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Mastering the Return to Office (RTO) Conversation

July 19, 2021

As more people receive their Covid-19 vaccinations and companies re-imagine the workforce strategy, life as we knew it before the pandemic is beginning to return. One facet of life that was radically altered was the in-person employee experience.

Companies that had the flexibility to covert to remote work did so and are now moving at a rapid pace to return employees back to the office. Some employees are perfectly OK with coming back while others are struggling with this change. If you are a new manager who needs to discuss RTO, I have some suggestions.

Be honest and transparent

Honesty is truly the best policy. Your employees want information that not only will impact their well-being, but the health and safety of their family members as well. Consider covering these points:

  1. What is the company policy including social distancing at desks, in conference rooms, and wearing a mask?
  2. Will employees be on a flex schedule—alternating in-person days/weeks?
  3. How often will work equipment such as computers, keyboards, phones, and mouses be disinfected, especially if you are adopting a desk sharing policy?
  4. If your location has a café, will meals be self-service?
  5. Will employees be required to disclose their vaccination status?

It's a brave new world

At first, there may be some hesitancy to leave the safety and convenience of the work from home environment. Take the time to discuss the overall company strategy for RTO. Provide opportunity to openly ask questions in a group and one-to-one setting. Take between 10-15 minutes during your regular team meetings to discuss RTO and answer questions. Ensure your share feedback with your HR partner as the RTO policy will evolve as it is put into practice.

Emphasize RTO company guidelines and applicable flexibility

Most firms will have reasonable accommodations

for employees with medical conditions that may place them at risk of contracting Covid. There may be other situations that warrant exception consideration, e.g., family members at home who may be highly susceptible.

If an exception can be granted, communicate this information to your employees and walk them through the internal process of submitting a request. In some cases, you may face a situation where an employee has moved out of state and is now requesting to remain remote. If the company policy does not address this scenario elevate it to you HR partner.

Remember, this is an evolving situation and policies will adjust over time. If you don’t have the answers, it’s OK to follow up once you are able to secure the correct answer. Be sure to underscore some responses may require follow up from senior leadership.


It is natural for people to express caution and concern as we slowly return to a post-pandemic world. For most companies, the decision on whether to implement an RTO strategy is already crafted. However, even as an early-stage leader you may have the opportunity to influence the broader company conversation by carefully listening to your employees, being responsive by reinforcing and conveying the policy as well as by raising questions to HR that may not be covered in the current policy.