As office doors slowly start to creak open, it’s fair to say that the nation is pretty split when it comes to returning to the workplace. With emotions heightened and people experiencing a ‘different’ kind of working environment, it’s certainly going to take some adjusting to (what do you mean I can’t make a brew in the communal kitchen anymore?!).
A thought that gives some people a small amount of solace, and others a great amount of anxiety, is the fact that we’re all muddling through this together. None of us have experienced anything like it before.
But despite this, as people managers, we’re still expected to guide and lead our teams. So how can we best prepare ourselves for the onslaught of emotions (both our own and those of others) over the coming weeks and months?
- Create a support network for yourself
As we progress into management, it can sometimes be a lonely place. We leave the arms of our peers and take the step up. No longer are we part of a collective seeking guidance, we’re now looked upon to deliver that guidance. It’s therefore essential that we put our own emotional and mental state first; how can we expect to be able to effectively support others if we haven’t addressed our own concerns first? Create a network of people you can talk to – your own manager, others in respective fields, your partner, family, friends or someone completely objective such as a coach. Be honest about how you’re feeling. The chances are, they will be dealing with similar emotions and will be relieved that you reached out.
- Listen. And I mean, really listen.
Do you ever find yourself listening to someone but really, your mind is somewhere else? We’re all guilty of it; that deadline’s looming, I need to file that report, what shall I cook for dinner, is it the weekend yet? Or maybe you find yourself thinking about what you’re going to say in response to another person before they’ve even finished?
Everyone will have a different perspective on the last few months. To effectively guide others, we need to really understand how they have experienced this time – and we can only do that through actively listening to what they are saying. Try not to offer advice and guidance at the first opportunity. Instead, ask more questions. Not only will this demonstrate that you have a genuine interest and therefore develop the trust between you, it will also give you a better understanding and therefore tools to be able to effectively manage your team going forwards.
- Be honest
You’ll be asked for your opinion. You’ll be asked for guidance. But that doesn’t mean you have to know the answer 100% of the time. We naturally flock to those who are authentic and honest. Use this as an opportunity to build rapport and empower your team by asking for their opinions and gain different perspectives. You’ll earn more respect and build a stronger relationship as a result.
- Be on the lookout
Despite all your best efforts to create a space where your team feels comfortable and safe, it’s human nature that some will adapt more smoothly than others. Keep an eye out for anything which could indicate someone is struggling with their mental health; irritability, less communicative, missed deadlines, difficulty focusing, disappear for periods of time, late to work, taking days off.
Go back to the point on active listening. Be flexible. Put measures in place to help them through the transition. Go for a walk with them. Work together to identify triggers. Build a relationship of trust. Know where you can direct them for additional support.
- Embrace it
There’s loads of great articles out there predicting what the world of work will look like post COVID. Use this time as an opportunity to build new foundations. What did your team like about working from home? Is there anything that can bridge the gap within the workplace? Can you be more flexible with working patterns to align with the times individuals are most productive? Your ability to implement organisation wide changes may be limited (although what better time to try…) but think about what you can do on a team level to set your area up for success (and have some fun while you do it).
We didn’t choose for this to happen but we can absolutely choose how we respond. Now is the time to think about how you show up as you return to the workplace. What do you want to keep, what do you want to change and what do you want to leave in the past?