Once nearly vacant freeways are returning to the familiar bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go patterns. If traffic is any indication, society is rushing into a traffic jam of activity and expectations. Business leaders are ready to get people back to the office. Property owners are eager to fill the empty buildings. Employees are not in a hurry.

People are emerging into a different world with one foot on the accelerator and the other hovering over the brake. They want to get on with life, but not necessarily the one they knew pre-pandemic. The restrictions of a quarantine revealed that working remotely provided opportunities for a much-preferred quality of life. Many have discovered increased productivity, time for personal and/or family interests, and the budget-friendly benefit of removing the time and cost of a commute. Priorities have changed. So have the expectations. 

The new disruption leaders must navigate is the tension between their ‘business as usual model’ and a new paradigm that redefines the way we work. 

Recent surveys reveal the opportunities and the potential chaos:

Remote Work Productivity:

  • Over 90% of employers indicate that productivity was the same or improved.
  • Employees working from home saw increased productivity by 13% or more.

Return To The Office:

  • 75% of executives are ready for half their employees to return on a modified schedule by the end of summer 2021.
  • 39% of employees are not ready and prefer to return more slowly.

Reimagined Schedules:

  • 68% of employers think employees should be in the office for 3 days or more.
  • 55% of workers want to be remote for at least three days.

And then the HARSH REALITY:
Surveys are indicating that anywhere from 25% to 58% of remote workers will look for a new job if given no remote options and were required to return to a desk full time.


The majority of leaders that I have spoken to have indicated that the primary reason for bringing their people back to the office is for the sake of their company culture.  The belief is:

  • Being on location improves motivation.
  • Proximity enhances community
  • The physical environment enhances the management of engagement

Those beliefs do have some validity as it pertains to developing strong teams. However, as I’ve found in my research of organizations that survive chaos, the culture that keeps high-performing talent and enjoys sustainable growth is the one that emphasizes relationships over real estate. 

Your culture is not where you house your business; it is the HEART of your business.

The heart is defined by your shared values — the core principles that describe what is important and the behaviors that exemplify those priorities.

I have yet to find in any business’s list of core values that the physical address and number of days on location are critical to the mission. What is critical is that your culture (directed by your values) be transferable to any context and disruption, remote or on-site. When you prioritize your people above property and process — it will energize teamwork, individual performance will be exceptional, the conflict will be minimized, and resistance to change will be manageable.

As a leader, you still have some difficult decisions to make as you move your business beyond the chaos of the pandemic and its lingering impact. You might have to begin the migration back to the office. Just don’t make the mistake of confusing cubicles as the catalyst for culture and risk losing your best people. Encourage everyone to use the G.P.S. as you collectively merge back onto a redefined freeway of work.

G – Guidance.  Pull out that list of core values and evaluate how the upcoming decisions can best be aligned to them.
P – Performance.  Focus on performance vs. proximity.  Determine what outcomes can be successfully achieved remotely and which is required in-person? You will likely find a balance that serves both well.
S – Service.  Ask how you can better serve the people you are leading now and in the days to come. Explore every option that will help build their potential and do what you can to provide the resources for them to be successful. 

~~~                ~~~

Steven Iwersen is a business leader, speaker and author of “The Porcupine Principles: How To Move Prickly People To Preferred Outcomes.”  Contact him at [email protected] to learn more about how HEART can help your organization become a Champion in the Chaos!

(C) 2021, Steven Iwersen