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As your workplace begins to reopen its doors, you’ll probably be met with a variety of emotions and perspectives. Some people (the extroverted, yellow-energy-leading folks) may be thrilled at the prospect of working with others face-to-face. Others may dread returning to the office and are able to be much more productive at home. Still others fall somewhere in between—they enjoy the flexibility of having a choice to work from home or come into the office, and they want to maintain control over their schedule.

With such a wide range of opinions and points of view, it might seem like an impossible feat to make everyone happy. You can, however, take steps to achieve the best possible setup for the majority of your team members.

Start with these 7 tips:

1. Get Employee Feedback

Involve as many people as you can in the planning process. That doesn’t mean putting together a 100-person Zoom meeting where everyone shouts their opinions! What it DOES mean is surveying or talking with people on a one-on-one basis and gathering information. Ask open-ended questions and encourage candid responses. Some questions might include:

  • What would be an ideal work setup for you?
  • What excites you about returning to the office? What are you dreading?
  • What steps can we take in the office to make sure you feel safe?
  • How can we support you and the rest of the team to make this transition as smooth as possible?

2. Review Your Communication Tools

This past year, we’ve had to get creative and adapt to new forms of communication. As we begin to return to the office, some people may continue to embrace these new communication methods, while others will be eager to return to the old methods. It’s a good idea to see if people are burnt out on virtual chats, or if they don’t mind them. For some, virtual communication is more welcoming and accessible (some services provide captioning options, for instance), while others might be better able to read body language and mood in a face-to-face setting. It’s possible that your communication methods will be somewhat of a hybrid, with occasional virtual meetings interspersed between in-person ones.

3. Maintain Team-Building Efforts

Many teams have gotten creative over quarantine time with virtual happy hours, check-ins, or online team games. It would be a shame to lose those team-building activities once you’ve all returned to the office. Make an effort to stay connected as a team, and keep engagement high, even as we return to the physical workplace.

4. Stock up on Patience and Flexibility

Protocols and practices may change over time. New information and changing conditions will require additional shifts and plenty of patience. It’s important that you practice flexibility and be a role model for others. Convey that things are bound to continuing changing and evolving. This doesn’t reflect incompetence, but a willingness to learn and improve as circumstances change or new developments are brought to light.

5. Be a Source of Joy

One of the best ways to make the transition smoother is by finding ways to make it better for others.  Create a sense of lightheartedness—the unexpected delights of working from home, the mishaps that took place that cracked you up. Show sensitivity to those still working from home and do whatever you can to help them feel included. When you make an effort to be cheerful and buoyant, others will follow suit. Even when things are tough, this type of attitude will help get you into problem-solving mode instead of “woe is me” mode.

6. Stay Focused on the Bigger Story

There will be bumps in the road. There will be difficult stretches of days (or weeks!). That’s inevitable. Instead of getting hung up on small setbacks or difficult events, it pays to focus on the big picture. How can you move forward? What can you do to best serve your team and keep them safe? What are the main goals for this year? By taking a step back and examining the bigger story, you can gain a better perspective when it comes to dealing with everyday annoyances or snags.

7. Manage Expectations

Unless you have a crystal ball, you can’t know what lies ahead. Make sure you convey to your team that you’ll all need to be flexible and roll with the punches for the foreseeable future. Procedures and operations may change (possibly multiple times), and it will take a good amount of teamwork and positive attitudes to move forward. Even though we can’t always manage situations, we CAN manage our response to them.

The transition back to the workplace will inevitably be laden with bumps and obstacles…but it will also present possibilities. This is an opportunity to reinvent the workplace so it is better and more inclusive than before. Keep that in mind as you go forward, and remember to be as open and honest with your team as possible. You’ve got this!


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Every day, we are seeing signs of hope. More and more people are getting vaccinated, businesses are reopening their doors, people are returning to work. Gradually, we’re working toward a time when we can move past the era of COVID-19 and its stranglehold on our lives. But will life ever truly be the same? Will workplaces operate as they once did?

All signs point to NO.

Even though we might return to the same buildings where we worked pre-pandemic and focus on the same duties with the same people, things may look and feel different. Procedures and protocols might change, the layout of the workspace might be tweaked (desks further apart, conference rooms rearranged), and the general feel of the office might seem different.

