Signs that your back to office plan is going to lose good employees

In today’s business environment only one thing is certain: nothing is certain. Thanks to cresting waves of infection, shifting vaccination timetables, and supply chain log jams, most businesses I work with have written, torn up, and rewritten their back-to-office plans numerous times.

Some degree of confusion is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean employees have endless patience for ever changing plans. Top VC firm Andreessen Horowitz recently pointed out, remote work policies aren’t just about remote work but they’re also a subtle sign of what a business’s leadership personally prefers. They often reveal more about a company’s culture than they intend to.

A rigid, overly prescriptive, or poorly communicated plan conveys to your employees that those at the top are untrusting, confused, and unempathetic. If you send those signals and, in the current employment environment, many of your best employees may decide to try their luck elsewhere.

How do you send better signals? In her Culture Study newsletter recently, journalist Anne Peterson suggests bosses scan their latest, greatest back-to-work policies for a handful of red flags that are likely to send the wrong messages to their team, these include:

1. Last minute communication

As the boss it might be relatively simple for you to decide to change the date on which you’re requiring employees to be back in the office. But this can cause challenges for certain employees. For example, parents with young children where a lack of thoughtful, long-term communication about back-to-office plans can cause massive logistical headache for those with caregiving responsibilities. It’s also a sign that a business doesn’t understand or empathise with the struggles of parents and others with complicated lives.

2. Mandating Fridays in the office

There are legitimate reasons bosses might be concerned about leaving the choice of which days to work from home entirely up to employees, including surveys showing that basically everyone wants to take three-day weekends. Allow that to happen and offices could be unproductively empty some days and uncomfortably overcrowded others. But strict limits on working from home on Fridays are still a serious red flag about a company’s culture.

These blanket bans are a sign of a business that fundamentally does not trust their employees to complete their work. When you mandate office attendance until 5 pm on a Friday, you are communicating that ‘good work’ is not the quality of the work, or even necessarily the quantity of the work, but an arbitrary understanding of when the company says work should be completed.

3. Ignoring feedback

Worse than not asking for feedback from your employees about what policies would work best for them is asking them and totally ignoring what they tell you. This is like asking someone to pick what restaurant you want to go to, listening to them carefully, nodding attentively, and then choosing what you wanted anyway. It indicates that a business’s leadership team either doesn’t understand or doesn’t respect that other people work differently than they do. This isn’t just the sign of a bad back-to-office plan, but of also of a poor leadership style

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