returning to work post coronavirus

Returning to Work: New World, New Rules, New Opportunities!

Many of us can recall the moment it happened. One day, we were living our lives, going through the motions as each moment passed, and the next, the Coronavirus put our professional (and personal) worlds on pause. All of us were left in a period of intermission — awaiting instruction, a vaccination, and something, anything, to inspire us into tomorrow. And although many of our circumstances were on stand-by, we still managed to count the things we were grateful for and set our sights on what lay ahead.

Now comes the new challenge: returning to work. With a global crisis in our rearview, we have a fresh start to evoke a more empathetic reality. We now have the chance to use what we’ve acquired since social distancing to advance our leadership potential and propel our teams. Below are a few steps to make this transition not only a sufficient one but a success for supervisors and subordinates alike.

Create a calm atmosphere

Returning to the office is challenging even for the most stalwart of employees. Resuming is fraught with a new wave of worry and the possibility of returning home. The pressing questions in employees’ minds are precisely where leaders should begin. At the forefront of the conversation, leaders need to ask what safety means to individuals and promote the idea that protecting people is pivotal. Create a space where people can be heard. Be prepared not to have all the answers. Assure that safety is part of the reopening plan and that employee well-being is the center of everything.

Update policies and procedures

Remote work is no longer thought of as a fantasy or an employer’s worst nightmare. Yet policies relating to this work type either do not exist or are tremendously outdated. Exert effort in reworking those procedures — craft policies around PTO, vaccinations, work expectations, and what defines a sick day.  Leaders must also prepare for people who want to continue to work from home as long as outcomes are obtained. Approach every procedure as another opportunity to tell people how important they are and support them every step of the way.

Promote flexibility and patience

People have endured terrible traumatic experiences in the past year or so, and it’s possible they are not as ready, willing, or able to return to the office as they thought. People need to see work as a flexible culture that welcomes them wherever they are right now. If someone isn’t ready to come back to the office, how can you support them and what they need to be productive? Perhaps promote a gradual return to the office, allowing those who can’t wait to come back to do so immediately while others enter on a rotating basis. If you promote a philosophy of people first, watch as employees excel even more in your industry.

Make mental health a priority

This past year has been marked by times of the taking. Whether the senseless taking of lives by systematic racism or a global pandemic that took, again and again, no one has successfully processed all of these losses. Now is the time for leaders to stop the stigma and support mental health initiatives. Through access to behavioral health specialists, community organizations, EAPs, and support groups, employees can receive help navigating their way to the next new normal.

Strengthen social interaction

The loss of connection has haunted all of us as we struggle to get control over the familiar feeling of loneliness.  As socialization increases, it’s up to leaders to build back the bonds that have been broken.

There is no guide to go about this gracefully. In the wake of the global pandemic, no one should pretend that returning to the real world and resuming life as we once knew will be simple and seamless. Time has been taken, countless lives have been lost, and humanity has been shaken to its core. Leaders must remind themselves that there is no perfect solution as we all step forward into the future. But with commitment, patience, tolerance, and time, we can hold onto hope, and we can all heal together.

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