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March 22, 2022
11 Minutes
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Remote, Hybrid, or Return to Office? Clear (Caring) Communication is Key.

Written by:
Adelyn Moody, PhD

If you’re in HR or a leadership position, it is likely that you’ve been constantly hearing a barrage of questions from everyone at your organization (probably for the last year or so) – what are we going to do? Will our organization transition to be a remote-first or all-remote workforce? Are we going to do some sort of hybrid set up? Or when and how will we all return to working together in the same physical office?

While I don’t have an answer for you on what choice to make, here are some of the insights we have now.

Broad Insights on Preferences

A large study by Gallup notes that for those workers who can do their jobs remote, about two thirds prefer to be in a hybrid option (59%), a third would like to be completely remote (32%), and the small minority would prefer to be fully back on-site (9%). The same study also found that leaders and supervisors were most hesitant to be in charge of a fully remote workforce and preferred at least hybrid work. If you are leading an organization that will be returning to the office, some initial insights seem to indicate that about 40% of people being back in the office is the tipping point to where enthusiasm grows so that the rest of the others want to also come back in some form or fashion.

Ask Your People What They Want

While the data summarized above is helpful, different people in different types of jobs and companies will have various preferences. In other words, don’t assume you know what your people want… what about trying to ask them directly? Send out an anonymous survey to gather honest opinions.

If you send out a survey, make sure to tell everyone what the results are. And then, and this is crucial, make sure you then act on those responses. Research suggests that asking people what their work preferences are is good only if you actually are able to do something with the feedback you get back. If you can’t implement solutions consistent with feedback, asking people their preferences is not helpful and may even be detrimental to workplace culture and employee engagement.

Only ask people their work arrangement preferences if you're able to provide them the solution they ask for!

Make the Best Decision You Can

A one-size-fits-all solution for all organizations won’t work.

However, that doesn’t mean all options are equal and that you can throw in the towel and simply do what you want. As is also often the case, the key is to try and align worker and manager preferences the best you can. And then, as a leader in your organization, the next step is to clearly communicate why you’ve made the decisions you have and how you expect people to go about implementing them.

The other side of the coin is also true, whatever solution you decide on needs to be fair to everyone at the company (with any set up, make sure to avoid proximity bias on all leadership levels - for a good article on this topic, check out this one here from SHRM).

A few objective questions to ask yourself in making this decision and understanding it yourself so you can communicate that decision out clearly:

  • Are there certain aspects of some jobs that would definitely benefit from in-person interactions? Consider any tasks that you’ve heard people complain about trying to jerry rig in the last couple of years (probably because there is a physical component to them).
  • Which tasks are actually best done without the distraction of co-workers? Some personal observations I’ve identified for myself over the past couple of years are writing, (some) multi-media content editing, coding/data analysis… anything that really benefits from getting into a flow state.
  • Which meetings are actually helpful to have in the same physical location and which are more efficient at staying on agenda (how to have only necessary meetings according to SHRM) being hosted on technology platforms?
  • Are you even able to bring back people to an office anymore?
  • Would you lose out on great people either through limiting your hiring talent pool or by having rockstars leave if you bring people back in-person?

Keep Communication Both Kind and Clear

While obviously far from exhaustive, here are a few snippets that I hope help show what I mean by being transparent with your decision, kind and people-centric, all the while still celebrating everyone’s contributions during pandemic times….

Some potentially helpful ways to communicate why someone is being asked to be on-site:

  • Some of our people have to be on-site to be able to perform their basic job functions; but they’ve told us the last couple of years have been very isolating for them and they want to connect with everyone. Even though most of your job can be done from anywhere, let’s go into the office Mondays and Wednesdays to get to know them better and show our solidary for the good work they do!
  • We care about everyone’s personal and professional growth, the trainings we’d like to host have been proven to be most effective when done in-person. Let’s plan on coming in for a learning retreat on-site once every quarter.
  • While we know that you’ve all been doing your best and working hard these last few years, we’ve consistently heard from the ___ [design, marketing, etc.] team that collaborating together on specific projects has been difficult when all-remote. With health concerns related to Covid decreasing now for most people, which days would be most helpful to facilitate physically in-person discussions for those projects?

Some examples of communicating the decision to be remote/work off-site include:

  • We understand that one of the major reasons people have liked working from home is to avoid the commute (and we also jive with not being stuck on the 805 in rush hour)… thank you all for taking the time you would have been commuting to either get more work done in that time and/or take care of yourself and your family, either are great reasons for us to continue to be remote/hybrid!
  • These past two years have really opened up our eyes to how big our talent pool can be when we can be flexible on where job candidates are located, we love all of our rockstars from all time zones!
  • Research supports that people working from home are typically 10-30% more productive, we’ve got to see that first-hand the last few years and really appreciate everything you’ve gotten done for us. Since you’ve expressed you like the remote arrangement and we’ve seen you consistently putting out excellent work, we’re here to support you all in a continued remote capacity!

Make Sure Everyone is on the Same Page

After you’ve made your decision and sent it out to everyone, consider “back translating” your messaging by asking a few (~10ish) employees with different roles and experiences at your organization what they took away and what they think their next steps are. If what they tell you is consistent with what you thought you said, great! If it’s different than the core message you thought you said, the onus is on you to clarify further to everyone... don’t assume what other people hear is what you think you’ve communicated.

With any mixture of options that you and your organization can decide to do, also remember that one of the big differences that has occurred in the past two years is flexible work – and I’m not just talking about where your people work, but when and how they work. People seem to agree that deviating from a rigid 9 to 5 schedule is what most people now expect to be able to do and that it can even help with important variables at your organization such as DEI & B initiatives!

A catchy way to remember this last point is making sure to manage the quality of the work that gets done, not the people. If you don’t already have a way to objectively evaluate performance, consider iAlign (contact us for a demo today!). Make sure everyone has the same understanding about what “flexibility” will look like at your organization moving forward. And remember, Trust is a Must for Leaders!


1. Don’t assume you know what your people want (consider asking them!)

2. Try to be objective about your decision and have solid reasoning behind it

3. Be fair to everyone

4. Communicate clearly and kindly the rational behind your decision

5. Check to make sure they actually heard the same message you tried to communicate

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