Return to the Office: How are you Supporting this Transition?

These four words are starting to enter into our working vernacular in the US, as we inch towards herd immunity. I know this brings up so many feelings and thoughts for those who transitioned their office job to a remote set up over a year ago. There is uncertainty and excitement with a dash of anxiety sprinkled in. Last week, I spent some time with an organization to think about and discuss what they would want to design for their future work life.

Transitions are…

In this workshop, I was very intentional to hold space for folks talk about their future transition, specifically to look at what they have accomplished this year at work and to design the work space they want to return on campus. Unlike change, that is situational; transitions are psychological (Bridges, 2017). For any transition we encounter, there is an opportunity for making meaning and identity development if there is a shared sense of agency, belonging, and cause (Feiler, 2020). We are not going to return the office life we once knew — as so much has changed. In this transition back to campus/office/physical workspace, I ask you:

What is the work life you want to lead? How do you want to work? What actions can you do to support transition back to the workplace?

For those of you who are managing a new beginning and thinking about these transitions from your WFH (work from home) life to the office, I adopted some of Bridges (2017) questions to support your management and planning of transitions back to campus/office life:

  • What ways are you preparing your team(s) for the upcoming transition back to campus?
  • How are you bringing others into the organization process to support transition planning?
  • What issues do you need to address from this past year of remote work that might come up in the pending transition back to the office?
  • What ways have you clarified and given purpose to the upcoming changes at work?
  • How have you involved all stakeholders in the transition process, related to their role and function in your organization?
  • In what ways have you communicated your plan? What methods have you outlined and visualized the phases for transition?
  • Beyond change management plan, what issues or questions will you need to address as your team(s) transition back to campus/office life?
  • How will you reward and recognize your team(s) as they contribute to this transition?
  • What policies, procedures, and processes need to be in place as you make this transition to prevent any inconsistencies?
  • In what ways do you need to model transition as a leader within or for the team(s) you support?
  • How will you celebrate the transition back to the workplace to mark the journey and accomplishments?

The initial part of this session started by giving back a voice and getting input from individuals within the division, beyond their own teams. The insights and ideas shared by a number of folks across functions and roles helped to expand the possibilities of what future campus life might look like. By starting from a curious place of “what could my work life be?” instead of “we’re returning back to the office that was” — you are able to shift the mindset and be open to new ways to design your work life. Additionally, it takes more than just one team or one single leader to make any transition at work, actually work. It’s moving from individual, units, and departments, to thinking about the community you are building in your organization with this new transition. To establish a “community” and move beyond the team, Hoefling (2017) identified the following attributes you want members in a community to share:

  1. Kindred Purpose: Healthy communities are about something — not just getting together to get together. ASK: Why are we here? What’s our purpose.
  2. Meets Regularly: Gather frequently enough to sustain a consistent, ongoing conversation in which the members can pick up where they left off last time without starting all over again and again; participation in the community becomes a practice in and of itself. ASK: What are we doing when we meet or gather?
  3. Shared Ground: The values or point of view; explicit shared vision keeps the group together, keeps the conversation going, and acts as a means of establishing priorities and mediating issues as the group journeys together. ASK: What are our community values and focus?
  4. To Know and Be Known: It’s about the people — not the content or the process. There should be some level of personal connection and understanding of who people are, what they are working on, and building of personal rapport. ASK: What do you want your community to be known for? What’s your legacy?

What is it time to let go of? How will you spend time with your community to design a better workplace? What will this new way of working require of you and your organization?


Bridges, W. (2017). Managing transitions: Making the most of the change.  Boston, MA: Da Capo Press

Feiler, B. (2020). Life is in the transitions: Mastering change at any age. New York, NY: Penguin.

Hoefling, T. (2017). Working virtually: Transforming the mobile workplace, 2nd Edition. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

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