People Are Coming Back To Work In Person And Leaders Need To Regroup.
By Steve Schumacher
As the pandemic eases, restrictions are lifted and businesses work to getting back to normal, people will be transitioning back into the workplace. As we all know, the face of work for most people will be different for a long time, if not forever.
All companies have gone through transitions of various kinds over time. Reorganizations, process changes, leadership changes, acquisitions, downsizings, etc. This transition seems to have been unique in that one of the key reasons behind working remotely involved health and safety of employees and their families.
Plus, there was not much time to plan the switch like there is with other more normal transitions in business. As a leader, part of getting back to normal in the workplace is being prepared for it and doing your homework on what will be best for everyone.
Assess your employees’ preferences. After an extended period of working remotely, some employees find that they prefer it compared to a company location environment or office. Others will be the opposite, preferring to be in a structured office environment with people around all day. Even others will want to move into more of a hybrid work situation. Take a look at the business requirements for each position that reports to you and see what kind of flexibility you can put in place. Do your best to strike a balance between business needs and employee preferences.
Seek teamwork opportunities. Being on Zoom meetings each week does nothing for teamwork. In fact, the lack of seeing people in person and their body language probably diminishes trust along with teamwork. Whatever the new work situations are, your team needs to work together productively and efficiently. A remote employee needs to feel like a solid team member with someone who is in the office, etc. If you can, get as many employees as possible into a teambuilding situation where they can renew their relationships with others and rebuild trust. Set up sub-teams to analyze workplace teamwork and make recommendations. Keep in mind, your employees spent a year without regular face-to-face time with other employees. Initial apprehension is natural.
Review mission/vision/values. With your business on a rollercoaster ride for a year, and in some cases still facing an uncertain future, it may be worthwhile to review your guiding high-level documents. What made sense a couple years ago, for the company to focus on, may not make sense today. These should always be monitored and adjusted if necessary, but the pandemic made that practice an imperative. Be sure to involve as many employees as possible in that review process. The more involvement there is, the more buy-in there is.
Re-visit performance standards/policies/procedures. If your HR department is on the ball, they will have reviewed all the policies and procedures for current applicability. Basic things like attendance, time off, vacations, etc. may need to be adjusted with the new work environment. Performance standards are reflected in the current business environment and may be different than the standards that were set pre-pandemic. When health and safety are paramount in an organization, sometimes the business metrics lost traction. The guiding policies for the company must be reflective of the current times or employees will not have confidence in them or the company leaders. Set times to review all of these documents with your employees. Consider sending them out in advance of the meetings so employees can formulate appropriate questions.
Reinforce relationships with employees. Relationships are built on trust and trust is only built in person. Now that you, as a leader, have the opportunity to spend time with your employees again, take advantage of it. Set a goal to meet with individual employees over a set period of time. The agenda is to familiarize yourself with them as people again. Ask good open-ended questions about families, health, feelings, etc. The more you are able to do this, the more your employees will bond with you and support you when times get tough.
Look for opportunities to celebrate. Everyone in your organization has had difficulties during the pandemic. Varying types of difficulties, but difficulties nonetheless. For many of us, work is an anchor in our lives. Something that can be counted on. That feeling has been disrupted for many folks. Finding good things to celebrate with other people is a way to bring people back together and help put the tough times in the past. Even in the worst of times, there are good outcomes if you look for them.
Even if you have worked with a group of people for several years, the pandemic times have altered many of those relationships. As soon as possible, excellent leaders will look for opportunities to refresh those relationships and begin anew.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected]