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In Returning To The Office, Leadership Must Set The Example
[January 26, 2023]

In Returning To The Office, Leadership Must Set The Example

By Joshua M. Hebert, CEO and co-founder of Magellan Jets

BOSTON, Jan. 26, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- As we close in on the three-year mark since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many organizations are still struggling with bringing their employees back to the office—or at least getting them to something more closely resembling their pre-COVID office presence. In some places, including major cities like New York, the return to the workplace has recently stalled.

Much of the conversation around the return to office work has been portrayed as a "battle" between bosses and their employees, but as the CEO of a company that successfully returned to the workplace over two years ago, I know it doesn't have to be this contentious. If you're a leader struggling to get your people to come back to a physical workplace, you may need to start by looking in the mirror.

In everything from company culture to work-life balance to, yes, returning to the office, employees will follow the example of senior leadership. HR Dive reports that 9 in 10 companies will require a return to the office by 2023, but how many of those companies will see the same mandates given to their employees applied to company leadership, from the C-suite down to team leads? Earlier in 2022, a Future Forum report showed that many executives were not returning to the office along with their employeesonly 19 percent of executives were back in the office full time, compared to 35 percent of non-executives. That trend simply cannot continue if executives want their employees to come back.

I believe Magellan Jets owes much of its success over the past two years to our leadership-driven return to the office in the summer of 2020. Our senior leadership team wanted to return to our headquarters outside Boston, Massachusetts, but we knew that in such uncertain times, we couldn't expect our teams to come back if we didn't lead the way ourselves. Long before many other companies were even thinking about gettingback together in person, our C-level leaders, VPs, and team leads committed to being present in the office again and setting the example for the rest of the Magellan Jets family.

In those fearful and uncertain days of summer 2020, it wasn't just important for our leaders to spearhead the return—they had to use their influence to reassure the entire Magellan Jets family that coming to the office was safe. From the top down, our leaders demonstrated and promoted proper masking, sanitizing, and social distancing procedures, and the entire company followed their example. Though we couldn't join together in quite the same ways as we had before, we strove to foster community and a sense of semi-normalcy that could be a respite from pandemic worries.

The resulting environment provided the venue for collaboration and the creative spark needed to finally get our Private Jet Membership program off the ground. The following year, in 2021, that same membership program grew in revenue by 434 percent and won Robb Report's 2021 "Best of the Best" award for Private Jet Membership. Being back in the office with an invigorating project to rally around was as good for our business as it was for our spirits.

These successes would not have been possible if I or any other member of Magellan's senior leadership team had ordered employees back while simultaneously excusing ourselves.

CEOs and leaders can argue back and forth about whether working from home is better or not, but we do know the benefits of working together in an office. We know that employees develop and grow by working alongside and observing one another. We know that the connections they build among their peers are important, and that having a best friend at work makes work more enjoyable. We know that experiencing workplace culture firsthand gives employees a better sense of belonging and social identity. We know that companies prosper when people are together—and more importantly, we know how people prosper, professionally and personally, in an office setting.

But each of these great benefits will be overshadowed by the absence of senior leadership. A sense of "rules for thee, but not for me" will erode the positive attributes of in-person work if employees are made to return but leaders sit in the comfort of their home offices.

The Magellan Jets return to work experience has left me with three tips I believe are essential when asking employees back:

Broadcast that you yourself are back in the office. For your employees, knowing and seeing that leadership is back in the physical workplace will have a powerful effect on their willingness and desire to be back in the office. Before you make your return announcement, be sure to make it known that you and the leadership team have already made the move and let your employees see you're back by prominently displaying the office in the background—no Zoom background, the real deal. You're mentally preparing your people for a return before you've even made an official announcement, selling the idea of an office return to the subconscious mind. Ideally, this will foster trust and acceptance for the return to the office before you've even asked them.

Create a space where your employees want to be. Magellan Jets recently moved into a new, larger office, and we've used that opportunity to take this tip to heart. We designed a workspace where our employees could collaborate and come together, not just grind away at their desks. We built the office we imagined people getting excited about. If you want to compete with the comfort and convenience of working from home, you have to offer your employees the comforts they have at home, plus the one thing they don't get from working in remote isolation: a sense of community. If your space doesn't have common areas that welcome socializing, relaxing, and working together, it's worth reassessing and redesigning. Also, it's not enough just to have these spaces—people need to feel welcome and encouraged to utilize them, too. Ask yourself, what could people do in their homes that they can't do in your office? Create an environment that makes your people feel like they're still in their home, but with the added benefit of being together with their peers.

Foster growth and mentorship opportunities. Collaborative spaces are one thing, but another great benefit of your teams being in the same physical location is that they'll be able to learn and grow from one another. The return to office is the perfect time to introduce a structured and official peer-to-peer mentoring program. Highlight the advantage of being able to knock on someone's door for guidance in person and tout the growth opportunities those kinds of interactions provide. In short, make sure your employees feel that they'll be advancing their professional development by being in the office in a way they cannot while working from home. Consider hiring an Employee Experience Manager or similar "Chief People Officer" position to make sure you're following through.

Business leaders should remember that if you want your employees to be present, the example must be set from the top. The practices and behaviors that you exemplify will set the tone for the rest of the company. Show your people you've made the return, create an environment worth returning to, and tout the growth benefits of rejoining the physical office world. If you make the move to return to the office yourself—and demonstrate the benefits of doing so—the rest of your employees will follow.

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SOURCE Magellan Jets

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