Social and physical distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic meant abrupt work-from-home strategies were put in place quickly before things reached a point-of-no-return. As physical distancing at work strategies seem to have paid off, business owners and leadership are now looking to have their team members return to work.
The best way to have your workers come back to the office is to ensure that many factors are taken into account, including communication, physical needs, emotional concerns, rational thinking and inspiring your team that they are returning to a safe environment where they are more important than ever. Although it’s important to have your sales, marketing, finance, production and service delivery processes in place, the more difficult factors when returning to work weigh more heavily on how your team members view your leadership decisions.
Do – keep your team informed, constantly, if you aren’t already.
Don’t – email your team on Friday that you’ve decided they should all return to the office on Monday.
If you aren’t already delivering group chats, bulletins or emails to your team, start immediately. The loss of simple day-to-day communication may be something they’re missing and feeling less part of a the “team” in “teamwork”.
Notices to staff should be all-encompassing to cover all departments and remind everyone of your company values, goals, and direction (“vision”, if you have one). Now is a great time to admit weaknesses and celebrate successes. Showing your team that you’re still their guiding light, yet humbled by the enormity of the impact of the pandemic, humanizes you and provides them someone (and something) to rally behind.
On days where you do need to point out a failure, inconsistency or need for change, be sure to use the “compliment sandwich” strategy. This assures you the time to bring up your concerns, while leaving the meeting on a positive note. Try to find a “victory” to celebrate on every message, and share the victories around to different people or departments.
Before returning to work, take the time to reach out to as many members as possible individually, to understand the impact the pandemic has had on them. This takes time but the return to your role as a leader will be invaluable.
Physical (and Technical)
Does your team have the right tools in place to return to work? Is their computer updated, patched and working? Do they need to bring a PC or devices back from home?
But wait! It’s critical that nobody returns to work until the environment is safe.
Do – have your office (or building) professionally cleaned. Keep in mind that regular “nightly cleaners” are not all equipped to sanitize your workplace to degree that may be needed. It’s recommended to follow these CDC Covid-19 recommended cleaning guidelines .
Don’t – rush your entire team back to work all at once, prioritize your team members and communicate (see above) your strategy.
After the building has been cleaned, you’ll want to get your leadership team on board first. Discuss with them, in-person when ready, on who is mission-critical to return to work in-person. Prioritize those team members and have them return first, even helping get the rest of the office ready for the remaining team members.
You’ll want to ensure that your servers, computers, phones, and network overall are ready to return to business. As “quick and dirty” as you got everyone working remotely, why not take the extra diligence to get back to work more securely? Is your hardware functional? Is your software patched? Hopefully you’re still in constant communication with your I.T. provider but if not, you’ll want to do a full system diagnostics to be sure you’re team is set up for success.
Not sure if your network is ready? Call us today.
Do – be empathic to your team members who may not return to work with a full team, or team members they specifically got along with.
Don’t – assume everyone will be excited to return to the office.
There are a myriad of factors that have taken place over the time of Covid-19, and you haven’t been privvy to most of them because the true impact was emotional. This is why it’s important to communicate (see above) one-on-one with your team members before returning to work. You will learn so much about them that will not only help you understand where they’re at motivation-wise, but will endear you to them.
Between layoffs, stress, family tensions and expectations while working from home, your team has been through a lot of anxiety and it’s not “business as usual”, at least not yet. Be compassionate that everyone will return to work with continuing concern of infection, no matter how well you cleaned, no matter how well you planned physical distancing. It’s not you, it’s Covid-19. Be patient.
There’s the reality we want and there’s the reality we got. Try to communicate (see above) to your team what you want from them moving forward while noting the items that are out of your control.
Do – educate yourself so you can communicate (see above) objectives, truths, facts and conclusions confidently to your team.
Don’t – assume your “feelings” are enough to build confidence in your team. Know what you can and cannot deliver.
When ready to return to work, your business will return on a spare tire for a while, and your objectives and goals will need to reflect that. Expectations to return to normal should be spread out throughout the remainder of the year, not the quarter. If you get a big win, celebrate it without trying to make it seem like the new normal, or your team may get restless. Instead, analyze what went right and train your team on how to repeat it in the future. Take this time as a “teachable moment”and your team will hang on your every word, excited for the inevitable return to greatness. Speaking of which……
Inspire Your Team
Do – remind your team what role they play in a return to success, everyone plays a part and may need reminding of the actions they can take to get back on track.
Don’t – let the lunatics run the asylum; some people may be happy to return to free coffee and old bad habits, avoid a lazy return to things.
While many were working from home, they may have felt rudderless for a while. Your team is looking for cohesion. Be the change you want them to see and don’t be shy to go back-to-basics and remind them of your vision and core values repeatedly for a little while.
If certain team members return after others, acknowledge their return with the group so there aren’t any feelings that they “missed out” on anything. Let them take the time to tell one another stories, this will bring them together in new ways not possible before the pandemic.
There may not be a full return to normalcy for some time but you can control how your team comes together. Taking the time now to ensure they have the right technology tools, strategies and leadership to look up to and keep them inspired, productive and engaged will establish (or re-establish) you as the leader they need in these uncertain times.