In defense of RTO

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The world of work is divided. Companies are implementing RTO (Return To Office) policies. Employees are refusing to come in. Are employers just “old school” and not understanding the capabilities of technology? Do employees just want to stay home and work in their pajamas? No, to both questions.

I am a people manager. I like working in the office. I prefer to be in the office five days a week. I have a short commute by Toronto standards. I don’t expect my team to be in the office every day and believe that what suits me does not necessarily suit others.

I started my career in an in-office environment. I think that the benefits are often misunderstood. I was fascinated to see that Zoom implemented a mandatory two days in-person per week policy. It’s Zoom - they (as a business) benefit the least from a return to office!

For me, there are three key reasons why working in person is beneficial. This is based on what I’ve seen and on conversations with leaders and individual contributors.

1. Collaboration

It’s hard to collaborate remotely. Ideation and alignment are easier when working in person. In terms of ideation, our brains seem to kick into a higher gear. If you whiteboard, online whiteboarding just isn’t the same. In terms of alignment, something just seems to be missed in translation when people are communicating remotely. It is hard for all of us to stay focused, especially in larger or longer virtual meetings. And somebody’s wifi breaks because of that snowstorm in any of Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, or Winnipeg.

2. Learning

Day-to-day tasks to be completed are often identical when working in-person and remotely. However, the support on tasks and projects will be completely different. Remotely, you can spin your wheels for three hours. In person, the barrier of asking for help is minimal and things can be resolved much faster. Feedback, which I’ve written about recently, is much better given and received in person. That coffee or lunch walk with colleagues or your boss is also an exceptional learning experience. Hearing what your boss is thinking about can help you gain a new perspective. That’s much easier in person.

3. Connection

It is easier to get to know people, as people, in person. Virtually, all of your touchpoints are scheduled as work meetings. In person, conversations happen organically and often about things that bond people. Tone and body language are either nonexistent or easily misunderstood through virtual channels. We are all just people, with our own lives and challenges, trying to do our best. The virtual world makes us forget that. The virtual world is harder on us mentally because of its isolation.

Back to Zoom. When Zoom implemented their RTO policy, they had a radius cut-off of 50 miles. That’s what they deemed “pros outweigh the cons” for the company and employee.

If you can be in the office once or twice a week, I’d suggest you do it. Figure out a day when your team members can be there. It can benefit you and the team in many unexpected ways.

If your team is looking for a way to see and track your RTO, you can now use HRIS platforms like Collage with powerful Time Off functionality. You and your team can see who is in the office on Slack and your Google, Outlook, and Apple calendars. You can also send Surveys to your team, to gauge the desire and openness to different types of RTO policies.

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