For many, we have returned back to the office or are planning on doing so in the near future. Even if you have transitioned into a remote role, I have observed some trends that have been weighing on me.
COVID hit us at such a rapid pace, we didn't have the time we needed to properly transition our employees into this "new world of work." The majority of employees I have spoken with had to take a "trial and error" approach to identifying how they were going to work from their homes.
During the pandemic, many supervisors I interacted with had no idea how to manage their teams in a remote environment. This uncertainty caused leaders to move in directions that did a lot of damage. There were supervisors who demanded their employees status light stay active all day. There were others that constantly questioned their employees and questioned their loyalty to the organization because the supervisor did not feel their work was being completed at the same level. On the flip side, there were some leaders who did an amazing job of showing patience, grace, and focused on developing quality relationships with their employees. Again, with the rapid pace of our transition, we didn't have the time we needed to properly transition our supervisors into this "new world of work."
Many organizations are now in the return to work phase - or they will be in the next 6 months or so. I am already seeing issues with employees having to sit next to and work closely with others. There is a lot of confusion, uncertainty, and frustration of dealing with others. Employee complaints have been rising and we are seeing more employees who have been asked to come back to the office leave their role entirely as their life focus has changed.
Here is the question: How are you transitioning your employees back into the office? We cannot forget that we didn't get the time we needed to transition them out of the office. With this, we cannot expect our employees to simply come back to the office and carry on. I have heard many say they want things to "get back to normal." We know that is not an option.
As a leader, how are you re-establishing the expectations for your team? We have to look at this question through both the personal and professional lens. There has been a lot of loss and personal change for so many. As they are coming back to the workplace, there are going to be questions that you may be surprised at:
- Can we discuss my working hours? The traditional 8-5 is not possible for me
- Is there anyway I can do a hybrid schedule so I don't have to be back in the office 100% of the time?
- Would it be possible for me to get my own space with a door so I don't have to be so close to others?
If we want to truly connect with our employees, there are a few things I would ask you to do:
Re-connect with your employees. Ask them how they are doing - and mean it. Just because you connected with them over Zoom or Teams does not mean you really stayed connected with them. Ask them what changes they have experienced and what they need from you as they make this transition.
Re-connect with your team. Ask the team what they need to move forward. I encourage re-visiting the team expectations. What are they comfortable with? How would they like to handle projects? How would they prefer to deal with conflict now that they are back in the office? While these may be basic or simple, we cannot assume our team is all on the same page with everything that has happened over the past 20 months. **I would also recommend you lead them in a discussion as to what they are nervous about in returning to work. What concerns to they have? What are they looking forward to?
Intentionally check-in: While your teams are getting back into the office, be intentional with your check-in's. I recommend placing an emphasis on meeting more than less as they are getting back into the flow of office life. You can transition your meetings to longer periods in between, but be intentional at first. Just because they are having a good day or two doesn't mean something can occur that they need to talk through. Make sure your team knows you are open and willing to discuss this return to work with them.
Time spent on our teams as they return will provide value for you and them. We all experienced the pandemic differently. We all have different viewpoints on what happened and how we are going to move forward. Take the time now to engage and be curious. Be willing to let your team vent if they need to. By providing them that space to transition back into the workplace, we are allowing them to become balanced and will see our teams move forward sooner rather than later.
What else would you recommend? There are so many different types of situations our workplaces are experiencing. What would you tell leaders to focus on as their teams are coming back to work?