Who would’ve guessed that almost exactly one year ago, we’d be leaving the office to a world where work would be forever changed? Now, one year later, remote working has become widely accepted, commute times are down, people can spend more time with their families, and companies are experimenting with new ways to make remote work feel more engaging and rewarding.
We’ve reached a crossroads: COVID cases are starting to fall, the vaccine is more widely available, and organizations are implementing plans to bring their teams back to working in-person.
Except not everybody is chomping at the bit to get back to the office. As a leader, the last thing you want is for people on your team to come back to work because they feel obligated, even though they’re stressed, preferred working from home, and even worried because they live with a high-risk family member, or they’re high-risk themselves.
When employees are working from a place of obligation, stress, or fear they aren’t doing their best work, and in a world where we need our people to be creative, if they’re stressed or scared, the creative parts of their brains shut down.
It’s up to you to ease the transition back into in-person work and give your people reasons to look forward to getting back to the office. Here are six ways to do this:
1. Offer flexibility
In order to account for the fact that some of your employees will be feeling trepidation, offer the option to work from home 2–3 days per week so that the office isn’t filled to capacity every day. Be clear that as long as they maintain productivity, they can create their own schedules. Not only will this create a sense of safety and communicate that you care, it gives your team the feeling of ownership, which could have a positive impact on their productivity.
2. EXTRA Casual Friday
Working from home has led to the realization that, in many cases, working from the office can be uncomfortable. If I can be productive working from home in flannel pants, fuzzy socks, and a hoodie, why can’t I work from the office in that way? Allow your team the freedom to put the emphasis on casual in Casual Fridays (as long as it’s appropriate). For example, the Zoomsie
3. Bring home to work
Studies have shown that employees who bring their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels, higher levels of job satisfaction, and they have a more positive perception of their employer. Put some ground rules in place like sign-up sheets and conduct requirements, and watch as happiness improves with each passing pet. Soon, your team will go from saying “Good boy!” to “Good boss!”
4. Allow for mental health breaks
In case you were curious, stress levels did not decrease in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, which gives you, as a leader, a golden opportunity to lower your team’s stress. Offer them the freedom to take an extra hour a day to get some fresh air, meditate, exercise, watch funny videos, play a game, etc. As I stated earlier, stress shuts down our creativity and limits problem-solving, so if you’re worried about lost productivity, one of the best ways to get it back is to give your employees the freedom to take an extra hour so that they’re more productive when they are working.
5. Keep your door open
To make your team feel safer in the workplace, offer a listening ear whenever anyone needs it. Whether they want to offer ideas for work, address a concern, or share a personal story about their struggles through COVID, simply offering time to chat can put your team at ease. One of the most frequent complaints I get from audiences has been that leaders don’t do enough to connect on a personal level to make sure people are doing okay. Now’s your chance. We’re all going through this together, and coming together again in-person without making an effort to connect on a deeply human level is a gigantic missed opportunity.
6. Give them something to look forward to
It’s been a rough year for your employees, as they’ve all had to make sacrifices to stay productive while teaching their kids and adapting to massive societal changes. As you head back into the office, you now have a golden opportunity to show your appreciation. Help your team reframe the narrative from “I have to go back to work” to “I can’t wait to go back to work” with an exciting event where everyone is free to participate. Whether it’s a party, games, entertainment (like a customized corporate comedy experience) or a fun class, the goal is for them to count down the days until you’re creating a shared experience together, like we used to count down to our birthdays or Christmas. (For an extra helping of fun, you can even make a construction paper chain to help with the countdown.)