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04/13/2021

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From high-tech offices to boosted benefits: How HR executives are developing return-to-office strategies

Editor’s note: Cardinal Health CHRO Ola Snow was recently featured in a story published on Fortune.com as part of its Fortune @ Work: The Return-to-Office Playbook. (Excerpt published with permission.)

The ways in which employees work, and the subsequent policies and structures that best support them, have become just as consequential to a firm’s financial performance as any other revenue-driving strategy.

HR heads have spent the last two years tapping every resource at their disposal – people analytics, industry benchmarks, and management research – to create and customize return-to-office strategies that are unique to their companies and that they believe best serve business interests.

As the pandemic eases and companies solidify their return-to-office stance, a few things have become clear: RTO models aren’t one-size-fits-all, solutions rarely please everyone, and these policies will require continuous evaluation and redesign as companies charge full force into the next stage of work.

Fortune spoke with 10 HR executives and people leaders at prominent Fortune 500 companies to explore how they’re crafting their return-to-office models.

The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Cardinal Health
Ola Snow, chief human resources officer

What’s your RTO policy, and who does it extend to?
We have all three models—remote, hybrid, and in person. For frontline workers who come to work every day, we are thinking about the flexibility of shifts. We’ve always had people who work remotely in sales and some of our customer service organizations. Those models go for every employee. We don’t distinguish between salaried and hourly workforce.

We are less focused on where employees get their work done but on what work needs to be done and where people are best energized to do it.

Who helped shape the company’s return-to-office strategy?
When the pandemic happened, we formed a pandemic team, which I led with several functions across the organization. That pandemic team morphed somewhat into a workplace team with many of those same leaders participating. As we transitioned back to our offices, our executive committee and some business unit leaders made that decision.

Why was this the best fit, and in what ways does it speak to the company’s culture?
We’re focused on supporting our customers, achieving results, and providing flexibility for our employees. That requires an environment where workers can thrive at home, in the office, or at a distribution center or plant. We also have four or five generations now in the workplace, so we focus more on what work we are doing vs. where that work is. No one gets excited about coming to the office and being on Zoom all day. We want to make sure those interactions are meaningful.

What’s been the biggest learning set thus far?
One of the biggest learning opportunities has come from Gen Z. They voiced the need and desire for this flexibility. Still, they were very specific about wanting moments of connection and in-person collaboration with their colleagues. Mentoring and collaboration were high on their list and important moments when they felt like they wanted to be with leadership. Coming together to solve customer issues or moments of innovation were also high on the list. We look at when it’s beneficial to be in the office, and we know that might change over time. I like to say this is the next normal, not the new normal.

What do you believe is the most innovative aspect of the strategy? What initiatives have you paired with it to boost employee engagement?
Maybe the most innovative part of the plan is that we pivot when we need to. We don’t have any plans to say everybody comes back on January 1, or everybody must work Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in the office because we may not need people here. Creating space to collaborate also has to be front and center. The days of thousands of cubicles are over. I’m responsible for HR, but I’m also responsible for facilities. So those two things coming together works well.

In terms of benefits, we increased our caregiver benefits. We partner with an outside vendor to fund permanent daycare or elder care, and we give very discounted rates to our employees for emergency backup for adult care or childcare.

We also have a concept called mid-week moments, where we ask employees to take time for themselves, such as connecting with a customer, taking a yoga class, or helping their child do homework.

To learn what other Fortune 500 executives had to say about return to work, please find the full article here.

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