Returning to your office, but not to normal

July 23, 2020

Liza RobbinsBy Liza Robbins.

Now that the Coronavirus restrictions are slowly lifting in the UK, the Kreston International team is finally able to go back to our office in central London.

Well, in theory at least…

At the moment, we’re only allowing one person at a time into our office, to preserve social distancing.

I haven’t been yet. Those who have tell me that our office building, which is normally buzzing with people, is mostly empty.

So while we are dipping our toes back into “normality”, it’s a very slow process.

Depending on where you are in the world, you may be far ahead of us – already back with your team in the office, full-time – or far behind, expecting to continue with remote working for weeks or even months to come.

But when you are ready to return to the office, it is unrealistic to expect that your staff will troop in, just as they did before Coronavirus hit, and that normal business will immediately resume.

There are going to be profound changes to the way you operate – and that means before re-entering the office environment, you need to do some serious preparation and planning.

Many others have covered the way you may have to physically re-organise your office, to allow for social distancing. That’s critical, but I won’t go into that here.

I’d like to consider the human aspect of all of this…

You see, your team have been working from home for many months. Despite the initial disruption, they are probably quite used by now to this new way of working…

…And for many of them, returning to the office may be a moment of complex emotions.

Yes, they may be feeling relief, but they might also be very worried –

About their physical health (Are they really going to be safe in an office environment? Is it safe to travel into work on public transport?)…

About their job security (Given the economic conditions, are they guaranteed a job for the foreseeable future?)…

About the practical aspects of how they might manage (if for example their children are still unable to attend school).

Your first job is to assess your team’s concerns, to show them that you understand them, and then to reassure them as best you can.

A caring workplace will offer employees this kind of support and help…

Next, understand that adjusting to the new working conditions may take your team some time. The environment might feel familiar… But to all intents and purposes, this is a new situation!

You must expect a period where your staff will be unsettled – just like when they first started working from home.

And you and your leadership team may have to adjust your management style.

Most of your team members became used to managing themselves to a much higher degree while working remotely. Some may have developed their own systems or new habits, and it may be difficult for them to be supervised and managed closely by their boss again.

Old management techniques that worked well before Coronavirus may not be effective any more. And old Standard Operating Procedures might also be out-of-date, given that your team and working conditions have altered.

Be prepared to adjust!

Now, all of this might sound like a difficult homecoming…

But of course, it is a joyous moment as well. After the difficulty and trauma of the past few months, any step towards a return to normal is to be celebrated.

So, as leader, think of ways you can mark this occasion in a positive way as well.

What can you do to welcome your team back in an exciting way? Could you, for example, give each returning member of staff a little gift… or throw a socially distanced party of some sort?

Perhaps you can do something similar for your clients. Imagine the goodwill that you’ll generate when each client who visits you in your office receives their “welcome back” gift pack…

…Or when you make a thoughtful gesture to your top 10 clients, simply to celebrate the re-opening of your office. They’ll love it!