This month, I had a business trip (on a real plane and everything) for the first time in 15 months. Before the pandemic, I was on the road more than 50% of the time and the process was second nature - packing, check-in, security, flight, rental car, hotel, meeting, and back again. #Flightmares aside, everything was a breeze.
Suffice it to say that my travel muscles had atrophied. Packing was awkward, the airport had been updated, and my taken-for-granted TSA PreCheck had expired. Expired!! Apparently, I had forgotten to renew my status and the good folks at DHS didn’t find it necessary to notify a mere land dweller. Properly chagrined, I joined the rest of the pack in the standard security line. It took me three tries (I wish I were kidding) to get through security. 1) Shoes. 2) Laptop. 3) I looked suspicious at this point and needed a proper wanding.
I share my failure not because it’s funny (although it is), but because it highlights a reality that organizations face around the world. Vaccination rates mean many countries can relax public health restrictions, meaning more business leaders are trying to plan for when (or if/how) their employees will return to the office, return to business travel, and perhaps even return to...before.
As many organizations are finding out, putting the remote work genie back in the bottle isn’t that simple. With 39% of US employees saying they would consider quitting if their company wasn’t flexible about remote work, leaders must weigh the risk of requiring workers to return to the office. Added to this is the pressure of real estate investments sitting empty, the fact many managers struggle with leading remote teams, and the very real concern about another wave of shutdowns in areas with low vaccination rates. None of this is easy, and none of this can be taken for granted.
Ultimately, it all comes down to risk tolerance and planning. Whatever choice your organization makes, you will need to plan ahead and communicate clearly and candidly with your employees throughout the process. And even if your leadership has a high risk tolerance, employees may not be there yet. How will you ensure you’re making space for people navigating what for many was real trauma? How will you listen to the needs of all your employees, including those who desire the separation from work and home by coming into an office? And most importantly, how will you execute on your plans in a way that balances empathy and business-sense?
Whatever your decisions may be as we begin this next stage of re-entry, don’t take anything for granted. Just because something worked before doesn’t mean it’s going to work now. Double-check your plans and validate your contingencies. Otherwise, you may end up finding yourself inadvertently taking off your shoes and belts with the rest of us.
With warm regards,
Founder/Managing Principal/Rusty Traveler, IA