In March, 2020, the Earth stopped spinning on its axis and we were all plunged into a strange, upside-down reality of masks, cleanwipes, and social distancing. Businesses closed, schools shut down, and going to the supermarket felt like venturing through a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world of empty streets and shuttered storefronts. Kids became homeschoolers, parents became de facto teachers, and streaming Netflix became everyone’s favorite pastime. And for millions of people, working from home became the new normal. While it may have presented a challenge for many in those early days of learning proper Zoom etiquette, as the pandemic dragged on (and on) [(and on)], it turned out that a lot of people not only got used to it, but they actually liked it. A lot. And who could blame them? A commute calculated in the number of steps from the bedroom to the dining room table. Setting your own schedule. No more sharing a communal break room and labeling your Tupperware so Barry doesn’t steal your lunch. For perhaps the first time in a century, people began to question the paradigm of the 9-5 workday, slogging through traffic in the morning and the afternoon, and staring at the walls of a cubicle, when it turned out they could get the same work done from a laptop in the breakfast nook. And they didn’t even have to get out of their pajamas.
But as the pandemic finally makes its way into our rearview (fingers-toes-limbs-eyes crossed), many employers are calling their workforce back to the office. As a manager or team leader, it’s important to recognize and understand that there may be some trepidation about kicking off the slippers and pulling out the old work outfits. So how do we meet people where they are and make sure their return to the workplace is peaceful and satisfying?
Your role as leader is to be an authentic example of belief and hope, especially during a time of transition. This doesn’t mean creating a false sense of positivity or lying to people, but rather maintaining the vision and outcome that you and the team are pursuing, and instilling a sense of collaboration and support. Working from home served its purpose, keeping the vision alive through the shutdowns, but now it’s time to get the band back together! And as the band leader, it’s your job to foster feelings of joy and passion around getting back on stage and making that sweet, sweet music again.
Create certainty. Certainty makes your team members feel safe, and safety opens the door to creative and critical thinking, as well as inspiration. Getting your team focused on the things they can control (how to support clients, how to treat each other, how to respond to difficult situations) will give them a sense of reassurance and confidence as they make the transition back to the office.
Maybe most importantly, align yourself around people first. Employees, coworkers, and clients. It’s a priority to understand how to care for them and how you’re going to show up and understand what they need. The most successful companies understand that people are the most valuable resource they have. A leader who orients around “how can I serve my people” will foster trust among their team. And people who trust you will stick by your side even in the toughest of times.
Getting people to leave the creature comforts of home and come back to the workplace doesn’t have to be difficult. Some simple strategies can help make the transition seamless and harmonious for everyone. Vision. Certainty. People first. Oh, and tell Barry to stay out of other people’s Tupperware.