that need to underpin a great work culture.
  • Be clear on your measures of success and the language around this. Too often the best employees get praised for the hours worked, and while no one is arguing that hard work is not important, long hours does not necessarily equate to great work, it could equate to that employee having a lot of time to work.

Remember the Expedia example, rather than trying to get more efficiency, look up and consider preventing problems in the first place….and this is a hard problem that we are all facing for the first time.

Peter Cosgrove is a future of work expert and Managing Director of Futurewise Ltd. Futurewise help organisations navigate the future of work.

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