STOP asking your employees if they want to go back to the office.

It’s day 4,658,456 of the COVID pandemic. 

Not sure about you, but that’s the way I feel some days. 

The flip side of it is that we’ve been doing a ton of great work helping people talk to their employees about what is going on and how to proceed. And, we’ve created a ton of tips around that — some of which I’ll share here today.  

But I want to start with one of the biggest #CXFails I’m seeing these days: employers surveying their people about whether or not they want to go back to work. (And remember, EX drives CX, even during COVID times.)

I know that this is very specific to those who work in an office (since not everyone does). But I believe that the moral of this story conveys across all employer/employee relationships. 

COVID-19 cases are spiking around the U.S. Europe has chosen to close its borders to U.S. residents. People are fighting about whether or not the virus is real (it is) and whether or not you should wear a mask (you should).

And simultaneously, we have employers all over the world trying to figure out what the future of work looks like. I’ll talk about that in depth next month, but for now, let’s focus on the “communication with employees” part.

Let’s talk about what not to do first.

DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT ask your employees if they want to come back into work.

You’re not going to find out what you need to know. The question is so much bigger than that. It’s made up of a bunch of different questions. And all the answers deserve air space. They need room to be shared — safely — in a non-retaliatory environment. The answers need to be able to breathe. Out in the open, so that they can be heard, discussed, admired. Because the answers are as individualized as the people who are saying them out loud. 

What we should be asking are things like this:

  • Do you feel like you need to be in the physical office to do your job?
  • Do you feel like you need to stay at home in order to be safe right now?
  • Do you feel like you are getting what you need from us in order to do your job?
  • Do you need us to figure out ways that you can come into the office safely at a later date?
  • What do you need to make your office safer, healthier, more productive?
  • Is someone that you care for in a high-risk category? Do you need to stay home in order to keep them safe?

Because the reality is, the pandemic has collapsed home and work. For those who understand the risk — or care for those at risk or are at risk — home and work are now one place for the foreseeable future. 

The only place that you know you can eliminate the most risk is within the safety of the walls of your home. At home, you can control who shares the air you breathe. 

When you ask your team whether or not they want to come back into the office, you’re putting them in what seems like an unwinnable position. They feel like they have to choose between health and work. And frankly, work shouldn’t create a health risk. 

The other issue with asking the “Do you want to come back into the office?” question is that it has no space to breathe. It is a yes or no question. It is finite. And frankly my friends, nothing is finite right now.

Take the time to ask and listen to your team’s answers. Ask them to help you solve the issues. Many miss their friends at work and the social interaction. Many don’t miss the commute. Many would love to go back into an office, but simply can’t right now. Many would love to go into an office and don’t understand why they aren’t being allowed to do so. 

Here’s the best tip we can give you. You need to remember that your job as a leader is to communicate:

  • Often. Checking in daily is something that we highly recommend. Just a pop-in. It isn’t hard.
  • Authentically. Tell your team what you know and what you don’t know. Talk with them openly and honestly. 
  • With empathy. Tell your team how you’re really doing. The good and the bad.

And listen — for more than a minute or two. Give your team members’ answers the space to breathe. To be heard without judgement. Because even though we have an unprecedented view into each other’s homes now, we don’t ever know the whole story. 

Be there for them. They need you.

4 thoughts on “STOP asking your employees if they want to go back to the office.”

    1. Tricia, Great question. We really attacked the non-retail space in this one – but I think that the real question for retailers is to ask: are we giving you everything you need in order to feel as safe as possible? Are there any processes we should put in place to make you feel safer?

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