August 09, 2021
August 09, 2021
Contributor: Jackie Wiles
CEOs have announced return-to-workplace plans to mixed reception. Learn from their mistakes.
When COVID-19 vaccines sparked talk of a return to prepandemic norms, CEOs may not have realized how few people wanted to "return." The mixed reviews for their public statements about return-to-work plans show just how contentious the issue has become. To set yourself up for a positive reaction from employees and customers, whether your organization adopts a fully remote, hybrid or in-person work approach, follow a few simple guidelines.
“You may not make everyone happy, but you can make sure to reduce the likelihood of backlash and, in some instances, use the moment to improve your company’s reputation,” says LK Klein, Director, Research, Gartner.
Watch now: Seize This Unique Opportunity for the Future of Work
The Gartner Communications Research team reviewed 20 recent CEO and company statements on return-to-work plans and have distilled the key take-aways into three sets of do’s and don’ts. Learn these lessons, and you’ll save days or weeks of damage control.
Few employees enjoy hearing news about their company from external sources before they’ve been informed by their own employer. Premature external communications put managers in the difficult position of managing reactions from frontline staff without support from leadership.
Instead, announce your intentions to employees, then share that same information through external channels. Transparency helps customers and prospective employees understand your approach, but business continuity takes priority. Support managers and employees by following announcements with additional detail via FAQs or Q&A sessions to ensure that all concerns are addressed.
It’s a messaging misstep for executives to voice their individual perspectives, rather than focusing on job requirements, to determine return-to-work plans. Before the pandemic, some leaders thought nothing of saying they saw remote work as a “career-ending” move. Now, with more than a year of large-scale remote or hybrid work in place, it’s become clear that hybrid organizations can be profitable, flexible and engaging, creating a win-win for organizations and employees. It’s harder — or at least ill-informed — to wholeheartedly denounce a work model that seems to be effective.
Successful messages about the future of work honestly and empathetically address the dynamics of different working approaches and how the executive team weighs those dynamics in the context of the brand’s purpose to determine the best approach going forward.
Make sure to leverage your organization’s identity — your purpose, brand, values and history — as the context behind your return-to-workplace plans. Audiences are receptive to decisions that are consistent with the experience they have with the organization.
The final messaging misstep is rooted in a policy problem, rather than a messaging problem. Organizations have faced backlash when adopting overly rigid policies before first evaluating whether flexibility was even possible.
Most organizations leverage a variety of employment models, and the differing experience of employee types (e.g., contract, union, gig, full-time) was already starting to surface before COVID-19. The pandemic highlighted other inequities, too. It’s easier, for example, to offer flexibility to knowledge workers than to service-sector employees, but there are still ways to give options to previously location-centric roles, such as customer service reps.
Executives face the ongoing challenge of ensuring equity and community across different work models and roles. To succeed, you and your leadership team first need to evaluate how roles — and the activities within roles — relate to different employment models and how important they are in driving organizational goals. Then you can work to create equal access to flexibility in and across employment models.
Join your peer CHROs and HR leaders from leading organizations to discuss specific HR challenges and learn about top HR trends, insights and priorities.
Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:
3 Do’s and Don’ts for CEO ‘Return to Workplace’ Statements
The Role of Managers in Contextualizing the Return-to-the Workplace Strategy
Future of Work Reinvented Resource Center.
*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.