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Return to Work Thoughts

Every organization has been forced to determine a return-to-work strategy. The most important aspect of any strategy is being able to effectively communicate the “why” behind the decision.

We’ve found talent for over 300 clients in the Triangle since the pandemic and heard from countless more companies about return-to-work policies. If I claimed we had 1000 data points from Triangle companies about return-to-work policies, it would be a conservative estimate. Yet still, the Vaco Raleigh office has not defined a formal return-to-work policy. Many Vaco offices have implemented an expectation of at least a hybrid schedule, and I respect my peers’ decisions – we are all doing what we think is best to build collaboration for our teams, and each team has its own DNA and intricacies to consider.

As we plan a move into a larger office space this Fall, I’ve been asked time and again if I will institute a formal policy on expecting our team members to come in on a forced frequency. The answer is still no – there will be no formal return-to-work policy.

There is undoubtedly a trade-off to this position – though we may not have instituted a formal policy and expectation that our employees abide by, my comfort level with the team members I see daily or at least spend meaningful time with weekly far exceeds my comfort level with those who I rarely spend time with. We can agree that with a day filled with meetings, scheduling a 30-minute video with a teammate to bring them up to speed is not nearly as easy as grabbing a teammate in plain sight, off the calendar, and similarly bring them up to speed.

We can also agree that it is easier to get comfortable with people in plain sight versus virtually. We can read energy, we can hear conversations, we can see how people interact with team members and clients. We’re in a people business, and my comfort level directly correlates to how I assign priorities, responsibilities, and delegate client work. Those in the office hear my conversations and the conversations of others, repeating ourselves less as we role-play how conversations went to extract nuggets of learning. The training ground is much steeper (in a good way) for those consistently soaking all the information happening around them in an office setting.

The results have been stark. As a leadership team, we have been able to invest more into team members we have closer access to. Just by nature of being at the next desk, there are more opportunities - for client work and professional development - for those with a consistent in-office presence than for those without. Though we won't mandate a return to office, I would personally advise any mentee to take advantage of as much exposure to an office setting where leadership is present.

I know there are benefits to remote work – I didn’t come into an office for the first 15 months of the pandemic. During that time, it was easier to practice more self-care and spend invaluable time with family, though arguably my team and professional development didn't evolve at the same pace as when we collaborated more in the office. Knowing that high-performing teams can make these decisions for themselves, we provide this type of environment so they can choose - not only where they work from, but the specific hours and structure they work best in (no one in Raleigh will ever be guilted into missing the pickup line!). The gift of choice itself lends to the empowerment and trust that defines the Raleigh office.

In the end, decisions that are made by your team members versus decisions being made by management and pushed down, will always be my preferred method when leading high-performing people and high-performing teams.


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