Just when you've finally adapted your team to working remotely, you're now facing a whole new challenge: bringing them back to the office. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as opening the doors and turning on the lights.
Transitioning remote teams in-house needs to be done with thoughtfulness, positivity, and persistence. Following safety protocols and reconfiguring the office space are not the only thing leaders need to consider.
Here are three mistakes leaders should avoid when reacclimating staff to the workplace.
1. You don't give enough notice.
The pandemic has forced thousands of companies to shut down offices, storefronts, restaurants, and more with next to little notice. And while circumstances justified this action, returning to work cannot be met with the same abrupt announcement.
Many of your staff have had to juggle work, children, homeschooling, and managing the household. Needless to say, they will need ample notice to sort out child care and other personal matters that affect their day-to-day. We've all been left with enough surprises and unknowns. Don't let returning to the office be one of them.
At my company, we've already begun speaking to staff on when we expect to return even though we're still a few weeks out from giving the green light. This gives everyone the opportunity to start an open dialogue with management so we can address their concerns, and in some cases, make adjustments to our original plan.
2. You expect things to go back to the way they were.
Those first few days (if not weeks) back will be one of the hardest challenges leaders will face as they navigate new social-distancing systems and employee concerns. When reacclimating their remote team back to the office, you can bet there will be looming tension in the air. Everyone will be on high alert. While some people will be glad to be back, others will feel anxious and apprehensive.
What was once a buzzing office filled with conversation and camaraderie can all of a sudden become a quiet space interrupted by the drumming sound of clicking keyboards. It will take some time getting used to seeing staff adorned in masks and standing six-feet apart rather than sitting elbow-to-elbow in the lunchroom.
Don't feel discouraged if things aren't returning back to the way they were, because, let's face it, they may never be exactly the same. If your business has survived the pandemic to this point, then you can definitely run the course as we head into the next phase. Employees are looking to leadership to make them feel safe, secure, and optimistic about the future. Redefine your new sense of normal and stay positive.
3. You stop focusing on culture.
Team building typically takes the form of happy hour Fridays, town hall meetings, and busy lunchrooms. Unfortunately, these will have to be shelved for the foreseeable future as we continue to keep our social distance.
If the camaraderie and office buzz you once felt each day may be missing, but don't let that discourage you. Stay focused on building your culture, even it means adapting new methods to do so. Throw a pajama day where staff can wear their PJs and slippers into the office. Or what about creating a Spotify playlist where staff can contribute their favorite songs, and then play it throughout the PA system?
Great leaders will turn a crisis into an opportunity. So while you may not be planning a company retreat, there are opportunities to think outside the box. Increasing employee engagement will enhance loyalty in the long run.