How to Get Your Work Culture Going When Your Team Returns to the Office

The Thursday evening pub nights.  The coffee-room turned breastfeeding nook for the new moms.  That intersecting cubicle between Bob the accountant and Gillian the accounting assistant with the jar of sweets.  Hoop evenings for the senior and junior executives.  Team building every 3rd Saturday of the month. You’re meeting room number 6 with the busted thermostat is the only one with a majestic view of the park…

… the seemingly mundane aspects of life pre-pandemic, but ones that also play a huge role in forming the work culture.

The list goes on.

What do you miss most about going to a “real” office? 

If you miss the banter, the petty quarrels, the camaraderie, or even Jerry the Rottweiler (aka the boss), you’re in good company.  When the novelty of remote work slowly wore off, heading back to the office seemed like such a great idea for many.  The short three-step trek you now take, from coffee nook to work table, isn’t as fun without the chit-chat.  Most of all, you miss the collaboration – that type of interaction that no app, platform, bot, or video call could replace.

What’s to become of the company work culture now that the protocol for work has changed?

Is work making you feel “alienated”?  Many workers are now reporting Zoom fatigue and disengagement.  Newly hires share that onboarding remotely has been a challenge.  Trying to settle into a role without meeting colleagues and team members is a struggle. So how do you plan for this?

As teams are returning to the workplace, leaders must keep in mind that people can’t simply “snap back” to how things were.   Expect adjustments, a new learning curve, different group dynamics, and novel expectations.  Take into consideration that employees who choose to return bring with them a different perspective. Perhaps they experienced personal loss or lingering health issues. The reality is that the repercussions of the pandemic have not been kind.

Knowing this potential baggage exists, how do you increase engagement?  How do you reboot the office ambiance?

Tips for making returning to the office a more positive experience than not

Whether or not your company is going for a hybrid arrangement (remote and office), here are tips from office managers who noticed the culture disconnect early on.

  • Identify your company’s old practices

More specifically, identify what practices your company no longer needs.  Going back to the same old- same old may no longer work.  So before bringing everyone to the office, consider if there are protocols and practices that no longer serve the organization.  Is it necessary to have face-to-face meetings?  Can a productivity app or engagement platform work just as well?  How will safety protocols affect office practices?

  • Identify new habits that emerged

What new routines served your organization well in the past year or so?  Remote work streamlined many functions.  It even established a new way of working together.  Did these new practices eliminate unnecessary huddles?  Did the digital way of doing things help engagement? Rather than snapping back to the way things were, see how these new norms fit when everyone returns to the office.

  • Ensure that everyone is in on the memo

Once you’ve taken inventory of what you want to keep and discard, make sure that these new practices are clear to everyone.   Discuss expectations and how everyone will be working together. Also, ask them how these ideas can fail.  Don’t develop this is a vacuum. Employee focus groups are a great way to tap into the collective engagement and interest employees also have going forward.

Most important, include the informal leaders whose personal power among co-workers has earned respect and trust. For the reboot to work, leaders should include input from the organization.  Have those purposeful and mindful conversations where leaders listen to the team about what works and what doesn’t.  When associates feel valued, they genuinely want to do better.

Leaders, on the other hand, will need new competencies if they aim to thrive in the post-Covid era

What were once buzz words have now become keywords:  resilience, responsiveness, openness, mindfulness, and empathy – the core humane skills.  The ability to communicate and engage is now a skill that every manager should have in their arsenal.

This focus on humane skills may come as a surprise since the pandemic made us dependent on artificial intelligence and digital platforms.  But it is precisely these changes that make the human touch necessary.  The priority now is directing efforts towards fostering a safe space.   We could hardly tell what’s worse.  Battling Covid or battling the mental health issues that came with it.  Take to heart that in times of crisis, everyone needs psychological safety to function.  Safeguard your employees’ need to be productive and innovative even under pressure.  Keep the engagement regardless if they work remotely through mentorship and employee assistance programs that include mental health support.

At TIGERS we help committed leaders build collaborative work communities where employee commitment for the success of the organization is extremely high. The quality of a leader’s collaborative mindset and humane skills is in high demand now and certainly in the months to come.

Care to dig deeper into the collaborative work culture and leadership skills?

Here are some additional resources that take this conversation deeper:

Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton

About TIGERS Success Series, Inc.

TIGERS is a Bend, Oregon collaborative work culture consultancy that promotes behaviors that support six principles necessary for high performance work groups. These principles are trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success.

TIGERS offers assessments, micro-training, facilitation and consulting services that transform adequate work groups into high performance work cultures. Schedule a conversation to learn more.