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While the majority of us haven’t been at our desks or in our workspace in-person in months, those spaces still exist. They are quiet reminders of the way work used to be, how we experienced our organizations, and where we went to earn our paychecks each week.

While our workspaces aren’t gone, they have certainly changed. Many employees and managers are discovering shifts in productivity (both good and bad) as we now have almost a quarter’s worth of data indicating whether or not working from home is working.

“Going back better” is about harvesting all the learnings from the last few months and using that perspective to drive new individual and organizational behaviors in three key areas.

  1. The built environment
  2. Organizational culture
  3. People

The Built Environment

Commercial real estate leader, JLL recommends the following considerations for safely reactivating your physical space:

  • Study floor plans and furniture layout with recommended physical distancing in mind.
  • Evaluate distance between employees at their workspaces and de-densify as needed.
  • Determine how foot traffic should flow, aiming for one-way traffic as much as possible.
  • Consider re-purposing underutilized spaces.
  • Limit desk and tech equipment sharing.
  • Incorporate touchless capabilities for doors, restrooms, and trash receptacles.

Once these considerations and changes have been made, people need to understand how the changes will impact them daily. Leaders must emphasize new behaviors and use signage to remind and support people in making changes. Managers must also reinforce the importance of new protocols in their communications and their own behaviors.

Organizational Culture

According to JLL data collected over the last seven weeks, the following trends have emerged.

  • The number of people who wanted to work-from-home (WFH) post COVID more than 2-3+ days a week doubled from the first week to the most recent week while the number of people who wanted to return to full-time office post-COVID was cut in half.
  • As people have settled into their routines of working from home, they are self-reporting higher productivity numbers each week. The number of employees who are reporting they are more productive at home than in the office doubled from the first week to the most recent week.
  • While employees seem to be adapting and enjoying their WFH lifestyle, they are still missing the human experience that the office can provide. Week after week, the top three things people miss about the office are collaborating, socializing, and supporting the work of others.

Given this third bullet point, it is vital for leaders to reactivate the work culture during this transition period. And, because work cultures are anchored in values and behaviors, leaders play a pivotal role in communicating and emphasizing the right values and behaviors for achieving desired business results.

At ADVISA, we use the following framework to help companies classify their strategic emphasis. This creates clarity for aligning values and behaviors.

  • Exploring – Visionary, innovating products, and services that are unique to the market.
  • Producing – Competitive approach to driving market penetration and market share.
  • Stabilizing – Operational emphasis on process and efficiency to drive customer loyalty
  • Cultivating – Cultural emphasis on engagement and teamwork to drive execution

For example, the values and behaviors that align with an Exploring business strategy might include the following.


  • Novelty. New ideas, new products, new ways of working together. The organization thrives on originality and creativity.
  • Failing fast. Employees remain up to date on developments within and outside their fields. Employees learn quickly and experiment to see if their ideas have the potential to disrupt the market.
  • Flexibility. Employees must adapt to short and fast-changing timelines, new and unexpected demands, and rapid changes in the marketplace.


  • Non-Conforming – There is a major emphasis on doing things differently – both as an organization and as individual employees. Uniqueness is encouraged.
  • Enthusiastic – Organizations cannot come up with new and creative ideas without having a passionate, positive, and eager team.
  • Restless – Employees are prepared to keep up with the fast-moving pace in which decisions are made, and deadlines are set.

Going back better requires a keen understanding of how strategic shifts in the business strategy impact the values and behaviors that ultimately become our culture.


Rekindling engagement means helping people reconnect emotionally to their jobs, their managers, and their teams.

Job fit

Job fit exists when people get to use their natural strengths in performing their work and when people have the tools and training to excel. “Going back better” presents a golden opportunity for one-on-ones between employees and their managers to discuss how employees’ strengths align with job demands. Then, managers and employees can collaborate on how to best leverage resources so employees can perform at a high level. Managers should seek to understand employees’ career goals and aspirations so they can coach and recognize a job well done. Additionally, folks who are naturally socially oriented and collaborative may really be struggling with remote work where they lose that personal connection with others.

Manager relationship

Employees need to believe that their manager works and manages with integrity and that their manager has their back. Managers who “go back better” will recognize that change may be hard for their employees, and they will be empathetic and supportive as a result. They will show interest in and care for their employees beyond the working relationship, and they will recognize the strengths and best efforts of their team members. Managers will also need to proactively remove obstacles and help employees problem solve upon returning to the office environment. Conflicts will arise, and reminders about new norms and behaviors will be essential. Going back also presents an opportunity to re-communicate performance expectations and create a clear communication channel from the senior leadership team to the manager’s team in hybrid scenarios (remote and in-person).

Interactions with the team

The team dynamic is an essential element in a person’s ability to get their work done and feel emotionally connected. To create an environment that fosters maximum productivity, employees need to feel that they are respected and can trust the people they work with. They and their team members should be aligned on what each person is accountable for on the team, as well as each team member’s role on the team. It also helps when everyone on the team is committed to delivering the same high quality of work. Going back presents a timely opportunity for team development and learning. Survey your team about how they feel about returning to work and share the results. Engage your team in dialogue about how to continue to leverage technology and work-from-home arrangements to stay productive and flexible. Talk about training and development needs and make commitments.

Going back better will require us to look differently at our physical space, our culture, and our people. If you missed my joint webinar with Meghan James of commercial real estate leader JLL on “Going Back Better: Re-imagining Our Environment, Our Culture, and Our People.” You can watch the recording here and download the slides if there are any ideas or data points you would like to have a copy of to share with your team.


If you enjoyed this article by Heather Haas, don’t miss “Flipping the Script on Employee Development Post-COVID.”

You may also enjoy “Culture is more than a buzzword in today’s marketplace” by Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett.