Returning to the Office: How to Make It Work for You
If you are anything like us, you are feeling both fatigued from your organization’s communications about being back in the office and are also spending a ton of time reading articles on how to be back in the office safely and better than ever. It feels overwhelming to keep talking about how to work better, but clearly, none of us have really figured it out.
Here at Orr Group, we are organized into three “offices” – one in Washington, D.C., one in New York City, and one comprised fully of remote employees spread across the country. Additionally, we partner with nonprofit organizations locally, nationally, and internationally, so at any given point, we have team members and clients all over the map. Through the pandemic, we have seen agile leaders across the nonprofit sector make difficult decisions about staffing and space, and now, work to re-envision, rebuild, and grow. We are mirroring that, and consequently are working through new cultural challenges and questions. Now a few months into our own “Return to Office”, we are grappling with critical questions about how we work. As we are growing, how do we welcome and onboard new members of our teams? How can we effectively work on hybrid (in-office and remote) teams and with clients we may never even meet in person? How do we balance being “back” onsite with some clients while managing the rest of our responsibilities? How do we use our office spaces and what is motivating people to be back in person?
As consultants, we are hired to answer questions all the time, and we approach resolving problems with strategic and tactical solutions that can effectively be implemented. In our decision-making process, we also seek to incorporate multiple perspectives. With that in mind, below are some recommendations from three very different members of our growing hybrid team who are making it work.
Reflections from Kennedy Bennett, Associate Director
As an Associate Director, I work across client teams primarily focused in D.C. to implement strategies that lead to client success. As I navigate what many are calling the “new normal,” I’ve found that returning to the office has a few upsides, (but commuting isn’t one of them)!
Make working sessions… work.
At times during work from home, we can feel confined to our small offices or apartments. When spending time at the office, take advantage of the large office space and amenities to work alongside your colleagues. I have found it beneficial to work among my team members in a space where we can learn, collaborate, and laugh with each other.
Get social… and smart.
I think we can all agree that after the last two years we are ready to grab breakfast, happy hour, or go on a walk with our colleagues! However, it can seem overwhelming when there is still work that needs to be done while your colleagues are grabbing coffee or doing something fun near the office. I target my in-office time on days when I don’t have a heavy meeting schedule so I can allocate time to spend with my colleagues. It’s important as we ease back into the office that we prioritize ourselves to avoid burnout.
Reflections from Lindsay Guinan, Director
As a Director and a fully remote employee working out of my home in Pennsylvania, I’m new to Orr Group. Onboarding to a new position is challenging no matter the circumstance but in order to be successful while 100+ miles away from my closest colleague, I used three tactics to get to know the company and allow them to get to know me.
Be proactive in your approach.
Use time to your advantage. As a new team member, I knew I could ask colleagues to meet with me to learn more about themselves. Without the advantage of impromptu chats around the coffee machine, I reached out to teammates to set up 15 minutes to connect. For those who aren’t new, challenge yourself to set up one virtual coffee a month with someone not on your team. In a hybrid world, you have to be intentional and create these moments of interaction.
Take advantage of in-person gatherings when you can.
If you can go to the office, go! We know there is magic that happens when we gather with our colleagues. Don’t reinvent the wheel – maximize your time and visit the office when there is a retreat, social gathering, or important presentation already planned.
Go back to basics.
When it comes down to it, rely on the basic tenants of relationship-building – authenticity and follow-up. Relationship building takes time and attention. You don’t form great relationships overnight. Bring your authentic self to your colleagues and dedicate time to learning about them, their interests, and their work. Build time into your calendar to do regular check-ins with your teammates to keep relationships strong.
Reflections from Amanda Nelson, Vice President
As a Vice President in our New York office, my time is spent in varying ways; in the office, onsite with clients, traveling, and (thankfully) some days working from home. It has been an adjustment returning to in-person meetings and travel, and while it feels very familiar and energizing, I’m honestly feeling a little rusty. To help with all these transitions, here are some tactics I’m using for myself and across my teams.
Make in-office time intentional time.
I love being back in the office, and while I am there, I shift my schedule to focus on in-person meetings and networking activities. Along with our entire leadership team, I’m focusing a lot of time on culture-building activities and collaborative opportunities. I’m being really intentional about using my in-person time to invest in and develop relationships both inside and outside my organization.
Balancing time and expectations on the road.
While I need to be present when I am traveling, I still have responsibilities to my other teams, so I’m working on balancing the two in order to remain a steady leader and strong contributor. To help with this, I make my schedule very transparent and set clear expectations for my availability to join meetings and review work. I think this is a big adjustment for everyone – people aren’t just sitting at a desk anymore.
With my teams spread out, I’m finding that people need – and want – some flexible hours. I myself find the evenings to be my focus time on projects and I appreciate that I can spend my early mornings taking my children to school. Again, I keep my calendar very up-to-date and am working extra hard to communicate deadlines and expectations and ask the same of my teams.
How to maintain a healthy work culture
Whether your organization is fully remote, in-person, or a mix of the two, employees today expect to be involved in the conversation about how, where, and when work gets done. While every organization is operating under a different set of expectations, here are some strategies we recommend to maintain a healthy culture, no matter where the work gets done.
Define your priorities.
Decide what is most important to serve your organization’s mission. Create a list of priorities and expectations and get buy-in from key staff from all levels of the organization.
Socialize your priorities, explain why they are important to your organization, and hold your teams accountable to them. Creating special rules and workarounds for certain employees breeds distrust and can poison your culture.
Don’t be too prescriptive.
Offer flexibility where you can. After two years of working from home, the way we approach work has changed. Let people have ownership over their schedule, within the boundaries agreed upon by the organization.
The only constant is change.
Consistently evaluate and re-evaluate what is working in your organization. What works today might not work in six months – be open to changing your approach if it no longer serves your teams.
Attitude is everything.
For many of us, we can’t completely change the RTO policies of our organizations. The only thing in our control is how we react to them. Encourage every member of your organization from top to bottom to seek out the potential upside of in-person collaboration.
How are you making this “new normal” work for you?
We have learned so much from the amazing organizations we partner with, and would love to hear from you! Let us know what’s working, especially around intentional culture. And for additional perspectives, explore the following resources:
- Making Remote Working Actually Work: Remote Working: The Business Guide – Thanks Ben
- Practical Tips for Returning to the Office: 10 things to do for a stress-free return
- Mixed Feelings about RTO? You’re Not Alone. A Glimpse into Perspectives from Workers in Boston
- Trends Across the Sector: RTO Best Practices for Nonprofits
About the authors
Amanda K. Nelson brings 15 years of professional fundraising experience and expertise in development, investor relations, and higher education to her role as a Vice President at Orr Group. As a member of the Senior Leadership Team, Amanda serves as a mentor to her colleagues and helps to build relationships for the firm. Amanda previously served as Associate Dean of External Affairs at The Columbia University School of Professional Studies, where she oversaw alumni engagement, development, board relations, public relations, and communications.
Lindsay Guinan brings more than 10 years of experience in fundraising both as a frontline prospect manager and as a strategist to her role as a Director at Orr Group. She collaborates with Orr Group’s nonprofit partners to support their work in building relationships, managing volunteers, and creating engagement opportunities to ensure each organization’s fundraising success.
Kennedy Bennett, Associate Director, collaborates with Orr Group’s nonprofit partners to develop and execute fundraising strategies and drive revenue. Her work includes supporting fundraising operations, managing client deliverables, conducting research, and developing outreach materials. Kennedy brings experience in program management, recruiting, event planning, marketing, and project management.