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ATD Blog

4 Ways OD Was Built for a Return to Work

Thursday, July 15, 2021

By nature, organization development professionals wear many hats. In a post-COVID-19 environment, those hats are likely either to fit a little differently or be used in another way given the uncertain immediate future. Here are four critical ways you and your team will likely be called upon to fill these roles as your organization considers returning to the office (in whatever way that looks like for you).

Change Management Lead

This may sound obvious, but it’s worth a reminder. We’re not going back to anything. Nothing is going to look the way it was, so just let that go. We’re moving forward and creating something new.

The good news is this is where you thrive. You’ve been managing change your entire career. For some, you may be going back to the same physical space, but you may have people who have moved to different states or who have chosen not to come back to the office, so you now have more remote workers. Some of you may be moving into a smaller physical space, realizing your people prefer to work from home more often. What new policies do you need in place?

Who will be your change champions? How will you handle those who aren’t as comfortable with the shift? Identifying this move back to the office as a change management initiative rather than simply the next step in a COVID-19 will help set up you and your organization for success from the start.


None of us have experienced a global pandemic before, so we’re going to be newbies in how we move on from it. Sure, we’re going to be experts at some aspects of this (fortunately, most of us have figured out how to take ourselves off mute now). But we’re going to want clear expectations as things shift, both in the world and within our organizations.


Changing new ways of working during such fluctuating times isn’t something you update in your employee handbook or send out in an email and just expect people to absorb. You want clear guidance and training on this. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but your staff will appreciate a session (or two) with clear learning objectives, a measurement of their understanding, and knowing where they can go for refreshers on the information.


You know that pit in your stomach you get when you see a statistic unsourced? Or the nerdy little dance your heart does when you see a well-organized spreadsheet? That’s because you know the importance of data—defining success, measuring progress, and adjusting so you have the right data to make informed decisions.

As your organization thinks about how to use physical space and collaborate in-person and virtually, knowing how to ask questions that will get you the answers you need will be a critical skill. The OD person never really takes off their facilitator hat, so being able to help the facilities, legal, executive office, and senior leadership teams think holistically about the employee experience and what questions they should be asked will be invaluable.


Holistic Coach

Even if your people are returning to the office and doing the same jobs, we’re not “back to normal;” we’ve all been through a pandemic that shut the entire world down for the first time in our lives. That fundamentally changes us at the human level. We’ve all lost something. Whether it was a loved one, the way you think about your own health, faith in how things work, or something you took for granted or a routine, we all experienced loss. And the levels of loss will be different for each of your people. The impact of what has just occurred is not going to be fully understood for a long time.

The most important role you can play is to help coach leaders in your organization to remember the whole person as we figure out our way forward. Remind your leaders they are people too, which means they also lived through this and are entitled to their feelings as well. Starting from a place of curiosity rather than assumption will go a long way as we all settle into whatever our new routines look like. Asking questions about how people are, what’s changed for them, what they experienced during the past year—all these things will help teams cope and move forward together.

You can also provide resources to your employees to encourage conversation and support, including your organization’s employee assistance program (EAP), what mental health coverage your insurance provides, or links to Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

About the Author

With almost 20 years of management experience in fields including banking, associations and retail, Catherine Wemette (she/her/hers) has a unique perspective on how to get the best out of people. She started Good for the Soul LLC in 2014 to help organizations cultivate their talent and get results through coaching, facilitation, training and project management. As the chief goodness officer, she is responsible for helping others achieve their success and celebrating wins along the way. Most recently, she worked with the American Institute of Architects as their first Director of Employee Learning and Engagement, overseeing five years of continued growth in their employee engagement as measured by Gallup’s Q12 survey.

Prior to taking an association hiatus to work for her favorite shoe designer, John Fluevog, Catherine served as the membership director for the Licensing Executives Society (USA & Canada). Additional association experience includes the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) in chapter relations, membership and education departments.

Catherine is a life-long learner and an avid West Wing fan. In the theme of “what’s next?” she most recently earned her Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification from the HR Certification Institute in 2020. She earned her executive certificate in Leadership Coaching from Georgetown and received her Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential in 2020. She also received her Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential in 2009 and is a member of both the International Coaching Federation and ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. She completed her Master of Public Administration with a concentration in nonprofit management from The George Washington University and graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a BA in communications and political science. In her spare time, she tries to figure out how a Minnesota girl ended up in Virginia with no snow for any sort of regular skiing (though she is a fan of the Virginia wineries, so it’s not all bad news).

1 Comment
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Great article - I always wonder why the media and various leaders say "getting back to normal." I wholly agree that our lives have changed so significantly, we are going to create new normals going forward. However, at this moment it's a stretch to say "post-COVID" anything.
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