People don’t like change. They didn’t like leaving their workplace three years ago, and they don’t like going back now after COVID. This article discusses how leaders and managers can help employees adapt to the second great transition of the global pandemic.
Let’s examine 6 key steps to help transition your workforce back to the office:
1. Start with “Why”
Every change initiative requires all involved to see the value in their efforts. Three years ago, the secret sauce for staying alive during the pandemic was the ability to work remotely and remain functional as a team. Technology stepped up to the plate to assist us with this endeavor: Zoom, Teams, Webex, etc. We invested massive resources to accommodate the new environment because our customers required it. As a result, things became more expensive.
Today, reality has dictated that cost-affectiveness return to the throne as king. Customers want timeliness again, innovation, customer service, and a personal touch. Companies that most quickly provide this experience will grab the largest portion of the post-COVID market share. Companies lagging behind will lose.
2. Help Employees Recapture the Power of Collective Effort
The pandemic has made us all islands. We work in isolation and gauge our worth by our ability to accomplish our tasks. “I can get more work done at home” has become our mantra. Well, there is a reason why you are getting more work done at home. It’s because you are spending much less time with the interactions that make a team work.
When we are focused solely on our individual efforts, we hurt the team. All the chit-chat, and water cooler talk, however meaningless it may feel, is the single best resource for inter-office collaboration. A thirty-second discussion between colleagues in the hallway sure beats days of incessant emails and calendar invites that never seem to produce the results we get from “bumping into one another.”
The escape from individuality to return to a collective effort greatly enhances an organization’s ability to collaborate, innovate, and implement in a timely and effective manner.
3. Lead the Way
You can’t expect your employees to embrace their return to the office if you are mourning the loss of your work-from-home experience. You must express your exuberance for the transition. If your organization is insightful enough to see the vast opportunity for grasping a huge sector of the post-COVID market share, and you, as a manager, are licking your wounds about returning to work, you, my friend, are the weakest link in the corporate chain.
4. Let Them Vent
As humans, we all have emotions. The problem with emotions is they don’t have the capacity for language. They just feel. Talking through them is the only way to introduce a rational mind to what we are feeling. Your employees need to vent. Listen to them. Don’t react to them. You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t have to disagree with them. Just listen to them. Once they’ve gotten it all out, be there for them in positivity. Help them see the bright side. Revisit the “why,” and show them that you have fully embraced the opportunities the future has in store for your team as they join together in a shared goal and a shared space.
5. Point out the Hidden Benefits
Opportunities for career advancement are severely hindered by isolation. Show them how being present will get them noticed and provide career advancement that wasn’t possible behind a computer screen. Help them see how leaving work at work is much healthier than taking it home with them and never fully escaping its reach. Teach them how this little difference can make all the difference when it comes to their work/life balance. Help them find themselves outside their career.
6. Understand the Underlying Causes of their Frustrations
Don’t get hung up on the presenting problem. Their expressions, body language, and attitude are all just the tip of the iceberg. Deeper below the surface, you’ll find the real reason why they are so reluctant to return to the workplace. You’ll learn to understand that three years of isolation have made them fearful of social interaction. Change is confusing, and leaving their comfort zone is the most threatening change of all. They might be experiencing a sense of guilt for leaving their kids behind to go back to work. Guilt is debilitating. Be patient with them. These and many other issues make up the psyche of their return-to-work anxiety.
In conclusion, you are the leader. Your people will never get over their reluctance to come back to the office if you fail to lead the way. The choice is up to you. Do you want to be a part of an organization that captures the lion’s share of the post-COVID marketplace, or are you comfortable manning the helm of a slowly sinking ship? You’re the leader. The future is found in your attitude.