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We are entering a brand new era of work. For almost a year and a half, many organizations have operated at a partial or fully remote workforce, and the majority of employees don’t want to go back to work as it was in the pre-covid era. The WFH(work from home)-era helped many of us clarify our values. We spent more time at home with children, spouses or pets, or had more time to spend on hobbies that supported our well-being. We all had the opportunity to develop routines that became our “new normal” throughout this unusual time. Now the time is coming to create another “new normal,” which has many employees feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety.

The return to the office and in-person work is on the horizon in some countries. We would like to share some EQ-backed strategies to manage your team’s transition to the office with care. 

Make empathy the norm.

After getting an intimate glimpse into your colleagues’ home life over the last year of zoom meetings, this experience likely strengthened your inclination to be empathetic towards them. You also shared the experience of going through a pandemic—which may have created a sense of camaraderie and empathy like few ‘work’ experiences could. Empathy, however, can fade as you return to ordinary life and only see your co-workers at the office. As an essential part of team psychological safety, empathy should be a “spoken” and acted upon norm. ZenDesk came up with a practical way to integrate empathy into their team culture by creating “empathy circles” during the pandemic where employees could share their experiences and express how they were feeling. Try learning about mindful communication as a team, and encourage team members to practice perspective-taking when in conflict. Empathy goes beyond just walking in someone else’s shoes, it can also be the act of trying to understand the perspective of someone you disagree with. 

Be flexible.

The return to work will look and feel different for everyone. Some colleagues may be ecstatic to return to the office and in-person meetings; others may be much more hesitant. It is important to respect where everyone is and, when possible, to be flexible in allowing each individual to return at their own pace. Adjusting, again, to another “new normal” can take up a lot of mental and emotional energy. Be patient, and empower your team to be collaborators in finding a structure that aligns their personal well-being and goals with the organizational and team goals. They are more likely to be motivated and engaged if they feel they are a part of the process. 

Seize the moment to innovate and optimize.

Transitional moments provide an opportunity to identify what ways of working should stay and what doesn’t fit anymore. We can’t go back to the way we worked as it was in the pre-covid world, and we don’t want to! Burnout rates were overwhelming, stress prolific, and inequities abundant. Now is the moment to consider how we work and identify practical ways to optimize for the most significant engagement, trust and well-being of each team member. Schedule time to have conversations as a team around what changes might be supportive. Envision what the most successful, equitable, inclusive and well version of your team w0uld look and feel like. Dream big! Engage as a group to determine practical ways to support individual and organizational goals and create win-win solutions.

Focus on strengthening connection (for in-person and remote colleagues).

After a year and a half of virtual connection, the return to the office is an ideal moment to focus on connection-strengthening activities. According to Gallup’s 2021 research, employee engagement dropped two percentile points in 2020. Leaders must focus on how to make up for that in the coming months and years. The time is now to invest in team connection—host an off-site that includes team-building exercises, plan a back-to-the-office party or invite your team to attend a virtual skill-building program together. Employees are lonelier than ever before, so this is a perfect moment to be intentional with creating moments of connection. 

As many offices will adopt a hybrid workplace, it is essential to ensure remote colleagues also feel connected even from far away. At SIYLI, we have a weekly virtual “watercooler” where anyone can drop in to chat with colleagues about anything non-work-related. Take time to consider what pandemic-era connection-centered practices might be supportive to carry forward into the office or new hybrid “workplace”.

Exercise compassion. 

The pandemic offered us a unique opportunity to empathize with our colleagues; we can now take it one step further by leaning in and acting with compassion when it’s needed. Whether a colleague is feeling overwhelmed by the transition back, grieving a loved one or simply finding it difficult to balance new responsibilities, engage with compassion by asking yourself, “how can I be of service?”

We are here to support your team in your transition back to work. Join one of our upcoming programs like Effective Teaming or Adaptive Resilience with 3+ of your colleagues or friends and receive a discount or connect with a client advisor about bringing a program to your organization.