Three Ways to Win when Bringing People Back to the Office

Last week my husband’s organization returned to the office. As a large entity, this entailed extensive planning to ensure health-related policies were in place, technology was up to date, and the office building itself was ready to welcome workers.

The return to the office has caused a little disruption for our family. During the pandemic our son got his driver’s license. Now, with three drivers who need to reach different destinations and one car parked at the office in midtown Atlanta, we realize we have a new problem. Not a biggie, but still something.

Here’s a more profound example: A client of mine shared that her elderly parents recently moved in with her and require significant care. Working from home during the pandemic and caring for them simultaneously was difficult but do-able. But now that their company has returned to the office it’s a much bigger challenge. Fortunately, her company is allowing her a lot of flexibility so she can meet her many responsibilities.

When you’re planning the return to work, all the tangible things are critical to discuss and decide – policies, technology, the building. But as people return, it’s important not to jump in as if everything snaps back to normal.

The return-to-the-office transition provides managers with a unique opportunity to deepen relationships with employees. It can also be an occasion to reboot a team for healthier dynamics, and to identify new norms.

How can you capitalize on this moment?

Here are a few ways…

Plan one-on-one conversations

As a manager, plan one-on-one discussions to learn how things are different for your employees from two years ago. Ask how they feel about returning to work. What’s exciting? What’s tough? Be ready and open to listen.

Some employees have long commutes and rising gas prices are putting a strain on their wallets. Others have lost loved ones. Or gained new family members.

When you talk with your employees, ask questions to learn how things are different. And when you can accommodate their needs, do. In some cases, all you can offer is sincere empathy. Don’t underestimate empathy. It can go a long way toward deepening respect and trust.

Create a teambuilding opportunity

Design a teambuilding experience that equips your team. This is especially critical if you’ve brought on new employees during the pandemic. It should be more than just a fun event (although fun is good!).  It needs to provide applicable learning that springboards everyone into upcoming work. A workshop where teammates learn more about one another’s personality traits accelerates the team to peak productivity. It also makes work a more enjoyable place when team members understand one another better. A DiSC workshop is an excellent and enjoyable way to accomplish this. Go a step further and provide breakfast or lunch on a break from the workshop. 

And don’t stop at DiSC styles in your workshop. Include a time of personal sharing related to the transition back to work. Ask questions like:

What’s something you learned to do during the pandemic?

What’s going on in your life right now that you’re excited about?

What’s a challenge that coming back into the office presents?

You’ll be amazed at how much your team shares and how much closer people can feel to one another through this process.

Define new norms

Think of re-entry into the workplace as an event that draws a “line in the sand.” It’s the perfect time to define new norms. Here are examples of things you might want to create new norms around:

Redefine steps in a process.

Try a new meeting cadence.

Abandon old ways of doing things that no longer work well.

Now’s a great time to initiate change. Co-create new norms with your team so they have a voice and “buy in.” This is an energizing activity with your team that increases engagement and synergy.

As you think about returning to the office, leverage this unusual time to catapult your team and your organization to better relationships, higher productivity, and greater job satisfaction.

 In the face of the Great Resignation, it’s critical to pay more attention than ever to the way you engage with people. Some of your employees are eyeing the door simply because their friends are. It’s contagious! Give them reasons to stay and to feel grateful for the kind of organization they are a part of, and the kind of leader you are.

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