The adjustment to working from home was abrupt, involuntary, and mixed with concerns about health and safety for many of us. It is normal for employees to feel some uncertainty about returning to the workplace after more than a year of working from home. But the return to the workplace does not need to be difficult and can be handled in a positive and upbeat way. With a bit of planning, leaders can limit concerns and leverage this rare opportunity toward greater unity. By utilizing these three simple (and low-cost) strategies, leaders can ease the transition as employees readjust to in-office routines.
Greet Your Employees at the Door
At this unprecedented time, leaders can make unprecedented gestures like greeting employees as they return to work on those first days back. Sure, it’s an unusual gesture but this is an unusual event — perhaps an event that will never again happen in our lifetimes. Rather than treat these firsts as non-events, show your support by being at the door. You can still keep safety protocols in place by wearing a mask and keeping distance. Even though your smile may be hidden by a mask, a friendly wave and warm welcome will convey an important (and free) message of support and unity.
Greeting folks by name is an excellent way to turn up the warmth. This is an especially useful tool for new employees who started new jobs while working from home and who may never have visited the physical office.
Make it Memorable with Music
Using music to liven up the mood and communicate excitement is an effective tool for almost any occasion. Anyone with a smartphone and access to music accounts like Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora Radio, or YouTube music can play songs with a specific upbeat tune as folks return to work.
Another option is to ask for musical suggestions ahead of the first days back and put those songs on a playlist. Since my work is helping professionals avoid US versus THEM dynamics in the workplace, using songs with the word “we” is a favorite strategy. Here are some of my favorites: We are the champions (Queen), We built this city (Starship) and We are family (Sister Sledge).
Really Celebrate This Extraordinary Event
Treat the return to the office with the care you would treat a family member returning home after a year abroad. You wouldn’t think of their return as just another day. Make these first days back special with a welcome sign, balloons, special food or even gifts to mark this extraordinary event.
These markers do not have to be expensive. Offering donuts for breakfast or pizza for lunch will be a nice surprise for everyone. An unexpected yet simple gift like a pen or mask with the company logo can boost spirits and foster connection. If you have concerns about maintaining distance protocols, simply package items individually for distribution. The goal is to create a shared experience and maintain safety. Don’t hide behind safety concerns as an excuse to do nothing. If it is safe enough to return to the workplace it is safe enough to foster connection.
Offering mini-onboarding to all employees is another way to mark the return and foster unity. This can be a simple one-hour ice breaking event or a facilitated teambuilding activity. The point is to re-engage employees with purpose.
Given the current employment climate, it’s more important than ever to retain valuable employees. Making a special effort as folks return to the workplace will send a loud and clear message that employees are valued and that all are welcome.