Returning to Work: How to Manage the New Environment
June 28, 2021
Returning to work was always the goal, even when shutdowns first began in 2020. Now that the return is underway, business owners and office managers are faced with a new problem: managing an environment that coronavirus drastically altered. Many are finding it not as easy as they had anticipated.
For starters, coronavirus fears have still not fully abated. There are people returning to work who are still fearful of coming down with COVID-19. Things are further complicated by smaller staffs, hybrid working models, and new expectations ushered in by changes that were originally made to facilitate remote work.
As someone in management, how do you handle this new environment? How do you manage your team in a way that ensures everyone is comfortable while simultaneously maintaining productivity and innovation? We do not yet have all the answers given that this is so new. But there are some starting points to work with.
Health concerns aside, one of the biggest issues in the new environment is bringing everybody up to speed on current expectations. Remote work offered opportunities to do things in different ways. Some of that will translate back to the office. Some of it will not. In essence, the workforce now has to be retrained in company expectations.
Retraining can be as simple as one-on-one coaching sessions between manager and team member. It could include team breakout sessions or full-day instructional seminars. Whatever it takes, right? The one thing managers do not want to do is ignore training in the hope that team members will figure out new expectations on their own.
Managers can do themselves a big favor by fully embracing the hybrid work model. In practical terms, this implies finding new ways to measure performance, encourage productivity, facilitate collaboration, etc. At issue is the fact that not everyone will be in the office at all times.
Pre-coronavirus, managers had a reasonable expectation that they would have the entire team together for eight hours a day, five days a week. That is no longer the case. Some team members will not return to the office at all. Others will split their time between office and home. Still others will come back full-time.
Managing the new hybrid environment will require a new way of thinking. It will require making more use of videoconferencing and other digital technologies. It will require being more open to flexible scheduling.
The biggest challenge for many teams in the new post-coronavirus work environment is communication. As you know, workplace communication has always been an issue. It is an even bigger issue now that expectations have changed so dramatically.
Over the last 15 to 17 months, video chat has become the standard for remote communication. Why not? It's the next best thing to face-to-face discussions. But here's the thing: the new hybrid work environment is a mixture of both remote and office work. Video chat might not be as attractive because it's no longer an absolute necessity.
At any rate, management should focus attention on maintaining open lines of communication. Employees can, and should, be encouraged to use a variety of means including video, email, and text message. The more that management can facilitate open communication, the easier the transition will be.
Returning to work post-coronavirus may prove as challenging as figuring out how to work during lockdown. Fortunately, the business world is resilient enough to figure it out. At some point, all of this will be nothing but a memory. It will just take time for everyone to get to that place.