How Top Leaders Can Effectively Transition Their Teams Back Into The Office
By now, the “Turnover Tsunami,” or even what some are coining “The Great Resignation,” is no longer a widely discussed possibility—we’re seeing it in real time as millions of people quit their jobs in April alone. As of late, the Labor Department is reporting that at least 9 million jobs have opened up. Great news for job seekers, but what about job leaders? Before thinking about filling those positions, leaders and managers would do well to first think about why workers around the country are leaving: employees are anticipating returning to the office after over a year of seeing all the benefits there are to working from home.
It’s time for managers to face the facts about the nature of traditional workspaces and what they ask of people, the implicit demands it has on people’s lives that are not necessarily seen compensated in the payroll. Why commute when you don’t have to? Look how much we can get accomplished when we’re not having forced conversations in the break room. More importantly, people are finding that they can be more present for their families, even their pets, and still be just as productive, if not more.
Still, workers and leaders both know that most will need to transition back to the office somehow. And for many companies, working in the office is necessary. The shift can be jarring and potentially hazardous to team morale. How can you keep your team energized and willing to collaborate without building resentment? While some things can’t be helped, like your company’s policies, you can still give your employees a sense of autonomy so that they are more open to the idea of returning to “normal.” Here are some strategies to consider when you’re transitioning your team:
Be as Transparent as Possible
Transparency, transparency, transparency… an organizational buzz word because it’s what leaders always claim to be, and what employers want from their managers. When preparing to return to the office, you should first understand what is possible based on your organization’s policies. Be equipped with a clear understanding of what you can offer team-members and what you can’t.
You’ll likely begin opening up dialogues with your team about what they want. What are their concerns? What are they dissatisfied with? What are you able to change? One thing no one wants to hear from their managers is, “I can’t do anything about that, sorry.” Hearing that, people are likely to wonder why they ever bothered to come to you in the first place. They do, however, want to hear that you’re sincere and that you’re listening. Learn to be an empathetic listener and how to provide honest answers when the answers themselves aren’t as simple and satisfying.
MORE FOR YOU
Lead with Compassion
The pandemic was a traumatic event on a global scale, and recent research estimates that at least 5 million Americans will be mourning the loss of loved ones to COVID-19 for years to come. Even people who haven’t lost someone close to them will be mourning the loss of many other things: 18 months of their lives, grieving the people they used to be and the world as it was. No one is coming back to work the same as they once were, including managers. How can you provide a safe space for everyone to feel their feelings?
Consider, too, the many shapes and forms of grief. Some people cope with loss by throwing themselves into work, while others may find it more difficult than ever to focus. There may be one coworker who was once outgoing and engaged, and who is now quieter and more withdrawn. The most important thing you can do is to respect how people have changed and never ask them to be different or respond differently for the sake of your organization.
Offer people the space to do their grieving, whether it’s an extended break or a quiet place to breathe. If they need someone to listen, make sure there is someone available to do so. That includes working with your company to make sure that there are mental health resources available.
Take it Gradually
Returning back to the office is probably the biggest adjustment for most. This isn’t the same world it was prior to 2020, and there’s no use saying to your team, “Well, we’re glad that’s over, now let’s get back to work.” First of all, the pandemic still isn’t technically over. On top of that, everyone responded to the pandemic differently. Some workers locked themselves up in their houses and left only for food and mail. Others were more lenient, going out with masks but still meeting up with friends. For the former group, it would be ill-advised to force them to be in close proximity to groups of people after 18 months of isolation.
Talk to each team member individually about what they feel safe doing within the parameters of your company’s policies. There should be plenty of people who are actually quite desperate to be social again and working in an office. Be flexible and as lenient as possible to those who aren’t when possible. Additionally, you should be honest with yourself and the company about which teams truly need to be in-person, and which teams can still operate from home. Most importantly, make sure that there are strong and stable safety precautions in place so that everyone is comfortable.
Find Ways to Make People Feel More Aligned
While there is no question about the devastating impact of the pandemic and of isolation, there was also a lot to be gained last year. There were, in fact, some positive outcomes. People developed new hobbies, discovered things about themselves and the world, found new ways of communicating and engaging with the world outside, and much more. People found out how to forgive themselves and how to be more playful. There are countless Zoom stories and hilarious anecdotes of technological failures and on-camera mishaps.
When you gather your teams together, you can find ways of sharing those stories together and create one big picture of all that you, as a team, have been through. You can even consider throwing a “new normal” company party wherein people share the pictures they’ve taken and the stories they have about the past year. What have they learned, and what have they unlearned? Given the fact that no one is coming back to work the same person, this will help team-members see each other in a new light; re-learning each other and themselves as a worker.
Work to Provide a Hybrid Model
Once you’ve figured out how to gradually transition your team, step back and ask yourself and the organization why it’s necessary to have everyone be in-person 9-to-5, 5 days a week. As mentioned, people are realizing that they can successfully work from home or in places that are more comfortable to them and still get the job done. For many, the prospect of being in an office 40 hours a week is much more abhorrent than it already was.
Offering a hybrid model, however your company or organization is able, is the biggest way for your workplace to adjust to change and keep up with shifting and competitive trends. Knowing that your company may also have spots opening up, hybrid models will make your team more attractive to potential candidates. Even if you can’t offer part-time remote work permanently, you can consider more innovative approaches to paid time off (PTO), like unlimited days off within reason.
As we move into the new normal and transition back into the office, keep in mind that we all went through this pandemic together and it all affected us in different ways. Like mentioned, we’re not the same people we were prior to lockdown. Open and transparent communication, hybrid work environments, and compassion can go a long way towards building autonomy for your team, loyalty to your companies, and stemming the tide of the turnover tsunami as you advance towards achieving your goals in this new state.