A topic on many Business Owners’ and employee minds right now is first, a return to work in the office, and second, whether or not to relax COVID-19 restrictions. Many states, including here in Ohio, are relaxing COVID-19 restrictions (if they had any at all) soon, and that poses a leadership challenge for most businesses. Many employees will be glad to be back in the office, but there are also those who are feeling extreme anxiety in returning to in person life.

We have talked about the challenges that Business Owners and Leaders face with part of your staff working from home, and part working from work. But get ready – the challenges of managing a newly hybrid, or even managing an employee that doesn’t want to return to work, may be even bigger. The impacts of the fear, uncertainty, and anxiety of this past year and a half are not going to just disappear when you decide to bring the team back together. In fact, long after the SARS epidemic in 2002 in Japan which sparked masking as a part of daily life, Japanese citizens wear masks to stop the spread of respiratory illness, cover the fact that they aren’t wearing makeup, or simply for fashion. It’s started a whole new industry.

How can you plan for the return to “normal” and execute this strategy? Here’s some tips:

UNDERSTAND YOUR TEAM

The first step in any Team Culture or Leadership challenge is to understand the person that you are leading. This goes beyond DISC profile – understanding the anxieties, challenges, and life experiences of each employee in your charge is crucial. Is your vaccinated employee uneasy because they have unvaccinated children or a spouse at home that is high risk? Are they struggling to re-secure childcare? Have they lost someone dear to them from COVID-19? 588,421 people have as of today. The people on your team are just that: people. Put yourself in their shoes. Practice the platinum rule, “treat people how they want to be treated.”

Once you understand who that person is, and what challenges they’re facing, then get to the bottom of the problem and find a solution. Could you put the high risk person in a private office with a window or socially distant work space? Could you provide a grief counselor or mental health professional to support the wellness needs of your team? Securing reliable childcare is a tough job – could you modify work hours so they are only in the office a couple of days a week? Be sure that all of the policies and accommodations are understood and consistent so you don’t create resentment among the team.

HAVE A TEAM DAY

Our team, and many great teams that we work with, make it a priority to have a team day or alignment on a regular basis. These team days, whether they are a day away at the lake, or a lunch out on the company dime, are an opportunity to reconnect. Be sure to first and foremost have some fun. Be a servant leader – it means a lot when the boss takes the time to cook a meal, provide a day to bond, or invests in a quality leadership trainer. Showing your team that they have something in common besides being your employee is worth its weight in gold. Three key aspects of the team days that we facilitate are fun (first and foremost), alignment of vision and mission, and establishing rules of the game.

BE THE LEADER

Determine the policies that are going to be the normal in your organization, and stick to them. Are you going to require vaccination because it’s a function of the job? SHRM’s attorneys wrote a great article detailing vaccinations and their legal implications here. We do recommend that you run your policy by a great employment attorney in your state and even city before you implement it. Are you going to require masking for unvaccinated employees based on the CDC guidelines? Be prepared to enforce this policy. Be sure that it’s communicated that all employee health and safety is of the utmost importance, and show that through your policies.

The reality of the situation is that returning to normal, even though the normal we once knew is long gone, is tough. And it can push the limits of your team’s comfort zone. There are many triggers of negative mental health surrounding COVID-19 and the pandemic that are going to take lifetimes to overcome. Part of your job as a leader, however is to push the comfort zone of your team, respectfully. It’s okay to require that employees be ready to come back full time when it is legally allowed. Be ready to test your own comfort zone by being okay with a hybrid setup if it leads to the same productivity. Be ready to accommodate, be ready to empathize, and be ready to lead your business beyond the pandemic into the future.

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Do you need help crafting a team culture overhaul? Are you struggling to bring employees back to the office? Are you ready to schedule a team day? We can help. Contact us to schedule your no-cost, no-obligation business analysis today.

About the author,

Director of Marketing, ActionCOACH Columbus

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