4 tips for designing your org’s post-pandemic transition plan

In 10+ years in SaaS, I don’t recall another time in which people practitioners have been so cosmically overwhelmed. When COVID hit, HR leaders had to modify their people and culture strategies seemingly overnight, leading their organizations through multiple traumas and crises. And it hasn’t stopped since; recent months have continued to bring unknowns. As we explore new ways of working (like hybrid work structures), there’s the added complexity of the employee post pandemic existential crisis and an ongoing raging war for talent

Despite how important the post-pandemic transition is, more than 60% of executives still don’t have a solid plan in place to support their employees through it. Smaller organizations in particular – those without a dedicated HR presence – are searching for strategies that align both to progressive practices and their goals around culture. Here are 4 things to think about as you work to cement your post-pandemic transition. 

1. Please don’t call it a “return to work.” 

The great philosopher LL Cool J once said, “Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.” It’s a lyric that’s been living rent-free in my brain for the past few months. 

That’s because every HR leader I’ve spoken to lately has had the same reaction to the phrase return to work: Annoyance and frustration. I’ve had the same reaction, and it’s largely just a syntax issue. Return to work may flow off the tongue, yet it implies that employees have been… not working

The reality of the pandemic year is that many employees have been working even harder than usual, while also balancing the seemingly impossible conditions and new responsibilities. It feels wrong – and condescending, honestly – to imply that these employees are returning to work, as if they’ve been on vacation this whole time. Words matter; as your company defines its workplace model, be sure to choose yours carefully. Before rolling out your communications plan company, ask your DEI leader, ERG, or even simply a diverse group of employees to provide thoughts and feedback. 

2. Get up to speed on Equitable Organizational Design

A strategic approach I endorse is one I first learned about from Operator Collective LP and Culture Amp Director of Equitable Design and Impact Aubrey Blanche: Equitable Organizational Design. While leaders focus on building a diverse and inclusive culture, this model encourages them to evolve their design practices towards equity and belonging. As Aubrey puts it, “Moving from inclusion to belonging is critical because it’s moving from ‘We created a space, and it’s fine if you show up,’ to ‘We created a space for you,’ or ‘We created a space with you.’”

Incorporating practices from equitable organizational design impacts not only the employee experience, but also the company’s bottom line. Companies mandating a return to the office are now watching employees quit, rather than give up their work-from-home lifestyles. As Lars Schmidt recently tweeted in response: “You thought recruiting was hard? Retention will be the biggest challenge companies face for the next several years.” Indeed, it is a whole new frontier.

Regardless of where your company lands on Equitable Organizational Design, incorporating some of the approaches SAP, Microsoft, and others took to research their strategies before rolling them out may help you avoid getting caught on your retention strategy heels.  

3. Leverage open-source resources to build your strategy

There’s no baseline practice for navigating the post-pandemic transition. When I co-founded HR Open Source in 2014, our aim was to create a free, peer-based community where HR leaders could open their playbooks, particularly where best practices hadn’t been defined. Today more than 11,000 practitioners across 70 countries share learnings, ask advice, and publish their work to advance everyone. This online community is now one of many that share free resources for everyone to tap into. Here are some places to start with regard to your post-pandemic transition:

4. Share your plan

You probably saw this tip coming from me, and I’m happy to say that this is already happening at a higher frequency than ever before. In the months ahead, I hope companies and leaders will continue to share not just what they are doing, but how they’re doing it on open source forums and communities.

By working out loud and sharing our learnings (and mistakes!), we can all move forward faster and better than before. It’ll also help us to define more progressive practices for the proverbial future of work that’s already at our doorstep.

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