Returning to the Office? Here’s How To Lead Through The Uncertainty 


The COVID-19 pandemic has offered workers a springboard for jumping into new job opportunities, and many are taking the leap. Since last spring, droves of employees have been quitting in what has been dubbed the “Great Resignation.” According to a survey from Gloat, a workforce agility and talent marketplace platform, the Great Resignation is happening for two major reasons: employees want more pay and better opportunities for growth. Almost two-thirds of surveyed participants do not see their current organization as a place where they can move up. While worrisome, there are steps leaders can take to stabilize their workforce, according to

  • Even if you are unable to pay employees more, you can increase their job satisfaction by creating both vertical and horizontal growth opportunities within your organization. 
  • Younger employees want to work with organizations that sync with their personal values. However, only a third of those aged 18-24 believe their employers share these values. By boosting your efforts around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), and taking action to reduce any unconscious bias at your organization, you can make your workplace more attractive to younger employees. 

What Does a Successful Return-to-the-Office Plan Entail?

With risks from the COVID-19 pandemic beginning to wane thanks to vaccines, some leaders are considering having their teams head back to the office. However, not everyone is thrilled to return, as some are still worried about getting sick. Additionally, some employees may simply prefer to work from home. According to Adam D. Galinsky, the chair of the Management Division at the Columbia Business School, leaders can create successful return to the office plans by following these four steps, which he originally outlined in Harvard Business Review:

Use contingencies and communication to give your workforce a feeling of control:

To help your employees feel secure about returning to the office in these unpredictable times, provide them with a return-to-office plan that contains “clear-cut contingencies”.  A great way to communicate these contingencies is with a COVID “decision tree,” a tree-like visual guide that lays out alternative pathways employees should take if they or their family members catch the virus, depending on their unique situation. An example is the Minnesota Department of Health’s decision tree.

Start your reopening with your core values:

Clearly identifying and communicating your organization’s values through what Galinsky calls the “Values-Perspective-Execution (VPE) model” will make your return-to-work plan easier for your workers to conceive and embrace. Because some of your employees may have conflicting values about returning to the office, it’s important for them to understand the benefits of returning to the office. Such benefits may include getting back the ability to better socialize, mentor, collaborate, and innovate. At the same time, they also need to see that you are empathetic to their concerns. It is vital that they know you prioritize their health and safety. When creating your plan, you need to clearly communicate these values.

Gather perspectives from all involved:

Knowing how your employees think and feel about your proposed plan can boost their confidence and support. It will also give you a chance to hear their concerns and solve any potential problems that may arise prior to the implementation phase.

Execute your plan:

Now it’s time to put your reopening plan into action. To do this, you need to communicate the first two steps of the VPE model (values and perspectives). Next, explain the “conflicting values of development and safety”. Then, describe using specific examples of how perspectives from your workforce influenced formation of the plan.

Do You Have a Plan in Place?

The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to pose significant challenges that leaders will need to deal with. By ensuring employees feel secure and valued, you will be better equipped to hold onto your best talent while navigating these uncertain times. 

Create Leaders in Your Organization

IEEE has partnered with Rutgers Business School to offer the IEEE | Rutgers Online Mini-MBA, which operates entirely online. The program features topics including business strategy, managing product development, finance, negotiation, managing human capital, intellectual property strategy, and transformational agility.

Participants will learn how to make organizational decisions with both technical and operational considerations. After developing an understanding of how different functional groups interact to achieve overall goals, they will learn to apply their newly developed business skills to better align their technical capabilities with business strategy.

Registration is now open for individuals interested in participating in next year’s sessions. Two sessions are available. One begins in March; the other in September. The deadline to register for the March session is 4 February 2022. The deadline to register for the September session is 15 August 2022. Individuals interested in registering can contact an IEEE account specialist.

The IEEE | Rutgers Online Mini-MBA for Engineers is also offered to organizations interested in getting access for groups of ten or more. If you are interested in group access and pricing, including the option of a customized capstone designed for your organization’s needs, contact an IEEE account specialist.


Galinsky, Adam D. (19 January 2022). When New Covid Variants Upend Your Return-to-Office Plans. Harvard Business Review. 

Schwantes, Marcel. (19 January 2022).  Why Are Employees Really Quitting? You Can Boil It Down to 2 Simple Reasons. 

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