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News   July 20, 2021   by Adam Malik

Pitfalls to avoid when planning an office return

Be aware of company guidelines, avoid trying to find a “fair” solution and steer away from thinking of individuals at the expense of the team, recommends a business strategist

If your business is navigating a plan to assure a safe return of all staff to the workplace, Liane Davey, a Toronto-based psychologist and team effectiveness advisor, outlined three pitfalls that typically do managers in.

First, managers need to make sure they’re clear on company guidelines, she wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review column. Get an idea of the requirements of days needed onsite and future plans for the physical footprint of the building.

“I’ve already seen some leaders solicit team members’ preferences for returning to the office before getting clear on what will work from an organizational perspective,” Davey wrote.

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Being too accommodating could backfire, she warned. Staff could be set up to fail or end up having the manager resent the arrangement.

“Neither of those situations is good,” Davey said. “Instead, do your homework so that you can come to the conversation knowing the non-negotiables.”

Second, don’t try to seek out fairness in your solutions.

“Fairness is tricky business because different jobs require different arrangements,” Davey observed.

She recommended to consider each person’s role in the business and how those responsibilities require different approaches. Consider which roles in your repair shop or jobber store require someone to be onsite to complete the majority of their tasks, compared to someone who can do most of the tasks from anywhere.

“Some team members will think your policy is unfair if it’s not the same for everyone, whereas others will think a policy is unfair if it doesn’t account for differences in roles and responsibilities,” according to Davey. “There’s no single definition of ‘fair.’ Just be clear on which definition you’re using, and be transparent about why that’s the one you’re using.”

That leads into another risk she highlighted. The old saying “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” may not be true in this scenario. An attempt to create an optimal solution for each individual may actually undermine the team as a whole, Davey warned.

“In addition to what’s right for the organization and what’s best for an individual’s job, it’s also important to consider which working arrangement is in the best interest of the team,” She wrote. “How does one person’s role interact with others in the group, and what return-to-work plan would be in the best interests of supporting collaboration, encouraging camaraderie, and fostering the positive culture you’re looking for?

“As a manager, you’re not just responsible for developing strong individuals — you’re also responsible for the strength of your team.”

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