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Despite the fact that Delta variant cases of Covid are on the rise in the United States, many associations are feeling the pressure to get their teams back into the office. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires foresight and planning to make sure that the right steps are taken to protect the safety of your organization and members as you transition back to the office. 

There are a few key questions to reflect on when developing this “return to work” plan. 

Is now the time? 

The Delta variant has surged in both southern and western states in the last week, with Reuters reporting a 6-month high of over 100,000 infections last week. This has prompted some of the biggest companies to rethink their plans for returning to work including Amazon, Wells & Fargo, Lyft and Apple. For many of these Fortune 500 companies, the return to work won’t even begin until January of 2022. 

For many associations, the previous plan of returning back to the office has been waylaid by the recent uptick in Covid cases. As you consider your strategy for bringing your team back together, it is wise to know if your timeline will provide benefits in relation to the risks. 

What are the risks and rewards of your return to work strategy? 

Although there is some pressure to get association teams back to work in-person, there is a bit of research that shows teams are beginning to acclimate to the remote working environment. In a recent survey by McKinsey & Associates which analyzed more that 2,000 tasks in over 800 occupations, they found 20-25% of all work could be completed via continued remote work at least three days per week. This was especially true for organizations that provided education, which is a big part of the value associations provide. 

In contrast, however, McKinsey found that work that is primarily done in person (retail and healthcare being standouts) will still be difficult to provide via remote work alone. This has an implication for associations, especially as it comes to events — a key area of growth and income for many associations. 

When it comes to risks, consider points like: 

  • Costs for cleaning your workspace and distancing your employees to prevent infection
  • Financial strain of paying for a larger physical workspace
  • Loss of employee engagement as they move back to an office environment
  • Commute time and related issues

Also consider rewards like: 

  • Person-to-person communication and collaboration
  • Face-to-face interaction with membership through events
  • Increased employee engagement as they move back to an office environment
  • Integration with online structures in place (creating a hybrid work environment)

How can you best support your members and teammates during the transition? 

One of the final considerations to keep in mind is how your team (and the individuals that make it up) have responded to the pressures of the remote work environment mandated by the Covid pandemic. It's important to ensure you're considering the impacts on your organizational culture of any big change, including returning to a workplace. While some of your team members might have thrived by moving their office space into their homes, others may have had a more difficult time adapting to the change. In either case, engagement is still the name of the game—just like it was before the pandemic. 

As associations’ teams were forced to move online, the tactics for keeping team members and association members engaged were forced to adapt. As you consider moving back to an office or a hybrid-style work environment, consider some of these best practices. 

Maintaining transparent communication. Continue those Zoom calls or in-person check-in sessions and make it clear that these are safe spaces for people to share their work-related struggles and successes as well as their personal stressors as they transition back to work. 

Support each team member uniquely. Some of your team members may have healthcare related concerns to keep in mind (those who are at high risk of infection, taking care of sick loved ones, etc.). Some may have children at home who need their help and attention during work hours. As you become an ally for each of your team members, you will find that they are more invested in doing their best, regardless of whether they are on the work campus or at home. 

Make morale a priority. Research shows that employees in sectors focused on education and social service (like many associations), are less motivated by money and are more motivated by recognition and a feeling of “doing good.” Harvard Business Review (in collaboration with What Works for Children’s Social Care) did a recent survey to find out the “impact of light-touch, cost-effective interventions” impacted the overall happiness of social workers. They found that “interventions such as congratulatory cards, public recognition, and certificates—can significantly increase intrinsic motivation, performance, and retention rates.” 

This is not to say that adequate pay for good work done is not important. But it does go to show that small, regular positive encouragement can go a long way to keep your team uplifted and doing their best. 

The Takeaway

When it comes to providing a safe and effective work environment for your association team members, no one knows better than you how each person’s needs will affect the overall execution of your “return to work” strategy. 

As you consider the benefits, risks and costs of having your team back in the office (or working from home), the most important element is to ensure that your team is supported in such a way that they will be able to do their very best work wherever they are. 

Willow Becker
Post by Willow Becker
August 16, 2021
Willow Becker is a renaissance woman that has been working with associations and nonprofits for nearly a decade. Her professional focus has been on assisting those in the arts, the legal community, and in the entrepreneurship, marketing, and technology spheres. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Weird Little Worlds Press and has published over 200 articles related to education, marketing, and the business of writing. You can find out more about her at