Workplace Resolutions: Transforming Return to Office Mandates With The Tools Of Coaching

Explore coaching techniques for seamless office re-entry in 2024. Learn to build collaborative, inclusive workplaces with our expert guide for leaders.

Office Re-Entry: Coaching Techniques to Enhance the Transition Back to the Workplace

Over the past several years we’ve witnessed a sea-change in the world of work. We’re also starting to see the many ways that coaching can revolutionize the workplace, as well as what can (and does!) unfold in workplaces where a coaching mindset was absent.

In the spirit of reflection, resolutions, and curiosity, we wonder: what could organizations do differently in 2024 for the betterment of both employees AND the bottom line?

This is the start of our Workplace Resolution series, where we reflect on pivotal headlines from  last year, and how coaching could change the narrative in 2024.

The Challenge: Return to Office Mandates

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way millions approached work, particularly where and how it gets done. Work from home mandates paved the way for commute-free working opportunities, ushering in what many believed to be the future of work – a future that was accessible and flexible, embracing distributed workforces.

As time passed, it became clear that the opportunity for lasting change in the future of work was shaky. WFH Research has reported that, by the end of 2023, only 12.4% of employees remained fully remote, with 87.6% working onsite in hybrid or full-time capacities. 

While lauded as a necessary move by business leaders around the globe, many employees disagree with new return to office mandates, and their resignation letters have proven it.

In a survey conducted by Unispace, 42% of employers who were issued return to office mandates have since reported higher levels of attrition than expected, and nearly one-third are now experiencing recruiting challenges. With talent management challenges persisting among return-to-office organizations, employees and applicants alike are making their dissatisfaction clear. 

But get this: contrary to what the data now shows, employees have not been wholly opposed to returning to the office. 

Just like employers, employees also see both sides of the coin. The benefits to working remote – flexibility, no commute, and less stress overall – are just as valuable as the benefits to working in-office, which include increased opportunities for collaboration, culture-building, and productivity. In fact, prior to returning to office, Unispace reported that nearly one-third of employees felt “happy, motivated, and excited” about the prospect of returning to office. 

So, what happened?

The Problem: Leadership Disconnect

While employees initially felt positive about the possibility of returning to the office, what many actually experienced was not conducive to their happiness, motivation, or excitement. 

Instead of an opportunity to co-create a flexible future of work that benefited all parties, employees were greeted with return-to-office mandates from leaders that did little to justify its business purpose or value. There was also little acknowledgement of the life-altering changes that may need to take place in their employee’s lives for a return-to-office plan to occur.

Without employee input, autonomy, or trust in their abilities to co-create solutions that work best for themselves, their teams, and the organization at large, the issue becomes much greater than flexibility and collaboration. Without these considerations, resentment and resistance is given room to grow as psychological safety and culture erodes. 

2024: Doing Things Differently

In hindsight, many leaders (80%) admit that they would have reconsidered their return-to-office strategies of 2023 if they had access to workplace data. (Source: Envoy)

Hindsight is 20/20, but this new level of self-awareness has the power to change the future, if we let it. 

How can leaders utilize a coaching lens to improve their employee relations while also meeting needs that align with a return-to-office policy? This is a workplace resolution we explore as we center the core values upheld by the International Coaching Federation.

Creating A Culture of Collaboration

“A commitment to develop social connection and community building”  - ICF Core Values

While collaboration has been cited as one of the top benefits of working in an office by leaders and employees alike, employees were largely left in the dark as return-to-office mandates were launched. 

So how can leaders prioritize collaboration as they prepare for major changes like return-to-office mandates? Here’s just one simple idea: ask for input and engagement. Listening sessions or surveys provide employees with an opportunity to share their opinions and experiences, setting the foundation for a future of work that is co-created. 

A coaching mindset is characterized by curiosity instead of traditional command-and-control leadership, and the benefits of such an approach truly go both ways. Feedback and collaboration can provide employers with the data that they need to create policies that meet the needs of the business while also ensuring that their most important assets – employees – are considered, cared for, and heard.

Honoring Humanity: Building People-Centered Workplaces

“A commitment to being humane, kind, compassionate, and respectful towards others.” - ICF Core Value

Long gone are the days of assuming that employees should lead two separate lives: work and personal. While work-life balance remains as vital as ever, it’s important to acknowledge  that employees are whole people who bring their unique lives and experiences into the workplace, whether it’s at home or onsite. 

Understanding that a workforce is composed of whole people – leaders included – can be key to creating a future of work that considers the needs of all.

According to the ICF, humanity looks like…

  • Being open to other points of view.
  • Creating authentic relationships that support honesty, transparency, and clarity.
  • Continuously seeking and developing self-awareness.
  • Accepting responsibility for actions and learning from them.
  • Committing to inclusivity, dignity, self-worth, and human rights.

To create a culture that centers humanity, employers should work to build a workplace  that prioritizes self-awareness, authentic connections, and learning. When leaders develop honest, transparent, and clear relationships with employees, all parties understand what is happening within an organization, why decisions are being made, and why they matter.

In a human-centered organization, these relationships go both ways, creating opportunities to receive feedback from employees, offering a lens that can either validate or challenge the leader’s point of view. It is from these constructive and honest conversations that strengthened policies and guidance can be built to keep an organization moving toward successful transformations.

Creating Equitable Policies

“A commitment to use a coaching mindset to explore and understand the needs of others so I can practice equitable processes at all times that create equality for all.” - ICF Core Value

As work-from-home mandates have been issued, employees were confronted with many challenges, including the costs of childcare, pet care, and daily commutes, as well as accessibility to all of these needs. Many employees felt that their experiences were not considered when policies were launched, putting their otherwise stable and successful jobs in jeopardy.

When considering the implementation of a new company wide mandate or policy, employers should consider the impacts of all employees, including those whose lived experiences are different from theirs. 

To create new, equitable policies, leaders must consider the identities of their employees. 

“Who does this mandate work best for?” and “What challenges could this mandate pose for employees?” are important questions that should be taken into consideration to ensure that policies are truly effective, creating opportunities for all employees to be successful.

The Future of Work: Opportunities Await

Bottom line: When employees feel empowered, secure, and cared for in the workplace, they’re not submitting resignation letters.

When a culture of coaching exists in the workplace, psychological safety is valued as leaders operate from a space that prioritizes listening, empathy, and collaboration. In an environment that prioritizes the whole employee, space can be made for teamwork, collaboration, and problem-solving to thrive. 

Leaders have the workplace data now. If they move forward and center collaboration, humanity, and equity, 2024 may very well be the year where employees and leaders successfully co-create the future of work.

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