Like many of its tech peers, Microsoft announced earlier this month that it was again postponing its plans to bring employees back to the office in large numbers. As the Delta variant of COVID-19 surges across the country, it has forced companies to reconsider their immediate plans to bring employees back to the office as well as to reimagine what that might look like.
Most companies had been optimistic that the fall would represent a return to some form of normalcy, or at least something that looked more like 2019 than 2020. Now, however, that seems far less likely, not because Covid might be here to stay, but because everything about how we work has changed.
In response, Microsoft explained the best reason yet to delay a return to the office:
“Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we’ve decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our U.S. work sites,” wrote Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate VP of Microsoft 365, in a company blog post. That one word, “uncertainty,” explains the biggest challenge facing both companies and employees, and why your team isn’t ready to return to the office.
Your job, as an employer or manager, is to do everything you can to eliminate uncertainty. Right now, that means erring on the side of giving people more flexibility and control over their own environment, schedule, and circumstances–even if it means you have to give up a little control of your own.
I spoke with Spataro earlier this month, and the most striking thing he told me was “the people who will come back to the office aren’t the same people who left 18 months ago.” They might be the same people, but they won’t be the same when they come back.
That is, if they come back at all. That’s not a given. As many as 47 percent of people say they’ve considered relocating, and 41 percent say they are considering a change of employer, according to Microsoft. “In the future, companies that do a good job of attracting and binding talent to the organization will have a tangible competitive advantage,” said Spataro.
Your team has changed, and the systems and structure you have in place to support them need to change. The idea is that the shift to hybrid work isn’t something temporary. That means it’s long past time to make sure your company has a plan to accommodate a variety of work environments and arrangements. If you don’t, don’t be surprised when your employees start making other plans.
Of course, even when your team does return to the office, it’s going to look very different than it did before the pandemic. Remote work isn’t just a thing we all did for 18 m