Re-entry without burning up

When a spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere, they have to get the speed and angle just right if they are to avoid burning up. We suggest this will also be the case when re-entering the workplace. Too much, too soon, and you’ll risk having a bunch of anxious and unhappy team members. You will need to have the right things in place, and the right conversations to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable and can focus on being productive. By co-creating your new normal, you can build a culture of co-operation and trust, to ensure your employees are committed to re-entry without burning up.

Heading back to work?

The Australian Government has released a 3-step roadmap to ease COVID-19 restrictions. Naturally this means organisations are now thinking about how to get everyone back to work.

There are many different permutations of what this means. Some people have been working remotely, and apart from the change in location their work, has been largely unaffected. For others, they’ve been reduced to 4 days a week, or have been stood down altogether. To add a layer of complexity, some of those who were stood down have actually started working somewhere else.

You’d like to get back to normal, which means getting the team back to work. That might be great for business, but how does your team feel about it? For many, they will be thinking about a new normal, rather than going back to how things were before. It’s likely there are mixed feelings with some who can’t wait to get back to some normality and others who are feeling anxious, especially if they need to use public transport for their commute.

It’s important to support your teams with clear and straight forward communication on expectations, so they know what is ok during the transition back to work. It’s also important to know how your people are feeling so you can provide the right kind of support to allay their fears. The best way to do this is by asking them. By assuring them you are going to co-curate your company culture, right alongside them. You want to take the recent lessons, and the challenges that are emerging now, and support them in every way possible as they re-enter ‘work’. And, you want to do that in a way that enhances trust, commitment, and your relationships.

We’ve talked before about Cultural Plasticity. Now is the time to make sure you can mold your culture to keep the best of what you’ve learned over the last few months, add in some new ideas, and together with your teams, co-curate your culture to be the best for everyone.

What’s the best way to get this conversation started?

We suggest a staged approach.

Firstly, organise to connect with everyone. Give them some notice so they can join an online meeting with their best ideas. Have an open conversation to let the team know you are thinking about restarting and want to hear their thoughts on when would be a good time? Let them know that you’ll be talking to everyone individually to gauge what support they may need.

Following the group chat, leaders could then talk to their team as individuals. What are they most worried about? Are there any unique issues or a context you’re not aware of? Is there anything you can implement to make them feel safer? What can you do to support them so that they are comfortable coming back into work?

You need to understand how each person would like to see the return to work happen for them. What are their individual circumstances? Do they have caring or other responsibilities still impacting their availability?

This is all about building upon that trusted relationship and connection with your team. You’re going to have some people who’ve been working remotely and want to keep doing so, at least some of the time. Then there are those who were cut down to 4 days a week, who’ve decided they’d love to keep this flexible way of working. You’ll need to consider how you can tailor the right way of working to best suit each person, the team collectively, and your business as a whole.

What about those who don’t want to come back?

For some who’ve been remote working, they are right now wondering why they ever have to go back to the office. If this works for your business as well, then great! The environment will thank you when there’s one less commuter in the throng. If you’re not comfortable with them continuing with a complete remote arrangement, or the business or team won’t support this, maybe the future is a compromise. Some of their time could be in the office to have your team meetings, and for planning, while some more ‘working away from the office’ time works too As long as there are good reasons, and open and clear communication, then you can set your expectations, and work out something that works for all.

How do I reduce the anxiety about returning to work?

Make sure you’ve got some good protocols in place to keep social distancing practices in the workplace, a good cleaning regime sorted and communicate this to your team. Explain that there will be hand sanitiser available, antiseptic wipes to keep desktops and workspaces clean, and do away with hot-desking if that’s causing anxiety. Can you minimise use of shared equipment such as printers or telephones? Many retail environments have introduced Perspex screens at counters to add a safety layer between employees and customers. Think about what might work for your business.

If you have team members who are going to be on public transport, you may need to be flexible about start and finish times so they can avoid the most crowded peak periods.

Keep up the communication

With good, clear communication, and a trusting and open relationship you should be able to work with each of your team to understand what steps you need to put in place. Simply aim at co-creating the best possible new normal. While doing that, you may just create the best workplace you’ve ever worked in. This open-to-new-ideas, collaborative approach is the foundation of support re-entry without burning up.