A Message for Managers: Tips to Prepare Your Team for Return to the Office

By Lyndsey Karp

A few days ago, I received an email titled “Phasing Plan for Returning to the Office.” My head perked up- a light at the end of the tunnel! Similar emails are hitting inboxes everywhere as the country prepares to (slowly) reopen, and many employees look ahead to once again working in the office. If you’re a little bit nervous about returning to office work, you’re not alone. It’s scary, after so many weeks in quarantine, to think about commuting to the office, working in close quarters, and having to *gulp* put on real pants again. We’re in this together. In Part 2 of our 3-part blog series, we offer tips for managers preparing to transition the team back to the office:

Just as you get into a groove of working with your team remotely, your office sends an email about a phased approach to reopening the office. Sigh, here we go again! For some, it’s time to start looking ahead to the transition back into the office. If that’s you, here are some ways to support your team as you all work through another transition. 

Take stock of how your team is working remotely to inform you of things that need to change once you return to the office. Many employees say that they have felt more connected while working remotely. My team happens to be spread out over the US and across the pond in London. I’ve felt more in tune with my whole team during quarantine than ever before because we are on the same playing field. Since I can’t turn to my left and ask my coworker a question, I message my entire team in Slack, and we all get to discuss and see the answer. We have equal opportunity to contribute and participate in formal meetings and, due to quarantine, water-cooler talk too.

Additionally, my 1:1’s with my manager have been more productive. My manager and I met regularly before quarantine, but since we worked in the office, it was easy to grab her and ask questions or inquiries throughout the day. This occasionally led to less productive one-on-one’s since I had all my questions answered (and sometimes, we’d even cancel). Now that we’re working remotely, I opt to gather my agenda items for a one-on-one rather than storming my boss with Slack messages. I find that sometimes, I remove questions by the time we meet because I found the answer on my own. Other times, I take detailed notes as we discuss my barriers and projects together. 

If your team is similar, notice how the increased (or decreased) communication efforts and one-on-ones affected your employees. Keep positive practices going into the office. Find creative ways for communication to flow and keep that playing field even! Before quarantine, my team would log in to our web conferencing room, even if many of us were in the same physical space. This helped our remote team members feel more included. Now, I hope we continue to have open web conferencing with our remote team members for lunches or happy hours to keep the team bonding up and feel less distant. 

Since working remotely, I’ve had more open and honest conversations with everyone in my circle, even my clients! Nearly every meeting involves a shared, vulnerable moment where we talk about how we’re doing and things we’re looking forward to. Also, seeing into one another’s homes and families broke down many barriers! Against many expectations, quarantine has developed more in-depth, more open relationships. Work-life balance isn’t just about separating work and private lives anymore, it’s about making space for work and life to co-exist. As a manager, you can help keep the increase in human connections that came out of quarantine alive by asking your employees how they are doing and feeling (and sharing how you’re doing and feeling) during your one-on-one meetings. 

You can start this trend by asking your employees how the return-to-office plan affects them. Your office may be opening, and you may be prepared to go back in, but your employees may not be. Ask your employees what barriers they may foresee; then, do what you can to help them. This transition will be slow and will impact everyone differently, so be empathetic and don’t rush it.

Finally, check-in with your employees’ drivers so you can meet them where they are at. Employee motivation and values may change after an event like the COVID-19 quarantine. Reset your understanding of what your employees need from you by hosting a Drivers Card Activity with each employee. Reconnect on what motivates your employees. This information will help you to communicate better, assign work more thoughtfully, and, overall, keep your team engaged during this next phase.  

About Bridge: Bridge is a learning and performance management platform that provides learning and growth opportunities for managers and employees. Go to getbridge.com to learn more about how Bridge makes holding successful 1:1’s a seamless experience for both employee and manager alike.

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