Author: Mike Scaletti
As we slowly start to make our way back to normal, many of us will be having to return to the office. That may actually excite some people, who are looking forward to the social and cultural aspects of working in a shared space with other people. For others, however, the anxiety of that return is real, and is weighing on them.
The question then is how do managers, owners, and leaders go about addressing these concerns and anxieties, reassuring employees that they will be made as safe and comfortable as is possible?
The bottom line is that many people don't want to return to the office. Whether it is for fear of losing a newly established work/life balance, or a concern about health and the ongoing prevalence of COVID-19, if employers want to be able to fill their workforce and function adequately, they need to address those concerns.
To prepare for the return to the office, here are some things that a manager can do now to get ready:
Highlight success. We've all been through a lot this last year. If you've been working remotely with a team, take some time to focus on all the challenges they have overcome! It's impressive, and you should be proud of them. Not only that, but they should feel that you're proud of them. Take a minute and highlight that in your next meeting. It's much easier to return to an environment that is rewarding, and feeling appreciated is a big part of that.
Listen to their concerns. As mentioned, many people are hesitant to return to the office. That is understandable. If employees have concerns, hear them out. Don't get defensive. Accepting that those fears and concerns are valid and reasonable will help you take the necessary steps to address them so that you can collectively find solutions.
Be patient. Your office isn't going to immediately return to the environment it was before the pandemic. It may never quite return to that. That's okay. Take the time necessary to allow your employees to adjust without forcing them into situations they aren't comfortable in.
Be flexible. While there were many hardships and challenges over the course of the year, they also lead to a lot of creative problem-solving! Be open to incorporating that into your new normal. If you have an employee who would prefer to remain remote and they have proven they can be just as effective doing their job remotely over the last year, consider allowing them to remain so. Returning to normal doesn't have to mean returning to the status quo. This is an opportunity to build things back better than they were before.
Whatever track you take, whether returning full time to the office, allowing people to remain remote, or some combination therein, one thing is certain: the challenges of the last year are not over just yet. Set an inclusive, understanding, and rewarding tone, be patient with yourself and your team, and be open to progress and change and you will be setting yourself up for long-term, sustained success. Good luck!