Beyond these changes, it is clear that workers are ready to embrace a new normal. Many have discovered that they enjoy working from home (or, at least, want to have the option to work from home on occasion). Others have found that they prefer virtual meetings as opposed to taking long, cross-country trips to meet with clients or co-workers in other states.  Some, however, are eager to return to the way things were and are looking forward to working alongside others.

With so many differing opinions and perspectives, what’s a workplace to do?

Try following these 6 tips to ease your workers back into a “new normal.”

1. Embrace a Hybrid Work Model

This past year has proven that work can be accomplished at home, as well as in the office. It can be achieved at 5 a.m. …or 9 p.m. So, why not continue to offer flexibility and allow employees to work at home if they’d like, or come into the office if they’d like? If you emphasize results rather than a rigid schedule, you’re only helping those who prefer working at home, prefer a flexible schedule (maybe they have to bring their kids to school or daycare, or maybe they simply want to exercise in the middle of the day), or those who want to avoid a long, stressful commute.

2. Implement a Rotational Work Model

To help people feel safe in the office in these early reentry days, it’s a good idea to keep up some kind of social distancing. To do that, you might put your team members on a rotational schedule, where certain people can work in the office on certain days of the week. That helps keep everyone distanced, while slowing edging back into the workplace.

3. Take a Phased Approach

You don’t have to do everything at once! Take your time with reentry and plan to bring everyone back in phases. Maybe that means introducing a rotational model at first (see point #2,) or encouraging work from home for part of the week, or easing up on mask restrictions once your team is vaccinated. Do what is right for your office and DON’T FORGET to include your employees in your planning. Gather their thoughts and opinions; make sure they feel safe and included.

4. Restructure Your Offices

To help protect your workers and give them a little more peace of mind, it’s a good idea to restructure your offices somewhat. If you can, try spacing workstations so they are six feet apart and well-ventilated. You may also want to invest in a quality air purification system for the office. Beyond that, be mindful of conference rooms, break areas, and other gathering spaces. You may want to encourage virtual conferencing in the short-term, to help discourage clusters of people.

5. Create a Sanitary Workplace

Aside from rearranging your workspace and making big, sweeping changes, it’s a good idea to continue focusing on sanitation. Provide antibacterial hand sanitizer stations across the office and encourage employees to clean desks and chairs with wipes before taking a seat. Make sure everyone has access to sanitation supplies and normalize caution!

6. Encourage Good Hygiene and Self Care

Post handwashing signs in the bathrooms, provide each employee with a supply of hand sanitizer and wipes, and discourage handshakes and touching. It’s also a good idea on taking a FIRM stance against employees coming into the office if they’re feeling under the weather. Let them know that they have your full support if they would rather stay home.

As we tiptoe back into the workplace, these first few months will inevitably be challenging. Take your time, develop a plan, and be sure to involve everyone in the strategy phase. Convey to your team members that you are on their side and want to do everything in your power to keep them safe, happy, and productive. Going forward, we’ll all have to be flexible and willing to learn or adapt. We’re all in this together.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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be yourself oscar wilde

NOTE: This is an updated post from Oct, 2015.

I sometimes get the question: “Margaret, what is the most important attribute of a good leader?”

This question is a tough one. There are a lot of factors that make up an excellent leader: trust, self-confidence, good communication skills. In fact, I talk about my top ten attributes in my book, the Ten Minute Leadership Challenge. But the one thing at the heart of it all is AUTHENTICITY.

You have to be an authentic leader before anything else. You need to know yourself, your values, how you work, and who you are before you can even consider leading others. Authenticity means having a deep understanding of your inner self and not compromising your deeply held values. Sure, you can adapt to different situations and show different sides of yourself at different times (i.e. a more casual side at home, a more professional side at work), but your core should remain the same.

superhero

How would anyone trust you if you acted like one person sometimes and a completely different person at other times? What would people think if you always agreed with whomever you were speaking, even if their assertions were way off base from what you believe?

Being authentic should be part of your personal brand. Show up, be yourself, and take a genuine interest in those around you.

I have found that authenticity is just as important as ever in the workplace. Employees of all ages and backgrounds look for candid, authentic leadership that they can trust.

Furthermore, with the popularity of social media, your comments and photos are everywhere. Yes, you should be your authentic self on the web, but you should be your BEST authentic self. Let your funny or intellectual or caring side shine!

You’ll find that being your best authentic self is a heck of a lot easier than significantly modifying your behavior and beliefs whenever you’re with a different group of people. When people say, “your reputation proceeds you,” you should know that is a good thing.

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MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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