Many organizations are thinking about when and how to move their staffs back into their original premises or into other real estate — or if they should take a different approach to work altogether.
As you think about shifting back into an office environment, it’s crucial to your long-term operating success to take concrete steps to put your team first and consider what matters most to them.
Move Health and Safety to the Front of the Line
We now know that scanning foreheads for temperature and wiping down surfaces are not particularly useful in fighting Covid-19. And with not quite a third of U.S. adults fully vaccinated, even those of us who have had our shots still face some slight risk, while unvaccinated people continue to be at full risk.
So stop the spread! Depending on the size of your space, your ventilation system, and the density of your team, encourage full masking and distancing while people are on-premises. Hold meetings outdoors as often as you can, and if your space has windows that open, experiment with keeping them open to get the helpful effects of fresh air. And review the options for upgrading your air filtration processes.
Psychological Health and Safety Is Also Health and Safety
Remember that everyone doesn’t feel the same way you do. Personal risk tolerances — and therefore comfort levels — vary significantly. If you have organizational power and status, be a good host and treat your team members as your guests. Find out what feels most comfortable to them and try to work within those parameters. For example, if working from home helps them feel more focused or better able to cope, be compassionate and help them craft a schedule that emphasizes as much time out of the office as possible.
Shower acceptance on everyone, in or out of the office. Make it clear that you intend to find a way to do good work together. It takes a little extra effort to integrate at-home and in-office employees, so be conscious of checking in on everyone equally, whether you’re chatting in the break room or scheduling quick catchups by video. Be sure the people at home have equivalent-quality equipment and the same information as the folks in the office do; consider continuing to hold video meetings with in-office staff joining from their individual workspaces to equalize everyone’s ability to participate.
Some of Your Employees May Carry Greater Burdens Than You Realize
Keep in mind that as the leader, your formal power and status likely give you a greater sense of personal control than your people have. You probably also make more money. You’re apt to feel more secure in your position and your life, and therefore expect that things ought to go your way. You may not be conscious of this difference as you deal with your people, and it’s a worthy exercise to bring it to mind frequently: They are more subject to feelings of unease, confusion, and anxiety about their working conditions and their choices.
Further, if you’re white, and/or a man, and/or cisgendered, in addition to feeling more secure, you most likely feel less beleaguered by negative judgments or as if someone else controls all your decisions and actions. Remind yourself that your colleagues may have more to lose than you do, including greater risks and fears in their daily lives and perhaps more tragedy. At a minimum, extend grace to them if they have ratcheted-up stress responses, tend to make mistakes than they used to, or require more accommodations.
Check on them explicitly: Ask what they need to feel more comfortable at work and acknowledge that they may be under pressures that you don’t recognize. Take the opportunity to offer extra support and allyship to people who belong to any groups that have suffered disproportionately from societal violence or control.
As businesses start getting “back to normal,” capable employees will be considering all their options, including exploring opportunities at other companies. The more you learn about who your people are, what they need to feel comfortable, and how they can succeed at work, the greater chance you’ll have of keeping people satisfied and effective— and feel good about working with them!
Onward and upward —