With September on our doorstep, many conversations are happening about the potential of leaving WFH behind and returning to the office.
There are many opinions around the pros and cons of this. I’m going to explore the perspective from speaking with people and businesses on the ‘pro’ side of this discussion understanding that for many this is an unpopular perspective!
As our team continues to coach hundreds of leaders around the world, we have been blessed to be part of discussions about the value and challenge of working from home and what people are missing from being in the office.
Many factors exist that influence where someone sits on this issue ranging from the size of the home office space (if that even exists) to having to share said office space with a partner who is also working from home, to whether or not children are present, whether there is enough internet bandwidth to effectively conduct business from home, to people missing the camaraderie and informal networking that takes place in the office.
For some their preferred ‘working environment’ is based on best fit for a flexible lifestyle and/or their health or the health of loved ones and for others their preference is influenced by their learning and work style and the energy they get from being around others.
The challenging thing for leaders if you are being tasked with bringing people back to the office is that some will be excited and some not so much!
Leading the Change
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old,
but on building the new!” ~ Socrates
What value do you see in physically being together again? What’s your plan for leading the shift back to the office and building the new environment?
Create a safe space
This is not only about creating a safe space physically but also creating a safe space emotionally. Most people want to know their voice is being heard, even if things don’t always go their way.
- Facilitate a regular forum for people to talk about their fears, challenges, excitement. Don’t judge, don’t make anyone’s opinion wrong, just listen.
- Engage the team in identifying ways they can collectively address fears/challenges and have them co-create how they are going to work together in a safe manner.
- Be honest and vulnerable if this is the first time you have led through a big change process. Invite feedback from the team to support you and the team’s success.
Understand how your ‘change’ bias will impact your team
Human beings have varying degrees of comfort with change…and frankly most don’t like it! Understanding your own bias around change (Do you love it? Does it scare the pants off you?) is as important as being open to understanding others’ perspectives! You will unconsciously convey your own feelings about returning to the office through your words, your tone, your body language, your off-handed comments.
- Get real with yourself about how you are feeling about the change. Write it down. Talk it out with a trusted advisor, your manager or your coach.
- Make a game plan for yourself. How are you going to address the varying reactions to returning to the office? How are you going to be excited with the excited people and sit with and listen to the fearful people? Having a plan can increase your confidence and this confidence will be felt by your team.
- Normalize the change process for yourself and your team. The fact is that people will react to change differently and flow through the change process at different rates. Sometimes it is helpful to share a ‘change model’ to normalize what the team can expect moving forward. It will not be a linear line. It will have it’s ups and downs. We won’t be returning to the way things were before.
Highlight New Opportunities and Benefits
One thing we’ve heard that excites people about returning to the office are the learning opportunities that are created when people are in the same space.
Especially for the people on your team who are reluctant returners, what can you do to highlight some new opportunities for them?
- Promote the benefits of random connections – the opportunities that arise for creative sparks to fly, increased visibility with those outside your immediate team and ‘in the moment’ brainstorming of a problem tend to happen more organically when running into others in hallways, parking lots and common areas. Encourage your team to connect safely with others who have returned to the office, especially those outside your work group.
- Ramp up development opportunities – maybe not everyone is returning to the office and there are opportunities for people to learn new tasks or take on new responsibilities. Do 1:1 connects with each team member to identify what new opportunities might exist that will help them develop their skills in ways that perhaps didn’t previously exist.
- Implement a formal mentorship program – offer up the opportunity to learn from others who are more senior in the org or perhaps work in a different division. Mentors provide a different view of the org for employees and can serve to enhance their knowledge and engagement in a way that is different from your relationship with them.
I love this quote by John C. Maxwell…
So, if you are a leader tasked with bringing people back, what are you doing to adjust the sails and create value for your team and your organization?
We’d love to hear from you now and over the coming months to share your experiences and learn from you!