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The Leadership Challenge – Making the Difficult Decision Around Returning to the Office

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The pandemic has certainly made leadership more complex, bringing new dynamic forces. But one thing hasn’t changed ─ leaders are still expected to make tough (and sometimes unpopular) decisions.

One difficult decision facing leaders today is how and where people work. Even before the pandemic, many articles and podcasts focused on employee choice and flexibility. The pandemic accelerated discussions around remote or hybrid workforces, and now companies are navigating balancing employee preferences with business goals.

There are some critical considerations before deciding on the future of the workplace; including balancing employee desires, with the needs of the team, professional growth, and the ability to serve clients. As a service-based architecture firm, relationships are the cornerstone of who we are as an organization. Bringing employees together to connect with and learn from each other adds value, improves outcomes and is vital to the design process. As a father of recent college graduates, I feel for this generation that hasn't been physically present, spontaneously interacting with, gaining knowledge from, and establishing trust and comradery with others across their organizations.

There is also the impact on our cities and communities. Each community has an ecosystem driven by people. If most people work remote, I fear our cities will look nothing like they did just a couple years ago, with a devastating impact on people who work in local service-based businesses.

While some industries remained in the office during the pandemic, we kept our offices open, giving employees the choice of where to work. Starting June 1st of 2021, we returned full-time (with 1 flex day per week), and while the decision wasn’t popular with everyone, I’m convinced now more than ever that it was the right one. Since returning, conversations with employees have been overwhelmingly positive. During the pandemic, we proved we can be productive away from the office, but we weren’t better. We are a business that thrives on collaboration, and that can’t be completely replaced by technology. We are better together, it’s key to our culture and our corporate DNA.

We can learn a lot by listening to employees. One thing we learned is to be mindful of individual situations and when possible, offer flexibility. I recognize that all industries are different, but my hope is that leaders make decisions not alone on workforce desires, but also on what is best for their clients, business, employee engagement and our greater communities.

Rich Tennessen,
CEO : Principal

Rich Tennessen has been President of Eppstein Uhen Architects (EUA) for the past 10 years and as of October 1st 2021 is CEO.

Milwaukee Business Journal

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