How to Think About Return to Office for Company Leaders

  • Business leaders need to consider what kind of company culture they want to build, Neil Murray of JLL says.
  • A one-size-fits-all approach to bringing workers back to the office won’t work.
  • Murray says the future of work is hybrid and will never return to the pre-COVID pandemic norm.

Pandemic restrictions have eased in many cities, and for some companies that means it’s time to bring workers back — though many employees would prefer to stay home at least part-time. 

Before making the decision for employees to return to the office, executives have to ask themselves what exactly they hope their workplace culture will look like, Global CEO of Workplace Dynamics at JLL Neil Murray told Insider in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Many leaders are asking, “‘When are my people coming back?’ or ‘Should my people come back?'” Murray said, but first, they should first figure out the answer to the question,”What do I want my workplace culture to look like?”

Executives should consider what kind of people they want to work for them, what kind of clients they want to work with, and what their overall purpose is, Murray said. With the answers to those questions in hand, businesses can ask workers to come back, which can take “iteration and experimentation and understanding and monitoring the data,” and then “doubling down on what works.”

A culture and internal set of norms will always emerge within the work environment, Murray says, so it’s wise for businesses to be intentional about creating that culture. 

Some surveys show that many workers have strong preferences for working from home, so bringing them back to the office is complicated. A blanket policy for everyone is not necessarily useful, Murray said.

“Generations of research has told us that the power of individual engagement is what fuels organizations and therefore one size doesn’t fit all. You have to be thinking about the people you want working in your firm and how they are going to be engaged,” he said.

This more flexible approach means things likely won’t return to a pre-pandemic office state ever again, in Murray’s view.

“There is no doubt that [the future of work] will be hybrid. It will not return to exactly how it was, there’s no chance.”

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