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Articulating the Value of Return to Work in Your Company - By Tim Keefe

I wanted to continue our conversation about virtual work environments. I know it's a topic many people feel is a beaten-to-death. Many large companies, including Apple, recently announced a return to work program. It sounds pretty mandatory that an employee must be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

As we look at some of these programs that people are deploying, one of the first questions I ask is: how can we articulate the actual value of return to work? I'm not saying I'm a big advocate of the virtual work environment. I've been working that way for decades. I ran a contact center internationally for a long time, where 100% of the workforce was working at home. We saw very productive work environments. We found that people liked not having to commute, which is the number one issue for many people. But, I do think that there are situations where return to work does align with the stated goals of companies that say: we believe that there's a more creative environment; we believe that when people work in the office together, there's a greater exchange of ideas. Particularly with new employees, the concept of mentoring and culture development that people look at is essential. I agree with all of that. But I think there's got to be more to it than thou shalt. And the reason is that many people took advantage of the virtual work environment and completely changed their lifestyles at the height of the pandemic. We see it in real estate prices all over the place. I was looking at a video on YouTube the other day about a tiny little town in Colorado, and the whole culture there has changed due to the Zoom environment. People started relocating to smaller towns where they could take advantage of unique living situations while at the same time having the benefit of a higher paying job and doing the work that they want to do but doing it virtually. So when you take that, how do you offset that with, okay, now you have to live within commuting distance of work and come into the office. I think virtual work is what many people want. There's a financial benefit of virtual work. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, you're running 10 to $15,000 a year in costs out of your pocket after tax on a daily commute. Virtual work is really important, but I think virtual management is where many companies struggle. I think it's a change in style. I think it does require that managers, supervisors, and executives have to take into account the fact that people are scattered. You've got to consider different time zones, acknowledging that as you have meetings. At the same time, there are hugely powerful tools we got good at using during the pandemic. Zoom can move across borders internationally and go from meeting to meeting. But without having to get up and run to the other side of the building or be late or come in, people are late and disruptive. A lot of that is good.

So what's my recommendation on virtual work? I think it's a person-by-person thing. I do believe that every company is unique and needs what it needs. But you've got to address the What's In It For Me program. You've got to articulate clearly the value of coming into the office. You have to design around that; if you say it's going to be about culture, then build cultural events. If you say it's going to be about collaboration, build collaboration. With that, how do you know what success is? How would you measure it? If you have targets and goals you can share with people around collaboration events, new ideas, and new product development, those are the things you should be talking about.

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