Written by: Wayne Turmel
Odds are you’re either welcoming people back to your workplace or adjusting to whatever arrangements will be in place for a while. A sure bet is that your team will be configured differently than it was before the pandemic forced us to adjust.
One of the many unexpected consequences of having spent two or three months working in unexpected ways is that your team may look and feel very different to you. Some of the adjustments you’ll need to make include:
- Personnel changes—not everyone who worked with you will be returning. Some by choice, some by circumstance.
- You might not see the same people in the office at the same time. Some people will continue working remotely full time, others will do it more often. A lot of co-located teams will find themselves looking more like a hybrid team.
- Physical changes to the workplace will change routines, schedules and the work environment.
- Team relationships may have shifted, sometimes dramatically. Some tensions that existed before will be solved; others will be made worse. This is especially true of political or social tensions. Nerves will be raw.
>>Learn more at the webinar: Re-Entry Without Burning Up: Getting the Workplace Back to Normal
As a leader, it will be your job to help focus the attention of your team and get them productive again, as quickly as possible. It won’t be easy, and it will be easy to rush into a sense of normalcy. Here are a few things you’ll need to consider as soon as you can to help your team re-form into whatever shape they will take from now on.
- Talk to everyone individually and find out how they are feeling. This isn’t the usual check-in. Some people will have been bored and lonely during this time. Others will have been locked in with kids, dogs and spouses without a moment to themselves. Some people will be angry and believe this was all a hoax and won’t be shy about saying so. Others may have lost family members or friends to disease, or harbor deep fears about becoming sick. Are they excited to be back? Did they like working from home and want to do it more in the future?
- Don’t expect everyone to just show up and get to work. Work is a social experience. People will want to catch up with each other, share their experiences, and reconnect. The first days will be lots of conversation, perhaps not so much solid work output. That’s not a bad thing in the long run, since work happens better and faster when people have good working relationships. These have been strained for a lot of people. Adjustment will take time. Set expectations accordingly
- Keep an eye and ear out for tension. Between the disease itself and the social/political upheaval that has accompanied this time, people will have strong feelings about things, and perhaps be emotional. There’s every likelihood that someone who was unaffected by the virus will say something that triggers somebody who either fears for their health or even lost a loved one. Agreements to “leave politics out of the workplace,” may be harder to enforce (if they were ever a good idea in the first place.) Be proactive about checking in with people and don’t wait until the shouting starts.
- Be honest about what the new team looks like. Some people will have discovered they like being away from the office (at least some of the time.) Others couldn’t wait to get back. People who don’t have the responsibilities of kids still at home or sick loved ones may not return to the office full-time while others did. This will require shifting roles and responsibilities. The frequency and style of meetings will change. Be prepared for far more hybrid work arrangements than before this all started.
- Be clear about expectations. Working alone, people may have developed short cuts that don’t fit the company’s processes. Perhaps those in the office will have to handle different responsibilities now that more people will be away from the workplace more often. Some people will just have forgotten some of the tasks that needed to be done before this all happened. Take the time to make sure people are clear, not only what their roles are, but who is handing what tasks and how the team will be configured going forward.
Whatever your team looks like going forward, you can handle it. What’s new will be obvious if you take the time to really assess where people are, how that ties to the work, and communicate effectively.