With 64% of salaried employees working from home, what’s going to happen when your employees get back to work? With the amount of uncertainty in the world, it would be irresponsible to treat the first day back like “business-as-usual.” People want certainty, and as a leader, they will be looking to you to provide it, much like I decided to end each below paragraph in the exact same way. Here are four ways you can engage your team as they return to work, and transform uncertainty into growth:
1. Address the elephant in the room
Everyone on the planet has had to deal with a massive disruption to their routines. Some people have adapted and are thriving, whether they enjoy in this work-from-home, low contact iteration of society, or they take challenges head-on with a “Don’t f with me” mentality. Others are having a harder time with the sudden force of a thousand earthquakes shaking up the status quo and leading to so much uncertainty. Either way, when people are walking back into the office, you can’t simply say “good morning” like it’s just another day. Be mindful of the fact that each person has their own individual experience and perspective of COVID, and no matter that perspective, they want to hear from you that it’s all going to be okay. Ask people how they’re really doing, listen, and ask further questions to learn about where they stand mentally and emotionally, only providing guidance if they ask for it. People are looking for a return to certainty. Even if you are uncertain, show them that they can be certain that you will be there for them. If you’re there for them, they’ll be there for you, like Friends.
2. Show them you care
You can say “I care about you” until you’re blue in the face, but when the rubber meets the road, you better show them you mean it. When it comes to writing a joke to make an audience laugh, an important technique is to show them, rather than tell them what’s funny. Telling an audience what’s funny shows that you don’t trust them to figure the joke out on their own, and now they don’t trust you to be funny. The same is true of proving to that you care about your audience: your team. Remember, your team is coming back to work in a different world, by taking actions that make them feel safe, and feel as though their well-being and success is your top priority, you create a more stable world than the one outside of your walls. Simply asking the question, “What can I do to help you be comfortable and thrive here?” then actually taking goes much further than the canned response of “We’ll take that into consideration.” If this is your go-to, they’ll strongly consider going elsewhere, and that’s disappointing, like Friends.
3. Give them the freedom they desire
Technology has given today’s workforce an unlimited amount of options when it comes to how they work. Considering so many employees have been working from home, coming back to an office where you’re looking over their shoulder to ask, “Watcha doing?” Or, “How’s your work coming?” may come across as a lack of trust. Be mindful by offering your help when they need your help and let them know that it’s okay to come to you. Put yourself in the shoes of your employees: if you’ve been working from home being just as, if not more, productive than when you’re at work, how would you feel if you came back to a manager monitoring your every move? Giving people freedom is a sign of trust. The more you manage, the more your people will need to be managed. The more you communicate your trust and support, the more they’ll trust and support you back. Like Friends.
4. Embrace their ideas
“The way things were” isn’t the way things are, and that’s not a bad thing. Uncertainty serves as a catalyst for growth, which is why being more open-minded is so crucial. When someone comes to you with an idea, instead of saying no or, “That’s not how it’s been done,” try a new response: “That’s a great idea!” Sounds scary, right? People do have bad ideas, but bad ideas are just good ideas that need working out, and sometimes they need a lot of work. When someone comes to you with an idea, think of it as a perspective you haven’t thought of yet. Even if it’s not a good idea, one way to make people feel heard is to visualize together what work would be like if their idea was reality. Putting your heads together in this way may inspire them to edit or scrap the idea altogether. The best part? You didn’t have to say no once. Now, more than ever, you need your people to be thinking creatively. Who knows? Because you’re open to saying “Yes,” that person who brought you a bad idea may pivot to bring you a game-changing idea, like Friends.