How Coaching Can Ease the Rocky Return to the Office

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Chief Coaching Architect of The Ken Blanchard Companies®



Employees have tasted freedom—and it turns out that a lot of people have discovered some real advantages to working from home:

  • increased time due to no commute and no need to be appropriately dressed and groomed;
  • a lot more autonomy around workflow and managing workload;
  • loading the dishwasher, meal prep, playing with the cat); and
  • relief from having to see people they don’t like or be forced to make small talk in the hallway!

Of course, many people are thrilled to come back to the office who never really found their happy place in a home office. But even those folks may want to hang on to a few new learnings gained from that experience.

Although many organizations are insisting that everyone come back to the office, others are moving forward with a hybrid model in which employees are working both remotely and in the office. How do leaders work with each employee to find the exact right model for these folks, while building community and continuity for their teams? And how do they find a balance between what worked before the pandemic and what changes need to be made as the dust settles on our new normal?

Coaching Can Help

Coaching can help leaders sift through all of their challenges, decide which are the riskiest, and create an action plan to prevent unintended consequences of whatever change people are dealing with. A coach can help leaders prioritize what’s most important and make well thought out choices for how to create the environment their team will succeed in. A coach can also demonstrate coaching skills and support leaders in using a coach approach with their people.

We know from our research that leaders who are perceived as using coaching behaviours (facilitating, inspiring, and guiding) create a sense of positive work affect or emotion in their followers. Individuals who perceive their leaders as exhibiting coaching behaviours are more likely to trust those leaders. And, as change continues to be turbulent and constant, leaders who see each employee as an individual human being will be much more successful at developing and ultimately retaining those people.


So how can a coach help leaders who might be struggling or not yet ready for the hybrid model? It usually begins by sharpening communication skills. For example, a coach can help a leader improve their ability to ask questions to get at the root of issues.

Consider the questions many employees have—ones that continue to vex employers: “How many days a week are we expected to be in the office?” or “I’d like to work from home full time—is that possible?” A coach can work with a leader facing these questions by helping them get quality input from their own teams. Coaching questions that can help are:

  • What was the best thing about working from home for you?
  • What did you not like about working from home?
  • What did you miss most about coming to the office?
  • What did you not miss at all?
  • What have you learned about yourself in the last 15 months?
  • What would the perfect work week look like for you as we are able to spend more time together in person?
  • What would an ideal mix of working from home and coming to the office look like for you?
  • What skills have you learned or sharpened in the last 15 months?
  • Are there new skills you want to learn? Are there things you think you need to know how to do to be successful moving forward?
  • What else do you want me to know?

From here, a coach can help a leader develop listening skills to truly hear the answers and begin to understand the meaning behind them.

Finally, a coach can help a leader learn to turn knowledge into action by working with their people to explore different alternatives. The key is to first have the conversations and then get super creative in crafting an approach.

If we have learned anything, it is that employees can be trusted to be flexible. The least we can do is provide leaders with coaching resources to be the type of leader people have earned. This might be the greatest COVID silver lining: a true shift in how we treat our workers.

The Ken Blanchard Companies®

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