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This post was written by Zach Dunn, co-founder and vice-president of customer experience at Robin, a workplace platform.

Serendipity and spontaneity are romanticized in office life, especially now that many workers haven’t been in the same space as their colleagues for more than a year. As employees envision returning to the office with new schedules and protocols, including required sign-in workstations and limited physical interactions to comply with COVID safety guidelines, it’s more important than ever for leaders to ensure they don’t eliminate important cultural components from the office in the process.

From water-cooler or coffee-room chat and team-building brainstorms to social functions and celebrations, there are multiple ways employers can maintain a strong culture and even build a stronger one by keeping the following in mind:

Get the right technologies and policies in place

Get the right technologies. Meeting tools that seamlessly work in and out of the office are critical for productive and enjoyable gatherings. Digital whiteboards, online visual collaboration tools, and advanced meeting tools can help recreate the collaborative in-office vibe for folks working from home. For teams that rely on project management, organizing tasks and sprints around a platform such as Monday or Asana can bridge the divide in asynchronous work environments. Collaboration platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams are great for group and individual communication, and it should go without saying that information sharing should be frictionless.

Eliminate meeting overkill

Don’t have too many meetings. Zoom fatigue is real, and for workers in the office, productivity will be of equal importance. Before calling a meeting, consider the Five W’s:– who is essential to the conversation, what are the objectives, when will the meeting take place and for how long, where will participants meet, and why is the discussion happening in the first place (could it be handled in an email?).

Establishing hybrid workplace norms and etiquette

Establish new norms and etiquette. To foster a culture that reaches outside the office, start with some informal employee experience surveys to uncover what works and what doesn’t work in terms of work flexibility, location, and technology. Gather information about the types of in-person experiences your people are looking for in their daily life and their willingness to do things like outdoor dining and social events. Be sure to reassess as vaccinations roll out to make sure you’re meeting employees’ needs at the speed of change.

Make the office opt-in instead of opt-out

Give a choice. One of the biggest takeaways from our collective hiatus from office life is that remote work has clarified the reasons to physically be in the office. Though often caricatured and maligned in pop culture, the office is more than just a place to sit down and work; it’s a place that offers an opportunity for varied human connection and a change of scenery, which may help improve productivity. To make the return to office life successful, people must opt-in. The trial run of remote work proved that teams can be productive and thrive without direct supervision. Now, the office can become a place where people come to be inspired rather than managed.

Establish employee champions

Find advocates. People look to others they trust to guide decision-making in all facets of office life, everything from team collaboration to budget planning. Strong internal champions that drive this type of connectivity are key to enhancing employee and workplace experience and driving adoption. Select employees that demonstrate model behavior practicing change adoption, including executives,  to serve as back-to-work mentors for staff navigating the change. Provide staff with guidelines for modeling their behavior and understanding the new workplace norms in the office and beyond.

Accept change

Accept that things have changed. Before COVID, the office was the nucleus of company culture. It’s where you interacted with your coworkers, got to know people on a personal level, and held company-wide meetings and post-work events. The revolutionary workplace shift of the past year has evolved a new acceptance of workplace flexibility. As the danger of virus infection wanes, our perceptions of remote work and work-life balance are unlikely to shift back as “opt-out” behaviors. Though the move to the hybrid model is complex, it can offer rewards for both the company and its people. With a supportive tech stack and an even more supportive company policy, the benefits of lower overhead, greater autonomy, flexible working options, and resiliency in whatever comes next may prove to be a silver lining of this pandemic.

Zach Dunn is the co-founder of workplace platform Robin. The company provides organizations with tools and insights needed to manage hybrid work.

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