The world is opening back up, which means many businesses are getting ready to return to in-person work! While we are approaching the stages of post-pandemic (hopefully), it’s time to think ahead to returning back to the office. As we continue our pandemic reflection series, we’re going to take an up-close look at ways the pandemic has affected us and how our pandemic “experience” can be used to ensure future success. Today, we’ll be discussing what to expect with a return to work.
A Return to Work Plan
While it may be obvious, you can’t expect a return to work if you do not have a return to work plan first. Developing a plan now will give you enough time in advance before you actually have to implement it. This extra time (which you likely didn’t have when you had to transition to work from home at the beginning of the pandemic) will give you ample opportunities to iron out the details and get everything right.
Things to address in this plan are initial concerns, like what returning to work looks like for your business, especially when deciding which modality to offer for your team. Use this plan to set yourself up for success and spell out details for team members who may all be catching up to speed at very different speeds. Be sure to communicate with your team throughout this process to see which option(s) make the most sense for them AND for you. You don’t want your team to feel thrown out to the wolves upon their return, so use your time wisely to address their questions, concerns, and needs prior to the return to the office.
Expect a Culture Shock
This is likely not what you wanted to hear when entertaining the idea of returning to the office, but it is a necessary evil that needs to be conquered. Over the last year (and then some), your team has likely been working from home, away from the collective group. Upon returning to the office, it may be a bit uncomfortable at first to try to revert to how they were as a whole before the pandemic. They may not know how to interact as they once did – we all have changed over the last year; your team is not the same team as it was in February/March of 2020.
Your employees have probably gotten used to working more independently instead of collaborating. While that’s a great skill to have, it’s not ideal when you work in an environment that relies on brainstorming and teamwork. At home, there was no lunchroom or water cooler to gather around and talk with coworkers or pick their brains. The change of scenery should help a bit, but simply being back in the office won’t change everything. Know that your team may not automatically jump back into collaborating right away – it’s up to you to foster that environment and re-establish the culture.
There are many activities that can be done to facilitate an atmosphere of teamwork, but an easy way to kick things off is to ask for input from your team. Gather them together and ask them how they would like to be treated, ways that you can support them better, and also for ideas they have in general. Devising a list as a group will encourage your team to continue group efforts outside of this exercise and also lets them know that you value what they have to say. This not only sets the group up for success, but also lets your team know that you respect them and what they have to say. In return, your team will put out better quality work and continue to feed into and continue the positive culture that you set.
Recognize the Importance of Rebuilding Company Culture
If you didn’t catch this idea in the last section, rebuilding your company culture is so important.
Since the team was disbanded for so long, it is imperative that you gather them up together and lay down your expectations, standards, hopes, and goals for everything going forward. Now is your chance to start fresh and implement any new practices you think will benefit the team. As a leader, you are the foundation of an effective team. Set the standards for how things should be done, but don’t be afraid to break the glass and make people feel welcome and comfortable being back in the office.
Remember that with change comes challenges, so be prepared to give grace freely. This is a new time for all of us, so it goes without saying that some may adapt easier than others. Extend grace to your team and let them know that you support them and are here to help guide them through whatever challenges they face as they return to the office. Don’t be afraid to be flexible with what you are asking of your team (to an extent – we still want work to get done, but understand that things happen). Hold them to high standards in order to be efficient, but give them some latitude for peace of mind when struggles come their way.
The best thing you can do to return your team to a positive company culture is to double down on the importance of open communication. Be transparent with your team on why you do things the way that you do, and encourage them to be open and honest with you as well. Regardless of what struggle you or your team may go through, your team will always be successful when they are open and honest with the group about what is going on. Remember the saying “many hands make light work?” The same is true about conflict. When everyone is up to speed, things are so much easier to tackle head-on and resolve.
Though the road ahead may be a complete mystery, rest assured that your new and improved team is ready to take on challenges together. The pandemic was a definite roadblock that changed many aspects of work and home life, but has been an amazing learning experience for realizing how things can – and should – be better. By re-evaluating and restructuring your current practices, you are improving the quality of work life for you, your team, and for future team members to come.
Next week, we’ll dive into how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted IT, and ways that we’ve grown from it. If you’ve missed out on the previous installment of this series, feel free to check out: Coming out of the Fog.