As lockdowns roll back once again, many people are looking forward to reopening offices and getting back to “normal.”
Not everyone feels as eager about this change. The pandemic has been difficult, and some may feel disoriented by a return to the office. Others may be concerned that it’s not yet safe.
What can you do to help your team members readjust to the “norm” and make the office a place they want to be, not the place they worry about?
Make the Adjustment Gradual
As with the “staged” reopening plans in most provinces, you should take a gradual approach to reopening the office. The entire team returning to the office from the get-go is likely to cause anxiety. People concerned about safety might feel reopening at full capacity could lead to trouble and a subsequent closure.
For most, though, the concerns are about the adjustment of routine. Everyone’s “normal” routine has been altered by the pandemic. Asking us to suddenly return to what we were doing before will cause all kinds of heightened feelings.
Switching from being on Zoom all day or working in a relatively isolated area to being in the office with your co-workers will likely be exhausting. Give your team members time to adjust.
You could introduce half-days or hybrid schedules that see people work from home a few days a week. Gradually, you can have team members extend to full days and/or full work weeks.
Address Anxiety and Fears about the Future
Your next step should be to address the future for your employees. This is one reason a gradual reopening plan is better. It helps to assure your team members you’re being cautious. Tell them about the safety precautions in place and protocols if an outbreak should happen.
You’ll also want to address concerns about a subsequent lockdown. Discuss plans about what will happen in that event. Having a plan clearly spelled out can actually boost confidence and alleviate anxiety.
Finally, address the state of the company. Be honest with your employees. Hiding problems will only cause more worry if it becomes apparent things aren’t as good as they could be.
Lay out a plan for rebuilding the company and growing the business. Having a vision will help your team members focus on goals and moving forward.
Take Time to Reconnect (and Be Prepared for Awkwardness)
One of the things people miss about the office is the social aspect. Remote work can be isolating, and the lockdown experience only emphasized that.
As you invite team members back to the office, make time to reconnect with them, both one-on-one and in team-building exercises. Also give some thought to scheduling “fun” activities, such as taking time to go outside for lunch, a movie afternoon, or taking a “team stroll” in the late afternoon. Be mindful of company or provincial rules about social distancing and other health precautions.
Also remember to invite remote workers to at least some events. Otherwise, you risk alienating them from the rest of the team.
Finally, be prepared to encounter some awkwardness. Many of our social skills, like practicing small talk, are a bit rusty. Some behaviours, of course, will need to be addressed—pants are definitely mandatory at the office!
Don’t be afraid to make light of awkward situations as they arise. You can crack a joke at your own expense or express solidarity with an employee after a social blunder. The team will be stronger for it.
Use Technology to Keep Tabs on Adjustments
Technology is one of the best tools to have on your side as you reopen the office. Keep track of contact tracing and new policies about staying safe. You can use an HRIS to manage schedules and track goals, in addition to helping employees access mental health benefits and scheduling check-ins. With the right technology, you can keep track of how everyone is adjusting—and help them adjust better.