With many people now beginning to return to the office, we must think about how to start from scratch, re-establish communication and look after wellbeing.

 

As those of us who have been in lockdown start to emerge, there’s one thing that is going to be both exciting but also a major challenge – returning to the office.

There’s still a lot to consider that we haven’t yet realised or fully thought out, particularly for leaders, as we restart face-to-face.

Psychologists have warned of re-entry anxiety, and this survey showed more than half of Australians feel anxious about going back to the office (although, happily at the same time nearly two-thirds are excited about seeing their colleagues again). Of those that are feeling stressed, they mentioned that their mental and physical health had gotten worse in lockdown, as well as their relationship with colleagues.

Here are a few challenges which I believe leaders need to focus on in the near future.

  1. Starting from zero

With COVID being one of the biggest changes to our working lives in recent years, most people are now talking about the future as a hybrid home/office working model. This would allow a balance of the flexibility benefits of being at home with the social connection of the office. It’s a great idea, but a process that will require a lot of leadership.

The social connection of a workplace is important for almost everyone in one way or another, regardless of their personality and how much they want to be in the office. Social researcher McCrindle found that 70% of Australiansfind meaningful relationships are developed in the workplace, while other working from home challenges include the blurring of boundaries and missed opportunities for collaboration.

Think of it this way. Horses rely on herds for their survival. I may have mentioned this before, but we once had a lovely chestnut mare called Amber come to our stables. Her previous owners kept her in isolation because she was a bit cranky and they thought it would be better for her to be away from other horses. Yet, when she came to us and was put back into a herd situation again, she became a lot happier. She remained standoffish, but just being nearby horses was what she needed.

That herd feeling is what leaders need to create too. It can be worth looking at experiences for team bonding, beyond the usual dinner and drinks (we like those too!) as you look to re-establish that workplace fabric.

  1. Looking after wellbeing

It goes without saying that wellbeing overall has suffered during the pandemic – we’re just not designed to stay locked in our houses, away from other people.

However, the need to look after wellbeing continues as we head back to the office. A popular theme right now is psychological safety, in other words feeling that you can bring your whole self to work. Researchers at the University of NSW say people are concerned about psychological safety, due to overall uncertainty in the working environment and the world in general.    

Horses will let you know if they are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, and if their wellbeing is suffering it is obvious from their demeanour. Not always the case with humans, who may be able to mask their stress by seeming detached, uninterested, defensive or even overly zealous.

I read this great article recently about how empathy is the greatest leadership skill of all. I completely agree, and I think and it’s never been more true than now

It is vital to try to be empathetic and see the viewpoint of your team members.

  1. Re-establishing team communication

Before we started all this, we could not have believed how much our communication could have changed in such a short time. We’ve developed a whole etiquette around Zoom calls (video on or off, backgrounds, private chats) which has all developed recently.

As we start to interact in person more, another shift will happen. Will Zoom replace phone calls altogether, or are there times when we just want to talk to someone without a screen? When we’re in the office, shall we make a concerted effort to speak in person? And if we do, how do we include team members working from home?

Beyond the physical methods of interaction, there is also the deeper question of personal communication styles and how they work within a team. As you’ll know if you’ve read my previous blogs, I am a big fan of MiRo psychometric testing, in which we learn to understand people’s different communication styles.

During times of stress, we can revert more to our natural communication mode. So, for example, someone who is usually quite abrupt in their communication might have learnt to modify this to avoid appearing antagonistic to colleagues. Under pressure, they start to revert back to this somewhat. If not handled properly, this might ultimately cause friction in the team, as people might take their change personally.

So when we’re ‘back’, how do leaders help re-establish these lines of communication and ensure team function and harmony? Can we do it alone, or do we need external help?

In my opinion, this is always worth further work and investigation.

If you’re interested in learning more about our unique leadership training or our MiRo psychometric testing, please get in touch with me. Comment below or email info@leadingedgelifeskills.com.au.

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