Over the last year, many resources were created to provide support for managers and employees as they transitioned to working from home. As we start returning to ‘normal’, similar support needs to be in place.
The Time Has Come
As much of the US has begun lifting restrictions, organizations are faced with choices about what their office environment will look like going forward: continue working at home; return to office; or a hybrid approach. It will be just as important for managers to be prepared to re-integrate their employees with whatever approach the company adopts. As with any change, intentional management is encouraged to navigate through it effectively.
To assist managers in re-integrating their teams back into their pre-COVID environments, here are four quick tips.
This social distancing has been difficult for most people as we are biologically wired for engagement with others. After being separated from their colleagues for so long, there will be a natural need to re-connect upon their return to the office. They will want to tell their stories, hear the stories of others, and generally catch up with the people they were used to interacting with day in and day out for so long. They will need this before being able to fully refocus on the work itself. Therefore, managers should encourage this communion and maybe even look for natural and creative ways to facilitate it.
Prepare to Flex
Because for many people it has been months since they were last in the office, by the time they start returning to work, it is possible that they have found new habits or routines that they feel help them to be most effective or productive. Additionally, it is likely that they have discovered some things about working remotely that they like and actually prefer to working onsite. And finally, the reality is that they will be transitioning from a much less structured work environment to one that is typically much more structured. When transitioning the team back into the workspace, we encourage managers to remember that there is no need for productivity to be undermined by structure simply for the sake of structure. Where possible and not overly disruptive to the team or the organization, managers are encouraged to entertain requests from their teams about certain adjustments to the work environment or approaches to how they go about getting their work done. Balancing structure with flexibility may help lead to even greater engagement from the team than before the disruption.
For those businesses that have seen significant disruption and destabilization as a result of this crisis, it can be assumed that those employees returning to the office will be coming with at least a little sense of anxiety about what the future may hold – for them personally as well for the business as a whole. Because these anxieties are normal and healthy, managers are encouraged to anticipate them in order to be able to provide the most effective support for those employees. As much as possible, managers are encouraged to be as honest, clear, and transparent as to what the future looks like and what this may or may not mean for the team. As part of this, managers are encouraged to make themselves available to actively support individual team members as needed through this re-adjustment phase.
Re-ground in the Vision
Returning to the pre-COVID workplace for many people is likely to be a symbol of a new beginning and not simply a return to baseline. As such, managers are encouraged to capitalize on this moment by bringing inspiration, energy, and enthusiasm in their efforts to re-ground the team in the mission of the organization. Being able to convey a compelling future in a way that resonates with and inspires the team can be a highly effective way of getting everybody rowing in the same direction sooner rather than later.
The above suggestions are certainly far from inclusive, but we feel they are a good start as it relates to helping managers be more intentional about managing this adjustment of their teams most effectively. However, regardless of any particular technique or approach, we encourage managers to simply realize that coming back to work is an adjustment for their people just like being asked to work remotely was. Therefore, managers are reminded to be patient with themselves and their teams, and to be as intentional in supporting their teams through this adjustment as they did through the prior adjustment.