"Managers need to step in and help their employees build social and emotional connections to ensure individuals feel connected to their colleagues and the organisations, and to help teams continue to work together seamlessly."
It might sound like an understatement, but your people have been through a lot in the past eighteen months. Many were forced to work remotely, and they’ve been bombarded with new terms, including COVID, self-isolation, furlough and even the dreaded lockdown.
Therefore, to encourage a smooth transition for your people back to the post-Covid workplace, there are several ways you can focus on their needs:
1. Protect your people
Not to scare you, but COVID related claims are on the rise. According to one employment lawyer, there’s been a 20% increase in the last few months of COVID related claims. In addition, he believes claims will increase by the end of 2021 as both employers and employees adapt to work after the height of the pandemic.
With that in mind, it’s more crucial than ever to protect your people and make adjustments where necessary. This may be in relation to health and safety and those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID, including individuals with specific disabilities or pregnant women.
But it’s not just about protecting their health and safety; you also have to ensure individuals do not suffer any form of discrimination in the post-Covid workplace. It‘s about an awareness of all your people, their individual needs and open communication (more of that later!).
2. Ensure feedback and evaluation
The pandemic has been challenging, but there’s undoubtedly some learning that comes from it. So, it’s worth delving into what has and hasn’t worked during COVID regarding remote working. Now’s a good time to assess roles, productively, targets, communication, team meetings etc., to understand how the future team will look.
Then, you can work closely with each member to discuss work patterns in the future and understand each person’s preference. Although it might not be possible to accommodate every request or preference, it’s essential to understand what all members are looking for.
Take the time to listen to individual preferences to ensure transparency and fairness. For example, a blanket ‘No’ to remote or flexible working is unlikely to motivate the team or attract future talent.
Which leads nicely onto the next point.
3. Think creatively about work patterns
Gone are the days when individuals could only request flexible working if they were a parent. Times have changed, and the pandemic has shown us that people can work effectively remotely, and flexibility is not going to disappear overnight.
But before you panic that every employee will work remotely forever, consider that individuals have different needs. For example, some individuals may be lonely and crave a return to the workplace for company, team spirit, a change of scenery and even a different ‘energy’ that working alongside others creates. For others, they may have poor technology remotely or want to separate home life from work.
The point is, it’s unlikely that everyone will desire the same work pattern. Therefore, it’s crucial to listen to each person’s preferences and be as creative as possible to accommodate needs. That’s not to say you have to say yes to everyone’s requests, but being open-minded and considering that times and working habits have changed can go a long way.
4. Don’t forget about those who work flexibly
In the post-Covid workplace, you need to give all your people your attention even though they potentially possess different work patterns, preferences and needs. It may sound odd, but it can be a challenge with individuals working across different locations.
Don’t let individuals become ‘invisible’ because they work flexibly. And it isn’t just about promotions and opportunities; it’s also crucial to keep all team members in the loop regarding communication wherever they are physically based.
A study by Gartner found that those working entirely remotely are almost twice as likely to receive feedback from their manager about what they didn’t do right or well rather than positive feedback. So, when you have a one to one meeting with a remote employee, have a two-way conversation, focus on feedback based on evidence and include positive feedback (with examples!).
5. Build and maintain communication (create a sense of togetherness!)
If only there were a simple answer to perfect post-Covid workplace communication, but there are some simple factors to look at.
It sounds obvious, but ensure you have a clear communication channel that everyone uses. Otherwise, in-person chats in the office may leave out those working from home who didn’t hear a team exchange. You might use technology such as Slack to chat and update each other, so whatever you established during those lockdown days, make sure everyone is clear on how it works and that they should use it!
It took time to adjust to a team of remote workers, so it will take time to adapt to new work patterns, and you have to be organised and disciplined. So, for example, if a team meeting takes place at a set time each week and individuals have come into the workplace for it, don’t cancel it and make sure it’s via video!
If you work a hybrid pattern, lead by example and be transparent with your team, so they know where you’ll be based each day. If you decide on set days in the office, let your team know or if they vary week to week, continue to communicate about your location and ensure others do the same.
6. Stay connected
If individuals work remotely or flexibly (they are not the same thing, but that’s another blog!), they may miss out on social interaction, conversations and spontaneous social events.
So, no pressure, but you have to keep your split team connected and create fun! You can organise events, team building days and socials to encourage team bonding and interaction. In fact, such events become more important when teams are split, so invite everyone.
If possible, schedule the events in advance and ensure that all individuals know about them. And consider if, in between the face-to-face events, you can organise online social get-togethers to keep the team connected.
7. Review OKRs or KPIs
It’s likely that legacy key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and key results (OKRs) changed for your people during the pandemic. Actually, it would be strange if they haven’t somehow altered due to remote working and changes in business or team strategy.
If you haven’t done so already, review what your people are doing and what’s expected of them. Objectives may need to be angled towards results rather than time worked. Or perhaps due to business strategy or client needs, some have changed significantly or are no longer valid.
Monitoring performance remotely is different to monitoring in person. While transparency and trust are important factors for all performance management, they are essential in a hybrid work to encourage honest and genuine evaluation.
Even the soft skills expected of your people are likely to have changed and may require revaluation.
8. And finally, (the one no one wants to do) review, update and communicate post-Covid workplace policies
While you might delegate the actual editing or rewrites to an HR specialist, you need to consider your policies. What applied before the pandemic may not necessarily apply in the post-COVID workplace.
If there are new or updated policies (for example, you may introduce a COVID return to work policy or update your annual leave or sickness policies), send these to all team members so everyone has clear (and consistent!) information.
It’s likely that the adaption as individuals return to the office or adopt hybrid working will take some getting used to. However, you play an essential role in bringing your people together wherever they are working and should continue to clearly (and inclusively) communicate, accommodate and assess team members. Adopt an open mind towards work patterns, and while you shouldn’t be scared to say no to some requests, do consider what would work in the team.
As is often the case, transparency and fairness are vital in getting your people engaged, achieving together as a team and adjusting to the new way of working.