With one wave following another, it is a brave person who’ll announce a definite ending to the current situation, even in the UK where new cases and numbers of death continue to fall sharply. However, with step 4 of the government roadmap currently coming into play on 21st June, companies are now contemplating the possibility of workers returning to the office environment.
The issue of how we return is a question weighing heavily for many execs. One CEO told me many of his staff do not want to return to the office and another senior manager flatly expressed he was not going back to the commute of old. How decisions are made regarding this question is intricately related to building a resilient organisation – one that can withstand shocks and create opportunities which help it thrive now and in the future. This includes and means more than individual resilience – the ability to manage personal stress, affecting engagement, happiness and job performance.

The very consideration of where people work and how is a strategic issue not just because of its impact on individual stress levels. How the return to the office is considered, communicated and followed through is an opportunity to build organisational resilience. 

Read on if this is a complex problem for your organisation rather than a clear-cut decision or a fait accompli. The following outlines some perspectives to bring a systemic view and valuable input towards resolving tricky challenges.

TIP 1 Consult and listen

  • Be wide-ranging in considering your stakeholdersWhen thinking about the resilience of your organisation, ignore key players at your peril! Think not just how internal and external stakeholders will be affected – put yourself in their shoes.  Even better, ask them how they see the future for the organisation and how they can best contribute. One CEO we know did just that – she instigated a wide-scale survey of the communities her organisation serves.  The take-up was high and the resulting report has been the subject of many consultations since – with influential stakeholders requesting time to discuss the findings.  This marks a reverse from what in the past meant chasing these same people for their time and engagement.   Consider external as well as internal stakeholders – existing staff and new hires, current and future customers, different teams and departments, key influencers.

TIP 2 Beyond stakeholders

  • Going beyond the inclusion of stakeholder perspectives, what else has a major impact to be considered? One CEO I spoke to realised that culture was an important contributor for strategic decision-making. Decisions involving people would have to take into account effects on culture.What keeps culture alive and recognisable? What are the stories that are being told? What are unspoken assumptions? Do they support what you are trying to achieve? Consider also your legacy- what do you consciously want to leave behind for future generations?What else is important enough to have a seat at the table of important decisions – an entity which if not resilient- will affect the whole business? Treat each with due respect. How will they be affected?  Have you asked them?

TIP 3 Look and learn

  • Understand the lessons learned from lockdown working In March 2020 many of us suddenly had to completely change our working models. It was a shock to the system but forced change also brings many dividends – the surfacing of unknown capabilities, the challenging of biases, the acceleration of alternative solutions. Understand what these are for the different stakeholder groups. What has worked well and what hasn’t? Have assumptions about working from home changed? What changes are temporary, which are permanent? What have people learned about themselves and their own needs? How have the various stakeholders’ interactions with the organisation changed or shifted? What is to be kept and what needs to be addressed? How can the creative thinking exhibited throughout the past year continue to be harnessed?Answering these questions needs time in busy diaries – the time taken to reflect and draw conclusions now will reap rewards later.

TIP 4 What’s the point?

  • Show how the return-to-work arrangements align with the vision and purpose of the company.Change is more acceptable when people understand the rationale behind those changes.  We find it easier to accept changes when we understand how they fit into the bigger picture and how the change we need to make contributes to the whole. This is part of the necessary shift from “I” focus to the “we” focus necessary for the success of any collective endeavour.We have noticed in conversations with clients that lockdown measures and virtual working has led to a greater concern for self rather than team.  It’s a not surprising side-effect of working in isolation for many months. It may be sensible to assume this is the starting point and first work to rebuild a sense of team.
  • To be clear ..
    When talking about decisions that are not obvious, communicate what has been important in coming to that decision. Often executives blame others for not adapting to change when the problem is lack of transparency of the decision-making process and consequent poor communication of the purpose behind the change. For people to feel positive about change they need to understand how their situation relates to the bigger picture. The lack of clarity in this area at any time is a major block to high performance.


Without question people in positions of leadership are facing difficult decisions. How they include their workforce, incorporate new lessons, and communicate those decisions are fundamental for building a resilient organisation now and for the future.

So note the benefits of virtual versus co-located working and be ready to import those learnings back into the workplace when you are asked!

Keep safe and resilient!

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