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October 26, 2021
Discussions to Have Before Returning to the Workplace
By Jackie Cefola and Andrea Shapiro

Jackie Cefola and Andrea Shapiro
Jackie Cefola, left, and Andrea Shapiro

For nonprofits preparing to reopen in-person operations as the coronavirus pandemic recedes, successful workplace strategies, which may include continued virtual work arrangements or flexible scheduling, will benefit from feedback from the people who will be most impacted.

To ensure trusting and collaborative relationships among colleagues and create professional development paths and opportunities, many organizational leaders will likely want to ask themselves a number of questions, including:

  • Are there opportunities to reduce the size of the workspace?
  • Is it possible to design the workspace to be shared or used differently by workers with flexible schedules?
  • What investments in technology, equipment, or other supports will be needed for remote workers in the long term?
  • How will these potential changes impact the budget?

A critical step in planning for the post-pandemic workplaces is to engage the workforce, asking for and actively listening to feedback about strategies to promote safety, health, comfort, and productivity for in-person and remote operations, now and in the future.

The following questions will help frame conversations with employees, contracted team members, volunteers, and others who work with your organization.

Assessing the current workspace and schedule:

These questions will help organizational leaders understand their workers’ current status:

  • Tell me about your current workspace.
  • If you work remotely, who else is in your workspace? What else happens in the space while you are working?
  • Do you feel that you have the resources and support that you need to do your work safely and comfortably in your workspace? If not, what do you need?
  • What is your current work schedule? What is your preferred work schedule?
  • What is working well? What is not working well?
  • How can our organization help to support you and your current workspace?

Returning to the organization’s office space:

If our organization were to return to primarily working from our office space and you were to return to your former workspace...

  • What concerns would you have?
  • What health and safety strategies would you want to see in place for our office? For the building?
  • What days and hours would you prefer to work from the office?
  • What communication and feedback strategies would you want our organization to engage in?

Beginning to explore the future for workspace:

It is impossible to know exactly what the future holds, but thinking about the next few years...

  • Where would you want to work most of the time? (home, organization’s offices, other)
  • What would you need to do your job effectively from that location?
    • Office, workstation, shared space, or workspace
    • Equipment, technology
    • Supplies
    • Memberships, subscriptions, services
    • Training, professional development
    • Other
  • Where would you prefer to hold meetings
    • With co-workers?
    • With clients?
    • With other organizations and partners?
    • With other members of the community or the public?
  • What would you need to conduct these types of meetings?
    • Small, medium, or large group meeting space
    • Equipment, technology
    • Supplies
    • Memberships, subscriptions, services
    • Training, professional development
    • Other

Discussing these questions with your workforce will help you better understand how current workspaces can be improved, identify wants and needs for future workspaces, and get feedback about specific concerns and strategies returning to the workplace. These discussions will identify common situations, concerns, and preferences that you can use to develop solutions across the organization.

Once you collect input, it will be important to summarize and share what you learned with everyone and outline what the organization will be able to do. If you cannot implement all of the suggestions and wishes staff shared because of budget, workspace design, or other reasons, be sure to explain why. This provides an opportunity to strengthen trust, communication, and relationships among your workforce during the transition back to in-person operations.

Returning to office workspaces and providing ongoing support for remote workspaces will be part of a much broader learning process about work and workspaces that can have an impact on your organization’s future. Engaging workers now, making them integral to the decision-making process, will provide a foundation for organizational success and team wellbeing.

Jackie Cefola, principal of Jackie Cefola Consulting, works with leaders who are starting up new programs, services, and social change organizations. Andrea Shapiro, principal of Andrea Shapiro Consulting, is a trusted advisor to nonprofit and government leaders who are managing change and transition within their organizations.

April 2021

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