#PandemicAndBeyond - Dilemma 2: are you in?

16 September 2020

Tags: Pandemic and Beyond

In the second dilemma of our Pandemic and Beyond series, we question what to do when a team member would prefer not to return to the office.

The seven members of the Northern sales development team of Oliver IT, a cloud-based computing company, are responsible for securing sales leads to be followed up by the technical sales guys. Although they occasionally get to meet customers or attend trade fairs, they usually spend most of their time in their own office in a medium-sized town in Scotland, cold-calling businesses or pursuing contacts. When the pandemic hit, the office was closed in line with government guidance and everyone worked from home. This was a novel experience for them, but team manager, Irfan, was really pleased, not to say relieved, about how well the transition worked out. Of course, business was tough, but he was proud of how many leads his team had managed to secure. 

Sarah, in particular, had been a bit of a star. Whereas she was usually no more than ‘solid’, since they’d moved to working at home, she had been the standout performer, even surpassing her typical monthly tally of leads in better times. Apparently, she’d been able to focus better at home and had enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Now that the lockdown situation has eased, some office workers around the country are returning to their usual place of work. So far, though, Oliver IT’s London HQ has only some staff working in the office, because many employees are nervous about the daily commute to work on public transport while coronavirus is still around. However, its corporate guidance is that local managers can make their own judgment about re-opening offices, as long as everything is set up properly. With plenty of spare space to accommodate future hoped-for expansion, Irfan is confident that he can provide a safe environment. He’s keen that the team returns now because, although they’ve coped well so far, he’s afraid that they’ll begin to lose cohesion and momentum – and he misses the banter. He also wants to bring in a new graduate trainee soon and he had been worrying about how to induct her into the team remotely.

In his most recent round of weekly 1:1 calls with his team members, Irfan told them of his plans. He wanted to be fair to everybody and let them have their say. Everyone seemed really keen to get back to the office again – well, nearly everyone. The one exception was Sarah. She rambled on a bit, hinting at various objections like health risks – though Irfan has no knowledge of a chronic condition. However, she was very clear about one thing: how well she’d performed while working from home rather than in the office.

What should Irfan do?

(a)    Order Sarah back with the rest of the team.
(b)    Keep the team working from home until everyone is happy to return or corporate management orders them back.
(c)    Re-open the office for those who want to work there, whilst letting those who want to work from home continue to do so.