As more and more people get vaccinated for COVID-19, the rumblings (or directives from on high) about returning to office workplaces are in full swing. After a year of breakneck change, the tempting lure of comfort will be overwhelming. You will want to simply return to the ways things were before.
Here’s my plea: Don’t waste what we’ve learned about remote work, about employee needs for support (such as child care and health care), and about the work needed for true diversity, equity and inclusion by simply going back to the way things were. That option may seem as alluring as a shiny coin on the ground. But that “old normal” comfortable will quickly give way to discomfort. You don’t have to look any further than the current debates over signs bemoaning people “not wanting to work” at low-wage, high-risk jobs to see it coming.
If you ignore people’s concerns about health and safety, heath and child care and racial justice, those problems will again surface in your workplace even more intensely than they were in the before times. I promise.
Here’s some good news: I have three tips for returning more smoothly and with less anxiety to the workplace so that you can make change for the better of your people and for your company.
1) Listen. Managers, executives and owners will especially need to spend a lot of time listening to people’s concerns. Take care of yourself so that you have enough energy to be able to listen — especially to concerns — for a long while before forming a plan for returning to work. This can be done in small groups and one-on-one meetings. Take the feedback seriously, and do your best to address every concern — even if you can’t give everyone exactly what they want. People will appreciate being taken seriously, and their anxiety will be reduced simultaneously.
2) Build Community. Make listening a regular part of meetings and other gatherings. Invite groups of people to tell their stories. What has work life been like at home? What hopes and dreams do people have after this year? What have they learned about themselves and about others? Spending more time on these conversations will help employees form bonds and strengthen the team’s ability to work effectively together.
3) Practice Mindfulness. Taking a minute or two for a grounding practice at the beginning of each meeting or as a break during your day can do wonders for calming the nervous system. This can be as simple as setting a timer for one minute of silence or taking a meditative walk during your lunch break.
Go Deeper: I would be delighted to host a “Return to the Office” teambuilding event or help facilitate those very important listening sessions as you plan your return. I can also help managers, executives and owners get the self-care they need in order to do the heavy lifting of change. Schedule a free consultation to learn more.
About Nicole: Nicole Havelka has honed her mindful leadership skills as a business consultant, a reverend, and a yogi. She has led numerous volunteer and staff teams, especially with organizations struggling through change. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher at the 500-hour level with specialties in many forms of meditation, including iRest Yoga Nidra, restorative yoga, yoga for youth, and trauma-sensitive yoga. She is the owner and lead consultant at Nicole Havelka Consulting.