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Successfully Transitioning Your Workforce Back Into The Office

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As companies begin transitioning employees back into offices, many managers are feeling the weight of making sure everything goes smoothly. This new season is a different ballgame for Corporate America and holding a leadership position in unchartered territory can add some extra pressure. There are new concerns, new dynamics, new strategic needs. Employees’ physical and mental wellbeing have skyrocketed to the top of priority lists, and the latter can seem uniquely daunting. What is the best way to keep employee morale up right now? How do we balance recovering while still moving forward? Not all of these questions have concrete answers. Varying business models and industries will have tactics and hurdles specific to their organizational structures. But there are several key approaches that can help maximize healthy progress across all organizations. We are, after all, people. And every one of us is facing the aftermath and continued impact of life-altering events and circumstances.

If you are in a leadership position, here are some things to consider as we round the corner and you begin to transition your workforce back into the office:

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

The unknown creates uncertainty. Uncertainty makes people nervous. And when people feel unstable or anxious it affects productivity -- many employees are less likely to perform their best, make confident decisions or remain focused when under a great deal of stress. The unknown seems like a tricky concept to address, because how can we explain what we don’t know? But the actual answers themselves are not the only way to create stability in the minds of your employees. Intentional, consistent, and transparent communication provides a level of stability for everyone. Even if the communication is the acknowledgement of uncertainty, it still offers a solidarity that silence does not. Verbal communication is especially influential during these times. Weekly company-wide video calls have proven to be incredibly beneficial for our company during the past few months, not only for informative purposes but also for keeping people encouraged and connected. Our leadership team has also made a point to have multiple one-on-one check-ins via phone with each person they lead. Increased frequency of intentional communication is critical to maintaining cohesiveness and morale in an environment that is tugging in the opposite directions.

Create space for different

Change is not always comfortable but at this point it is inevitable. Fortunately, if approached the right way, it can be beneficial to your company. Creating space for your employees and for yourself to adjust to a new normal makes the confrontation of evolving industry and business trends much smoother. There is no use in trying to resist or ignore the reality of “different” and the resulting need for altered approaches. Rigidly clinging to every operational pattern that worked in the past is not the strategy a new terrain calls for. This does not mean we must lower standards from a results perspective. In fact, there is a great deal of opportunity to do the opposite. But keeping an open mind about the best ways to generate those results is important. If strategic expectation adjustments are not made to match what is in front of us, we will miss the mark. That could mean considering concepts like remote work, getting creative with employee engagement techniques, or simply taking a step back to seek out new perspectives as a leader.

Be Proactively Approachable

Quite a mental and emotional toll has been taken on a majority of people. Different levels of support are going to be needed as we maneuver through this global, and in many cases personal, recovery. As a leader it is important to establish yourself as someone employees feel safe approaching. Make sure people know you are available, or someone is available, if and when they need help. A great way to do this is by proactively inviting questions or concerns to be raised and addressing them even if there is no real solution available at the moment. Being available is not the same thing as acting as everyone’s backbone -- that is too much. But you can be a frontline resource for your employees, helping direct them to additional support options when needed.

Encourage Teamwork

Teamwork is a powerful tool during uncertainty and change. Naturally, it can be more difficult to ensure cohesiveness when emotions and external tensions are higher than normal. There are multiple ways to simultaneously confront this dynamic. Addressing potential hurdles with your employees up front can be an effective way to help de-escalate conflict before it arises. This can be as simple as pointedly encouraging everyone to give each other the benefit of the doubt right now and to avoid taking things personally as much as possible. Intentionally creating opportunities for people to feel like a team also has a major impact. FGP has found many small ways to do this, from turning weekly division conference calls into Zoom meetings to creating a company-wide portal where employees share funny remote workspace pictures and things they are thankful for. Collective experience is a great way to remind everyone that regardless of differing opinions, we truly are all “in this together.”

Last, but certainly not least, make sure you Take Care of Yourself Too. The burden of everyone being “ok” does not lie solely on you as a leader. Allow yourself room to learn, give yourself permission to pause when needed, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not required -- or able -- to have all of the answers right now. And that is okay.