By Angie Joens
Well, it is almost time—much of the world is seeing the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. More people are becoming vaccinated, many states and countries have or are moving to reducing or removing mask mandates, air travel is increasing, people are getting out more and feeling safe to do so. This is great news for all of us, and it also means our offices are going to re-open and our staff will soon be returning in some fashion.
For some, this is exciting (personally, I have found the remote working environment difficult and isolating) but, others have learned to love it. They love it so much in fact that the thought of returning to the office is causing anxiety and dread. Korn Ferry did a survey of 1,000 professionals last month and asked what they most look forward to when they return to the office and 20% said “nothing”.
I have been talking with my teams and colleagues about returning to the office and I have found the same apprehension. They have learned to be productive at home. They like not dealing with a commute. They like having dinner with their families every night and not feeling rushed. They like working in yoga pants and t-shirts. I understand all of this and admittedly I also will miss doing a load of laundry in between meetings yet our work is relational. We have been productive, it is true but could we be even more productive if we were all working together?
The decisions and the discussions about how to return to the office are difficult. You want your employees to feel heard and valued for what they are doing. There is no rule book about how to return to the office after a pandemic. Psychologists are saying transitioning back to work is going to be more challenging for our workforce than it was to transition to telework when the pandemic began.
There is no perfect solution or one way to make everyone happy, so here are some tips to help your team transition back to the office:
Communicate often and be specific – prepare your team for the new work arrangement with regular communication and recognize that people will need different amounts of time to react and process this information and then ultimately adjust. Also, make certain people are clear when the return to office process begins. Giving clear timeframes will alleviate some of the uncertainty and give them time to prepare.
Ease back in – we are going to let those people who are excited to come back be the first group back. They will be our pilot group so we can work out any bugs. Then as the summer progresses we will bring in the second and then the third wave until we are all back in the office by Fall and the new school year.
Hybrid work model – we have many happy and productive employees who would like to continue working remotely so we are creating a schedule that is some days in and some days at home. We will require managers to be in specific days but we will give flexibility to our employees to select days to work at home. This is a win-win for us – we can work together some days and they can be home and work remotely some days.
Office prep – we are going to encourage our employees to go back into the office to check out their office space – it has been some time since we were there so it might need some deep cleaning and organizing. We are assigning dates and times to come in and our IT team members will be on-site to help get all of their equipment hooked back up. We are also bringing cleaning supplies and more shred bins so people can securely purge documents not needed or collected at home during the pandemic.
Plan some team-building activities – there is going to be some social anxiety because people have been working at home. They have not needed to interact with others or make small talk. So we are going to plan some fun activities to reintroduce colleagues to each other. I have some employees I hired during the pandemic that have never met their colleagues in person so we plan to host a welcome party for all of them as well.
Do rounds – if you are a leader in your organization your role is to help with this transition so make the rounds to check in with people. I plan to make regular rounds a few times a day and not just stop by to see my own team members. I want to let everyone know how grateful we are for what they did and continue to show that daily as they transition back in.
Remember there is no rule book on how to transition back to the office, so keep talking with your employees. Continue to evaluate and assess your plans. Check-in on your employees often. Are they happy? Do they feel valued and heard? Ensure they have what they need to be successful. Invite honest feedback and dialogue. Be patient and both give and ask for a lot of grace – some of your plans may not work as you envisioned. Admit it, discuss new plans and adjust accordingly. We are all in this together and I believe in us and know we can take all we learned this past 18 months and “pivot” to a new industry standard.
What is your organization's plan for returning to the office? How are you feeling? What are you doing for your team, or what is your organization doing for you to help you make the transition? We'd love to hear in the comments below!