Returning to Work: How to Energise Your Team and Make the Most of the Office Return
Written on: 9 June 2021
Written by: Frances Hardcastle
[Employers, Professional Development]
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For many people, this summer symbolises a return to office life after months of remote working.
After over a year of rising to new challenges - setting up impromptu home offices, reacting to ever-changing guidance, and enduring the nightmare that is Zoom School - getting back to the office is seen as either a breath of fresh air or a fresh upheaval.
Let's face it - guiding your team through this new transition isn't an easy task. Working patterns are different, teams fragmented and returns staggered. For every person who can't wait to get back to their version of normality, there are others experiencing anxiety and back to the office blues - not forgetting those who've only ever worked remotely and haven't yet met their colleagues face-to-face.
How can you, as a manager, bring your team back together and make the most of your return to the workplace?
Whether you're planning to bring your team back to the office full-time or working out a flexible working plan, we have some top tops to make the transition back to IRL working run as smoothly as possible.
No two people have experienced the pandemic in the same way. As lockdown lifts, we're all operating with different comfort zones and levels of risk. For some, the virus is still an acute danger to themselves or vulnerable loved ones. It's understandable that people could be concerned about coming back to the office and increasing their social contacts once more.
Try to ease the fear by checking in with individuals before and after they return to the office, explaining the safety measures you've introduced and listening to their concerns. For those starting their jobs in lockdown, offer office tours or informal meetups beforehand to avoid first-day nerves.
Be mindful of personal circumstances, including caring responsibilities, and try to be flexible wherever the nature of work allows. Hold regular reviews and make any necessary adjustments to keep your team feeling safe and secure.
In the before times, offices were places where people came together in a shared space to work on a computer, punctuated by a series of meetings, shared coffee rounds and a common playlist.
During lockdown, the work element largely continued, but your collaborative energy might have dwindled. Now that a return to the workplace is on the cards, what does this mean for the way we work?
When you bring your team back to the office, ask yourself what the office environment can do differently. What advantages does an office setting bring, and what do you want individuals to get from their workplace experience?
The return from lockdown is your opportunity to start fresh: new desk, new you. If you're keen to avoid slipping into old habits, reconfigure your space wherever possible to facilitate a working environment that works for you and your team. Think break-out spaces, creative tables, and dedicated spaces for quiet work and video calls.
After so long away, the social bonds and shared knowledge that help a team function like a well-oiled machine might be a little rusty. The next few months will be critical for so many businesses, so it's important to take the time to establish a clear vision for your department and bring your team up to speed.
Get buy-in by focusing on the benefits of achieving a tangible milestone and ensuring everyone understands how their contribution fits in.
Banking some quick wins can be a useful motivational technique: make the most of being together in the office to set some straightforward team projects with short-term deadlines to encourage collaboration and communication. Remember to provide lots of positive feedback to rebuild confidence.
This past year, we've all had time to consider our professional goals and personal priorities. While academics and business writers are predicting a "great resignation" after Covid, managers who help their people grow professionally have nothing to fear from a little reflection.
The approach is simple: ask your team what they want to achieve at work and empower them to accomplish their goals.
Uncertainty and stagnation can contribute to underperformance. By contrast, demonstrating an investment in people can provide reassurance, make individuals feel valued, and boost your team with a blast of new energy and skills.
There are lots of staff development and CPD options available for channelling back-to-work enthusiasm into a skills development programme. From self-directed online resources such as Google Digital Garage, to highly focused short courses and long-haul professional qualifications. You're bound to find a training option suitable for all needs, budgets and timescales.
Advanced and Higher Apprenticeships can be an excellent and cost-effective tool when it comes to workforce development. These are industry-approved career development programmes which build up technical expertise over several months. Participants learn to apply new concepts and skills to their real work projects, which can positively impact the whole team.
Although many businesses are tightening their belts while they ride out of the Coronavirus crisis, it's useful to know that cost needn't be a barrier to quality training. Apprenticeship training fees for large organisations are often pre-paid through your Apprenticeship Levy contributions, while smaller businesses can benefit from Government funding of up to 100%.
For many managers, this accessible training enables you to demonstrate your commitment to your people, encourage individual passions and drive your team's development forward through a low-cost, high-reward system.
In summary, managing your team's return to the office is a process - not an event. However, through consistent communication, concrete goals, and going the extra mile to show people they are valued, you should be quietly confident that your team can bounce back better than ever.