Creating a vibrant workforce and community

Women Lead Change

As the mother of two grown daughters, it’s safe to say that anytime they ask to do something together, I jump at the chance! Go to the farmer’s market? Sure! Quick trip to the mall? Let me clear my schedule. “We’re doing a ‘couch to 5k’ challenge. Want to do it with us?” Wait, what? 

It’s a structured program that starts out with a brisk walk, eventually adds a little jogging, then a longer jog and a shorter walk. By the time our 5k comes around, we’re running a bit, jogging more, and walking when we need to.

I’ve done a few half marathons, but like so many things, it’s a habit that’s fallen by the wayside. There was a time when I ran for my mental health. The miles just happened while I cleared my head. I actually miss that feeling!

As a leader, I see so many parallels between this challenge and returning to the office. Being back in the office three to five days a week will take time. Much like building the stamina to get back in the race, we need to build the “stamina” to be back in the office. Because, in my view, we need to be there.

For leaders concerned about losing people with such a requirement, I argue you can lose them today or in a year or two when your company culture is at a low. Humans need interaction even when some of us (including this introvert) may not want to acknowledge the power of connection. We’ve had years of opting out of water cooler conversations, break room birthday celebrations, crucial face-to-face conversations. It’s the magic in between the meetings that make our organizations so much more than just a “job.”  

And if that’s not enough, I submit the following also suffers:

Visibility. It is harder to get promoted when you’re not in the room.

Innovation. Think of the ideas that happen over a chance meeting in the hallway.

Recruitment and retention of workforce. See above regarding culture.

As mayor of Cedar Rapids, I’m going to add that another group that suffers when you’re absent is your city. I think about the businesses that rely on an active downtown workforce. If we value independent shops, restaurants, services, we need to recognize the challenges they face when we’re working from home.  

We all value a vibrant workforce and community. Let’s recognize our role in creating it.

Now, excuse me while I dust off my running shoes. The things we do for our kids … 

Tiffany O’Donnell is the mayor of Cedar Rapids and the CEO of Women Lead Change. She can be reached at