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Returning back to the office: key considerations
Image by Jordan Yep

4 min read

Returning back to the office: key considerations

Just as you’re reading this, many organizations are in the process of reopening their businesses after implementing revised COVID-19 workplace guidelines.

The transition to remote working was definitely a challenge we didn’t see for ourselves. But it’s really the transitioning back into the workplace that’s caught us off guard. So, how do leaders ensure that they provide a safe, productive, and seamless transition back to the office?

We chatted with Renée Safrata, the CEO and Founder at Vivo Team, to get her thoughts on this very topic.

Renee

Renée has over 10 years experience leading a coast-to-coast hybrid team. Having worked with thousands of companies and executives, helping them to grow and adopt new behaviors, she knows the secret sauce to productivity and what is required to motivate and connect leaders and teams in a boardroom or on a digital platform. Let's get to it! 

Q: How do you keep employees informed and safe during this transition back to the office?

A: With structure and accountability to digital transparency, your team will easily stay informed, whether they’re back at the office, working from home, or both. Consider the efficiencies of the new digital tools and processes you implemented through the pandemic. You want to keep those—they're transferable! There’s no need to go back to the way you did it before if it works better.

The most important thing to consider isn’t what the tools are but getting alignment and agreement on the norms of engagement, so people know what behaviors will set them and the team up for success. Here are some things to consider and evaluate:

  • Your internal communication platform (intranet, Slack, Teams, etc.): Is it easily accessible to all regardless of where they’re working?
  • File sharing: Your intranet library, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspaces—whatever you’re using—does it work the same from home or office? Are files and documents organized well and easy to find? Do people have access to the information they need? Were they adequately trained on how to use it?
  • Shared calendars or a way to check in: At Vivo Team, we have access to everyone’s calendars, and everyone does a daily check-in on our internal communication platform (we use Slack). This makes planning meeting times a breeze because you already know who’s available when. Also, by checking in each day, you won’t have to spend time and energy wondering where people are or what they’re working on.

Q: What do leaders have to keep in mind when it comes to in-person interaction and creating those team dynamics in real life?

A: Being in the same building doesn’t ensure employee connection; the key is really about developing a thriving company culture. Here are some workplace activity ideas that promote connection and can be easily conducted within a hybrid work environment:

  • Share and celebrate wins often, even the small stuff! Try a D.O.S.E.—the 12-minute weekly meeting that saves time while increasing connection and productivity.
  • Plan weekly development meetups to stir the creativity and collaboration juices, where smaller groups work on learning something new together.
  • Assign a mentor to new employees for 30-minute chats once every week or two.

 

Manager Minute - Level the Playing Field

 

With the shift back to the office and the introduction of hybrid workplaces, not everything has to pivot 180 degrees...again. Leverage the tools at your fingertips to ensure your teams feel connected and valued, regardless of location. Define, activate, and monitor your company culture and be prepared to reflect, reassess, and adapt along the way.

And remember, your job as a manager is to support people’s productivity, not to measure observed busyness of those at the office versus those working from home.

Q: Why is flexibility so important when returning back to in-person work?

A: Companies have become more flexible about where and when people work—and employees have become accustomed to this flexibility. If you’re not planning on changing anything, or your plan is just to go back to “normal”, you risk unhappy employees at best or chaos at worst. But flexibility, when implemented properly, will increase productivity and satisfaction among your employees while also increasing retention.

Manager Minute - Empathy Unlocks Cohesion

 

During the pandemic, perhaps you noticed that Ryan was way more productive when working from home. Maybe Mckenzie’s productivity dropped because she was homeschooling, often working at night after the kids went to bed. Mckenzie probably can’t wait to get back to the office, but Ryan may look for a new work-from-home opportunity if forced back.

It’s as important as ever to understand the extent of the paradigm shift around work that the pandemic has fast-tracked. Plus, being flexible can work to your advantage if your leaders and teams have the proper tools and training to set them up for success.

Q: Thank you so much for your insights, Renée! What are other things that leaders should consider?

An essential element to consider is your level of emotional intelligence and that of your employees. Have you explored your own self-awareness (the ability to recognize how your emotions affect your behaviors) and checked your self-management (being able to manage your behaviors and take responsibility for your actions) lately? How’s your empathy (the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, behaviors or experiences of others)?

Developing emotional intelligence plays a significant role in psychological safety among your team, fostering healthy team dynamics and interpersonal relationships. This will have a positive effect on high-quality decision-making, innovation, and employee satisfaction and wellbeing.

Conclusion

The return back to the office is both exciting and nerve-wracking! Leaders have much to do to avoid unfair "advantages" of being in office, such as social activities, advancement, and more insider knowledge. 

As Renée said, it's essential for organizations to support the mental wellbeing of employees, understanding that working from home and in-office are two distinct employee experiences. Like the pivot to remote work, leaders should be mindful of individual preferences, enabling team leads with the resources they need, and creating a remote work policy that has one source of truth that fairly guides the entire organization. 

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