Returning to the Office: Supporting and Leading Your Colleagues

Posted in : HR Updates on 18 September 2020
Paolo Ruoppolo
Think People
Issues covered: HR Updates; Policies and Procedures; Remote Working; Engaging Remote Workers

In the last couple of months there has been a definite shift from home working to a return to the workplace. Surveys have been circulating on social media to understand the views of employees on the big debate of ‘working from home’ VS. ‘back to the office’. The results are not surprising, the majority of workers look favourably on the introduction of flexible working patterns, for example two to three days at home. This shows that there is a desire to return to the office environment, possibly fuelled by the fact that as human beings we are social animals craving human interaction, either for a coffee break or collaborating and sharing ideas with colleagues and friends. But until the pandemic is under control, and probably beyond that, teams are likely to be a mix of home and office workers (a hybrid team).   

First of all, we need to accept that there is no going back to the previous ‘normal’ / ‘office dominant’ model. The research also shows that regardless of Covid-19, large corporations are reviewing their property portfolios, and most are revising their policies to allow more flexibility.  This has happened before when other historical events changed the way we operate, for example the internet revolution, the airport travel experience before and after 9/11 or the financial industry after the credit crunch. If we are going to accept, acknowledge and cope with the changes, we will need to reflect on how we manage change and how we will do things from now on.

The return to the office will bring some challenges and opportunities for leaders depending on their approach. They will need to support and reenergise colleagues back into work after time spent on furlough, they will need to welcome back colleagues that have been working in the safety of their own homes and they will need to manage the day to day office operations in a changed environment.

So, what can leaders do to provide a work environment that will fuel their colleagues’ motivation and reduce the anxiety that the changes in working habits could bring?

Here are some suggestions for leaders to take on board:- 

  • We need to review or rethink our vision for the business and our teams to re-establish the bond between our people’s emotions and the journey ahead. Above all, we need to define the ‘why’ we are doing what we are doing and ‘why’ it is important. This will be followed by the ‘what’ we are trying to achieve, considering that the world has changed.
  • Having a new defined vision will guide the plan, the set of actions and behaviours needed during the journey, the ‘how’. The plan should include new or reviewed goals and objectives, the resources available, the team structure, a timeline, and clear accountabilities. When leading a hybrid team, we need to ensure that the plan is communicated clearly, considering that some of our colleagues won’t be there in person to feel it and breathe it. A clear plan will help with the establishment of new routines, rituals and habits, this will also support mental wellbeing.
  • We need to be even more intimate with our team members, listening to understand how they really feel, to be able to empathise with them. This will enable us to have a tailored and flexible approach to meet individuals’ needs. By truly listening and by adopting a flexible approach to tackle the plan, a feeling of safety can be created within your team that could offset fears and anxiety.
  • We need to communicate effectively and often, without being overbearing. Be present, foster collaboration, team communication and cohesion. Again, flexibility will be key, some of our colleagues prefer a light touch while others will need your presence, reassurance and support.
  •  We need to remember to celebrate successes in order to lift spirits and improve engagement.
  • Finally, we need to support our managers during the change. We are asking them to make successful change happen, while adapting themselves to the new environment. How are we supporting them? Where do they go if they need guidance?

Simon Sinek talks about having an Infinite Mindset. This mindset is one where we are able to see that what we are experiencing now is not the end but part of the journey. Things are difficult, no doubt about that, nothing is straight forward or can be taken for granted, but as long as we can see the light at the end of the tunnel we will be able to follow the path.

Leaders that care will make that light shine brighter, providing support and guidance, and will create an environment where people can find the strength to motivate themselves to reach the end of this tunnel.


This article is correct at 04/11/2020

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Paolo Ruoppolo
Think People

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