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The Official Baldrige Blog

Who Will Return to the Workplace? How Will They Return?

Who Will Return to the Workplace showing a man standing with a box of his belongings in front of an empty desk.
Credit: ShutterOK/Shutterstock

As I ponder the new normal, one topic keeps coming to mind. That topic is the intersection of leadership/management challenges opportunities (strikeouts intentional) and employee challenges opportunities as we repopulate the workplace (beyond home). These opportunities struck a particularly responsive chord when I read two recent Korn Ferry Insights, one on retirees unretiring and one on behaviors in the workplace.

Who Will Return?

We will all probably experience mixed emotions as we return to a workplace we abandoned approximately two years ago. There is eagerness to see old colleagues and some anxiety about how they have changed and how we have changed. In addition, there will probably be some new colleagues, hired during the last two years, whom we have never met in person. With labor shortages in many areas, will our responsibilities change, will managerial relationships change, and what about retirees who returned to fill shortages during the last two years? Will those retirees return to the office? What flexibilities will they (and we) want?

Oh yes, and what about Gen Z employees hired during the last two years, who have never been into the organization's physical workplace? How will we reestablish our culture of old? Should we reestablish that culture, or is this the time to break some old habits and norms? Is this the opportunity to rethink equity and inclusion in the workplace?

How Will People Return?

We have learned totally new routines while working from home or other remote locations. We have become comfortable, if not completely satisfied (no "water cooler conversations"), with our current working conditions. We wear what we want to wear to work, with appropriate attire from the waist up for virtual meetings. We have much greater flexibility in our hours of work. We can work when we have a mild illness. We can flex for family responsibilities or exercise. We have self-managed a lot of our work. These are hard freedoms to give up.

Questions to Answer the Questions?

While we ponder all the challenges, we should focus on all the opportunities that the return to the workplace provides. According to Korn Ferry, a return to the workplace qualifies as a fresh start. So let's make the best of that fresh start. 

Here are some questions from the Baldrige Excellence Framework to consider as you seek the opportunities occasioned by a fresh start:

  • How do senior leaders create an environment for success now and in the future?
  • How do you incorporate societal well-being and benefit into your strategy and daily operations?
  • How do you prepare your workforce for changes in organizational structure, workplaces, and work systems?
  • How do you determine the key drivers of workforce engagement?
  • How do you foster an organizational culture that is characterized by open communication, high performance, and an engaged workforce?

And please, leaders, managers, and employees, consider these questions together. Remember, the answers are probably different from your answers two years ago. The result will be a more innovative, inclusive, and engaging workplace for all.

To learn how some role-model organizations are addressing these opportunities, attend an event where Baldrige Award recipients share their best practices, such as the Baldrige Fall Conference, October 19-20, 2022, or the next Baldrige Quest for Excellence® Conference, April 2-5, 2023!

The time to learn and institutionalize new practices is now!

2021-2022 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit feature image

Baldrige Excellence Framework®

The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.

Purchase your copy today!

Available versions: Business/Nonprofit, Education, and Health Care

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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