Working from home raised some anxiety at the time for both employees and management, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly. And now we’re faced with the next anxiety: Return to the office. But are you ready to welcome your team back?
As we continue to see hospitality and leisure opening up more, opening up workspaces is the next logical step – even if not quite to the way they were yet. I’m already seeing a huge increase in traffic and school run activity – rush hour is well and truly back.
Supermarkets are definitely more crowded and there’s even talk of concerts and larger venues opening up to host events. But what about the everyday life of work and home routines?
How to prepare for your return to the office
It’s easy to encourage the members of your team who cannot wait to get back to the office. Working at home has not been ideal for everyone. However, there is still plenty of anxiety around the return to the office.
Be prepared for a refusal to come back to the office at all. Will you still be able to run your company with staff members working at home? If it worked well for the past year you may need to be prepared that there is little justification for you to force people to return if they are feeling reluctant or anxious.
Some companies have embraced the flexible working policy. Others need to get back on-site, that’s the only way their business can run. And that’s where the balance lies.
Although employers should not be ‘held to ransom’ by employees, if you care about your team you’ll find a way to work around it. If you can be aware and empathise with the anxieties of your staff, you could make the return to the office smooth and seamless. Check out my top tips on how to welcome your team back!
Communicate with your team. Find out what their anxieties are and what you can put in place to alleviate them. Listen openly and without judgement and understand we all had a different experience of lockdown.
Some people have had bereavements over lockdown and this is the first time they are ‘facing the world.’ Others may have had their own health suffer and yet others may feel that they have not been too affected at all. By showing that you care you are being a responsible manager.
The changes that would make them more comfortable will usually be really easy to implement. Communicate that with the rest of the team too, so that they can be more understanding and patient with each other as well.
2. Be adaptable
It will take time to adjust back into things when returning to the office. Don’t expect everything to go to plan overnight. Time and needs have changed so don’t be disheartened at the first hurdle, our minds can adapt even within a few days.
If some of your team find it tough, be patient and allow some time for that transition.
3. Adhere to guidelines
Make sure you’re aware of the regulations around personal safety. There are plenty of resources where you can obtain this and even consultancies that can come in and help you so don’t get overwhelmed.
By showing your team that you take their safety seriously, you are showing you care. Once again, communicate this to your staff, send them photos and images of how things in the office look now.
4. Restore the company values
Working at home has meant that the lines have got blurred, so it’s important to remind the team of what your business stands for and what the vision is going forward.
Take time to retrain the team and lead by example. You may also have found that your core values and beliefs have changed over the pandemic, so it can be quite a refreshing exercise to review them yourself, or even work with the team to create new ones.
5. Don’t micromanage
After a year of successfully working at home alone with all the freedoms that it gave, no one is going to take kindly to being micro-managed all of a sudden.
People will expect similar freedoms that they had at home so it’s important to let your line managers or team leaders know that they could be met with a lot of resistance if they think they can ‘go back to their old ways.’ It won’t be tolerated.
This pandemic has changed some things forever in the workplace, but I only see that as a good thing, in particular with micro-managing. We need to treat our team with equality and respect.
And lastly, and most importantly…..
6. Update your wellbeing and mental health policies
If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we need to be looking after ourselves and each other. And work, and the purpose and drive it gives us is really important in helping with that.
There’s no such thing as ‘work-life balance’, it’s ALL called life. Ask anyone on furlough if they’ve been living their best life during the lockdown. I can pretty much guarantee they haven’t. Work gives us purpose, it gives us routine, and the mind needs this.
And if you can enjoy work, then you’ve really cracked the solution to happiness. A happier team is a far more productive and efficient team. This doesn’t mean you need to provide beanbag chairs and a weekly chocolate subscription.
Just support and respect your team by looking after them as whole human beings. Listening to their needs and facilitating open and honest conversations. Your retention rate will improve and you’ll have a queue of the best people wanting to work for you. Long-term, it really will pay off.
Remember, it’s an exciting time for a lot of us and an anxious time for others. Don’t negatively forecast the future with what might go wrong. 99% of the things you worry about never actually happen.
With a little patience and rationale, the return to the (adapted) office could be exactly the change you and your business needs to thrive into a positive future.