Re-entry anxiety is very real for many people. As organizations look to reopen offices or move to a hybrid work model, employees are faced with more change and disruption to their work-life situations. Leaders can and should play a role in helping their people adjust (or readjust) to the workplace. But they should keep in mind that “going back to normal” isn’t the goal. And for good reason: many of our pre-pandemic workplace cultures were fraught with information overload, burnout, lack of trust, disconnection, and loneliness.
Leaders should see this as an opportunity to reimagine a workplace and team culture that reflects one of the biggest lessons learned from the pandemic: that there is nothing more important than our connections to each other. Meaningful relationships are foundational to our ability to succeed and create a positive impact in our work and lives. In fact, research has shown that relationships have the greatest impact on our health, happiness, and longevity.
So what can leaders do to forge a better path forward? They can start by reevaluating their team culture and make changes that enhance social connection and well-being. Here are four steps leaders can take to do this:
Evaluate your team current culture
If you want to move forward to a better place, you need to first understand where you’re at. Consider how much your team values well-being and strong relationships. It can be helpful to envision this as a quadrant with the x-axis representing the degree to which a culture values individual well-being, and the y-axis representing the degree to which it values relationships among employees. The interplay between these values—strong and weak on each axis—creates quadrants that represent workplace cultures familiar in organizational life, each represented by a mascot.
Openly discuss preferences and needs as a team: Once you’ve assessed your current culture, engage your team in a discussion on their needs and preferences. Adjusting to a new way of working, again, can be challenging, but when team leaders encourage all members to share their workstyles and their well-being needs, the team can discuss ideas for working better together.
Identify barriers: Take the time to think about the new challenges your team will be facing during re-entry. If your team will be hybrid, will you need to reestablish how meetings are conducted with half the team remote and half in the office? Thinking through these barriers and deciding how to handle them ahead of time will help the transition run smoother.
Define new team values: Once you identify barriers and understand preferences and needs, you and your team can come up with solutions, guiding principles, and team values as you re-enter the workplace. Keep in mind that these will differ per team because every team is unique, but psychological safety, trust, empathy, and well-being are foundational qualities that all teams should be built on.
The pandemic has had a profound effect on the workplace and its employees. But the impact doesn’t have to be entirely negative. It has shone a bright light on the vital importance of areas that many organizations previously only saw as a ‘nice to have,’ like employee well-being and flexibility. Now we are at a pivotal point where leaders can consciously choose a healthier way forward, one that leads to greater well-being, stronger connections, and better performance.