In a recent poll cited by NBC news, 61% of respondents said, “The thing they missed the most from their pre-pandemic employment was in-person workplace conversations.” As much as some of us relish the flexibility of remote work and the pleasure of staying in our yoga pants for days on end, there are other workers who desperately miss the kind of informal and personal connections that come with regular and casual workplace conversations with colleagues.
Knowing this, how can you and your organization set the stage for positive workplace conversations that will help employees re-connect with one another as so many of us are “returning to work”?
Tip # 1 – Acknowledge the Moment. It can be really helpful to simply acknowledge that the impacts of the pandemic, continued acts of racial and social injustice, forced shifts in childcare and schooling, and an increase in remote work have been different for everyone. Some employees may be thrilled to return to a busy office space where they can join colleagues at their favorite lunch spot again or simply stop by a co-worker’s office for a mid-morning catch up. While other employees will certainly feel the strain and anxiety of returning to in-person meetings and close-quarter offices while the world is still figuring out what “safe” workplaces look like.
Tip # 2 – Check in & Ask for Input. Just like you checked in with employees and colleagues back at the start of the pandemic, now is another great time to check in and see how others are feeling about returning to work and to ask what they may need that is different from their past ways of working. So many news stories right now are focusing on “returning to work” but it’s really a “return to the office” that’s happening. For many employees, their life situation may have changed significantly over the past 18 months now will be the time to re-envision their role and what resources they will need to deliver their best work in the future.
Tip # 3 – Be Patient. Change can happen fast but adjusting to change can take much longer. Just because mask mandates are lifting in some areas and offices are re-opening, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is fully on board yet. Some employees may have lost family members and support systems due to the pandemic. Some parents and caretakers are still navigating limited school and summer camp options and continue to have to balance work, home and appropriate child care. Still there are others who will need the time and mental space to transition from whatever their version of a remote work environment looked like at home, to what their returning office setting will be like with their own concerns related to office health and safety. For all those reasons – be patient.
Tip # 4 – Offer Opportunities to Reset & Reconnect. Even though many organizations were able to pivot their business with virtual meetings rooms, remote client engagements and other online options, there will likely still be a need to intentionally reset workplace expectations and relationships. Offer formal and informal ways for employees, colleagues, clients and others to reconnect with one another and re-establish their relationships.
We’ve all been through quite a lot in the last year plus. The best gift we can give one another as we transition to this next phase is grace. Grace to care for one another’s needs. Grace to remember we all transition at a different pace. Grace to hand in there together as we move forward to a brighter future.
Tara B Taylor, MPA