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Thoughts on How Teamwork Will Change as We Return to Work

As more and more companies invite employees back to the office full-time after many months of fully remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how in-person teamwork and expectations for collaboration will change.

By now, many employees may have fully embraced certain aspects of the remote work that they’ve had to adapt to, and they may not be looking forward to returning to business as usual.

So, employers who are hoping for things to get “back to normal” may need to reconsider what a new normal could look like, starting by taking the following factors into account.

Some remote work will continue

Everyone who worked through the pandemic at a company that had to go fully or mostly remote for months has seen firsthand that operations didn’t exactly fall apart just because employees worked away from the office.

At many offices, the hurdles that had prevented managers from approving remote work in the past didn’t end up being as difficult as managers had expected — or, they were simply forced to find a way to deal with the initial roadblocks of remote work by adopting better tools and technical infrastructure.

Because of this shift, employers may not be able to reasonably demand the same type of “presenteeism” that they did in the past. The solutions that were carved out for remote work during the pandemic still exist, and it makes sense that employees will expect to still be able to use them when necessary.

Each company will have to decide which kinds of changes they’ll make to their permanent remote work policy. A good policy will make sure that:

  • Employees can continue to take advantage of it fairly (and it doesn’t end up causing resentment)
  • Employee morale and relationships stay healthy and vibrant (for example, some people don’t miss out on social opportunities if they don’t come into the office)

At The Receptionist, this usually means that we have just one required in-office day each week. The rest of the week our staff can opt into working in the office or working from home.

Employees will want to keep following personalized schedules

When employees were working fully remotely, they tended to have more freedom with their schedules. They could choose to avoid rush hour for their commute, for example, or take a power nap after lunch to boost their energy.

If you expect employees to start coming back into the office more frequently, consider letting them keep some control over when they arrive, leave, and take breaks so they can continue to maximize their productivity.

Making this possible typically requires limiting mandatory meetings that can disrupt employees’ personal schedules.

At The Receptionist, we have accomplished this by replacing most of our daily morning live meetings with what we call “digital stand ups,” where each person checks in via a Slack channel about what they’ve been working on and what they plan to work on for the day.

For more on how to schedule meetings that respect people’s time and personal schedules, check out this post: Best Practices for Efficient Meetings.

Digital tools will continue to play an important role

If your office turned to digital tools to adapt to a lack of in-person meetings during the pandemic, there’s no need to stop using them once you’re able to meet in person.

We’ve all learned that videoconferencing and chat applications are a convenient way to meet that eliminates the headaches that are typically involved with need for travel.

Apps that incorporate an element of fun, like online games or image and video sharing, can allow people to connect from any location — and being able to connect from any location can be an important recruiting tools that can give your company an advantage over its competitors.

Employees will be better equipped to digitally connect on a deeper level

2020 was stressful not just due to COVID-19, but due to other divisive political issues and disturbing news stories that tended to make everyone with access to the internet feel plenty of stress.

It didn’t help that we were all feeling more isolated due to lockdowns and quarantines.

As we discussed in our podcast episode on how to excel at remote work, though, we learned throughout the past year that we could still connect with each other and be vulnerable on a personal level — even via an online chat program.

Online, we connected over the latest shows we were binging while quarantined, shared photos of our pets, and swapped recipes. Over time, we also felt more comfortable giving stress/mood/mental health updates, too.

As difficult as this period was, it may have paved the way for teams to be more resilient, and to connect with each other remotely through difficult circumstances.

Managers should consider adapting the physical office to accommodate new needs

If remote work is still an option for your employees, many of them will now come to the office almost exclusively to work with their colleagues — although some will indeed be happy to have a place to escape the distractions at home and work quietly.

Based on the changing needs of your employees, this might mean that it’s a good time to redesign the office or redesign the lobby to accommodate the evolving needs and schedules of your employees.

Related post: Is it Time for a Flex-Work Assessment?

Employees may need time to ramp back up to full social activities

There’s no point in putting pressure on employees to get things back to normal all at once.

The way that our teams used to socialize prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e., happy hours, holiday parties, crowded conference rooms) may still seem off-putting to most.

It’s better to start with small in-person meetings and gradually ramp up to the larger and less-essential meetings.

There’s no point in putting pressure on employees to get things back to normal all at once as the danger from COVID-19 fades. Share on X

With some luck, we’ll get back to that point eventually, while still holding on to the best of what we’ve learned and the tools that we’ve used when we were all fully remote.

For more on remote work vs. in-person work, check out these links:

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