Navigating Your Operations Role in Return to Office Plans

Published Jul 8, 2021

With many individuals returning to offices this year, teams are once again preparing for a shift in how we work. Studies show that 70 percent of companies plan to have team members back in the office in some capacity by fall of this year. As a product operations lead, I’ve been starting to think about what this means for our team and how we operate. Return to office brings an exciting new opportunity in how we work together and with our colleagues across the organization: the shift back to shared resources between in-person and remote individuals. 

In a role like product ops that’s rooted in working across teams and departments to ensure efficiency in how products are developed, we must consider adapting our practices once again. As we begin planning for a return to the office for some team members, I am focusing my time on ensuring everyone feels strongly about the processes we put in place. Below, I’ve outlined some of the items that are top of mind for me as I create our plans. 

Remember what worked async 

When your team went remote, did you cut some meetings to reduce team Zoom fatigue? What about planning and standup sessions–did you change the cadence of these to give time back in people’s calendars? If your team worked through various ways to ensure cameras weren’t turned on all day, try to keep as many of these rituals as possible. While some folks are very excited to be back and person, others may feel strongly about keeping the asynchronous systems in place (and cameras off) to get work done. 

Be mindful of varying locations and time zones

If you are finding that you now have split teams in various time zones and locations, take an inventory of who is available and when. Alternating between in-person and remote leaders for standups, planning, and any other team meetings can help to keep the playing field level and prevent an accidental pivot towards fully remote-led or in-person-led meetings.  

Utilize a variety of tools to keep time zones top of mind for your team. Giving teams a clear spreadsheet or document that they can update with their availability ensures everyone is always aware and mindful of each other’s time. 

Adaptation and agility are key

If you do decide to significantly change how your team operates due to the return to office, be sure to timebox those changes. Breaking down changes into smaller, digestible initiatives will help everyone feel good about the changes. For example, a good timebox could be trying something out for the next quarter. This way you can assess on a monthly basis, and make a decision toward the end of the quarter if you’d like to continue the change into the next three months. 

When in doubt, ask

When making plans to potentially change how you work to adapt to those in person, how do you ensure the changes you make are net positive? The best way to know for certain is to ask. Conduct a survey or retrospective with your stakeholders and partners across the company. Ask questions about what has worked well for them remotely, what could help with the transition back, and how your operations team can support along the way. In the end, putting in the time to understand people’s needs ahead of changes will help to build trust for the future. 

We’re all learning as we go

Remember that as you plan, things will always change. These are truly new times for all of us, so being open and honest with your team about your plans and what you hope to learn from them will keep trust and relationships strong. I hope these tips help you as you’re thinking about bringing people back into the office, and what a hybrid work environment means for your team. Happy planning!