Helping your organization return to work

When your team members have been working apart for a long time – or maybe not working at all – how do you bring them back together when your workplace reopens?

Written by Mind Tools for Business
Published 11 June 2021
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Helping your organization return to work

Before the coronavirus pandemic, only a few organizations had to deal with this problem – after a natural disaster, for example. But it's a challenge that many firms and their people must prepare for, as restrictions ease and vaccine programs are rolled out.

Some decisions will be dictated by industry regulations and regional or national laws. And every organization – and every individual – will have their own specific considerations and concerns. But there are a few general principles you can use to ease the transition.

Different experiences of leaving lockdown

Any prolonged break from 'business as usual' affects people in different ways – even those within the same organization or team.

Some people may have been furloughed, given new duties, or started working remotely for the first time. Former co-workers may have been laid off.

Many will have struggled with personal worries and professional challenges – juggling working from home with childcare responsibilities, for example. For some people, the period will have been defined by the loss of a loved one.

But for others, this period may have brought some benefits, such as less time spent commuting and more with family. For some of us the 'pause' may even have been rejuvenating, giving us new goals, ideas and perspectives.

It's important to bear all of these different attitudes in mind as you prepare to bring your team back to work.

Note: It's vital to balance speed with care. Of course, you want to build momentum as soon as possible, but avoid making rash decisions that you may regret later.

Back to work and back on track

Many organizations have suffered during lockdown and have a lot of ground to regain. Most workplaces will look different for some time to come, and some things may never go back to the way they were.

Rebooting after a long period of separation and disruption takes a clear plan of action – so here are six factors to think about as you formulate yours.

1. Consider your stakeholders

Many different sets of people have an interest in this next phase. Carrying out a stakeholder analysis will remind you who they all are (your team members, customers, suppliers, the local community, and so on), so that you can consult with them as appropriate.
 
Stakeholders may hold opposing views. Some might be keen for a quick return to 'normal,' while others will be more cautious. Aim to gather information on all of your stakeholders' positions, where possible, so that you can feed it into your decisions.
 
A stakeholder analysis will help you understand people’s attitudes, how to balance their different needs, and reassure those who are anxious about returning to work.

2. Reflect on your values

If your organization's values are clear, you'll find it easier to resolve even complex dilemmas.
A commitment to the community, for example, will mean that you take the safety concerns of local people particularly seriously. Or a focus on the wellbeing of your people may influence your decisions on flexible working. So, if you have a mission statement or vision statement, use it to direct your decisions.
 
In addition, practicing ethical leadership will make it easier for you to tackle difficult dilemmas and create a return-to-work plan that you can feel proud of and that people can trust. A good place to start is by looking to your personal values as well as your organizational values. So, ask yourself:

  • What standards of behavior are really important to my company?

  • What specific values do I admire in certain leaders? Do I identify with those values?

  • Would I still live by those values even if they put me at a competitive disadvantage?

3. Be bold and creative

Returning from this enforced break could be a golden opportunity to start doing things differently. Take a fresh look at your options, assess the resources at your disposal, and allow time and space for creative thinking as you plan your 'new normal' at work.

So, why not make your first office meeting back a brainstorming session. Ask everyone in your team to come prepared with ideas about how you can do things differently and better going forward. As a group, you can chat over the ideas, build on them, and put the best ones into practice.

4. Communicate your plans

Whatever decisions you make about getting your people back to work, it's essential to communicate them clearly and effectively to everyone involved.

Anxieties and rumors can spread in an atmosphere of uncertainty, especially if only a few people seem to be '’in the loop’'. But if people understand what you've decided to do, why you're doing it, and how it affects them, they’re usually much happier to accept what's happening.

When conveying key information:

  • Be clear and concise – write and speak in easy-to-understand, jargon-free language.

  • Get your facts right – consult with key stakeholders to sense check your message before you hit send on a sensitive email.

  • Include a call to action so people know what do next. That could be a webpage to find more information, contact details of HR staff, or a link to an online survey to get people’s thoughts.

If you get this right, your people will know how to return to the workplace safely – and also that their organization cares about keeping them informed.

5. Rebuild your team

Any team that's been out of face-to-face contact for a while may need some time to gel again. If you're all going to be back in the same place of work, try teambuilding exercises and activities (when it's safe to do so) to help get the group feeling fully connected again. If some team members will continue to work remotely, look for programs or apps that can help you to run sessions that work for all.

Some team members may request new working arrangements as they return from lockdown – either for the short term or permanently. This could be because their personal circumstances have changed, for instance, or they've found they can be more productive working from home at least some of the time.

It's important to balance individual requests with the overall needs of the team. When making these decisions, refer to your organization's policy on flexible working, and take advice from your HR department if necessary.

About the author

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business brings accessible, on-demand performance tools and resources that empower colleagues to perform in today’s progressive workplaces. Helping them build happy and successful careers and to contribute positively to the success of organisations, the world over. At Mind Tools for Business, empowering people to thrive at work has been our passion for 25 years.

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