The future of our workplace

Warning: this is not a blog post that will tell you about five ways to return to the workplace successfully. And that’s because no one has the answer to that just yet. We’re all a WIP (work in progress) when it comes to figuring that out. Even if you’ve already returned, you should still be working on it.

What you will find in this blog post is a genuine attempt to idea share and bare our souls about the process we’re undergoing to figure out what the future of our workplace will look like. To put it in terms our friends in PR will understand, we’ll use the RPIE approach: Research, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation.

We’re incredibly fortunate to have had a great year as an agency. We’ve supported each other, learned and grown together through the lens of DEI. We’ve added three new Hodgers and were named a top workplace by Inc. Magazine. And during that time, our leaders, like many, were forced to let go and see what we could do from home. We didn’t skip a beat and, instead, rose to the challenge and exceeded expectations, our own and our clients’.

This begged the question – can we expect our team to just revert to their old selves as we prepare to move forward in a post-COVID space? Our gut told us the answer was ‘no,’ but to be sure, we put together a committee.

Research

The committee represented Hodgers in different walks of life – those just starting out in their careers, those with families, those with new babies, etc. There were introverts and extroverts, men and women, long and short commuters. We wanted to make sure that decisions were inclusive of everyone’s points of view.

Then, we created a survey and requested that our team respond with their honest, uncut feedback. And we got just that. When you want to get it right, you need the good, the bad and the ugly. This data shared work from home preferences, comfort levels socializing, interest in returning to the office, and priorities about what they missed most about the office, etc.

What we heard informed the shape of the plan. Based on the feedback, we knew what wouldn’t fly, and we had a good idea of what would be appreciated while still meeting the needs of the agency and the work we deliver to clients and the community.

Planning

The committee then spent several hours discussing schedule options, expectations, COVID safety guidelines, comfort levels, office configurations and more. In the end, the committee had a draft plan, and we were ready to share.

So, here’s where we landed. The committee recommended that we test a return to workplace that required Hodgers to be in the office, all together, on the first day of each work week. The office would remain open during the week, reflecting the fact that many of us wanted to return to the old rhythms of in-office work. But the plan also acknowledged the desire for flexibility, especially given the efficiencies that many of the staff found from working remotely. And we built in additional flexibility should a circumstance arise that could require in-person presence either in the office or at a client’s workplace.   

The planning process helped us evaluate the essence of our agency culture, something that did not require in-person contact with one another but simply the opportunity to collaborate and support each other toward achieving collective goals. It’s a culture of accountability and cohesion built less on our physical proximity to one another and more on common values and a crazy amount of internal communication. And what we learned is that it can happen wherever we are. And for the record, yeah, we really do miss seeing each other, hence the emphasis on flexibility. 

This plan will go into place in July, and we’ll be testing the roll out for six months to see how well these new protocols work for the team, with perhaps some adjustments along the way. Stay tuned for part two of this blog post, where we go back to report on the implementation and evaluation of part of our plan.

So if you are making return to work plans, we’d summarize our recommendations like this: Include participation and feedback from employees at all levels. Do the work, survey your teams, listen to their needs and don’t be afraid to do something bold. If there’s one thing we’ve learned this past year, it’s that we can do hard things (ty, Glennon Doyle).

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Lindsay O'Bar

Lindsay’s work focuses on community relations, internal communications and media relations for companies like Kroger, Virginia’s Community Colleges and the Virginia Department of Transportation. By marrying research and strategic thinking, she helps clients thoughtfully engage audiences and the community while driving business results.

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