Returning to Work: How Best to Reintegrate Your Employees and Teams
As the daughter of a teacher of English, I learned that words matter. What they mean and how to use them makes a difference. I also like playing with words, so bear with me as I share some thoughts about one word on my mind of late: remember.
The common definition of remember is: have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).
A second definition is “re-member”, which takes its name from the ancient definition, to “put back that which is broken; to re-member.”.
A third definition is “re-member”, as is to bring together again people who were once together.
As we bring colleagues back to work all three definitions matter.
Remember. Each of us has memories of what our work together was like. Both the good and the not-so-good experiences are with us. Yet, it takes only 30 days of remote working for our brains to accept new patterns and habits to work, socialize and coordinate efforts remotely. People will need to process the differences – both advantages and disadvantages – and reflect on what this means for them, personally and professionally. These personal insights are important: the people who return are not the same people who left. We change.
Re-member. It is naïve to imagine people will seamlessly jump right back to it. The group and team dynamics have been revised. What was has been disrupted, if not broken. People will benefit from discussing their insights about what to do upon re-forming that makes their work together even better than before. It is an opportunity to create a new view about high performance, based on lessons learned.
Re-member. Bringing people back together is a reunion. It’s important to create time for members to share both the authentic feelings they had when apart and the joys of reunion. Some people have had trauma. Some had stress with handling schooling at home, elders needing care or distant family members on the front lines. Others have found time to reflect, meditate and rest. All of this is best shared so people understand how it changes and shapes our perspectives. Creating time for people to share and reunite as people will establish the strength of their team resilience.
To prepare for bringing colleagues back, here are plans to implement:
- Hold team sessions, facilitated by a qualified professional with experience in organization development, group dynamics and psychology. The sessions will provide time to re-engage, catch up with each other and celebrate their return. This is not about psychobabble and kumbayas. It is about how we respect the humans that we are. It’s about how we lead with empathy, creative reintegration so we come back – not to what we once were – but even better.
- Learn from each other. Explore what people experimented and tried at home. What personal lessons and insights did they gain during this pandemic that they want to continue? Did they find time to integrate self-care practices into their work week and would encourage their colleagues and direct reports to do the same? How should your company encourage people to continue to find time for these practices? How should your company support self-care practices (i.e. meditation classes, biofeedback, funding for yoga etc.) that build resilience?
Use some of the time to have teams explore what changes they suggest for the future that would make their work together even more valuable than it was in the past. This is about processing the past and facing the future with insight and more than resilience.
- Reconsider your corporate values to identify is a new value should be added based on what you have learned from this experience. What value will help face the future with wisdom and fortitude?
- Create a symbol or phrase for what you stand for or learned that makes you proud. Use it as part of your programs, stories with new hires and candidates, and on coffee mugs and corporate gifts. It helps you tell your story of fortitude.
- Evaluate how you did at managing during this time. What leadership practices did you and/or your leaders put into place during the pandemic that have strengthened the effectiveness of the team and the organization’s culture? How will you ensure these leadership practices are not lost when we go back to business as usual? How has going through this global crisis shifted the way you think about working across cultures and how what happens in one part of the world affects us all?
- Hold a strategy session to evaluate what pivots your business may need to make for the future. Has this crisis created new options for services, products and channels for delivery? What about the threat can be seen now as an opportunity or even a pivot for your business?
- Evaluate what policies and operational changes should be made for the future. Will your business institute a formal work-from-home policy and practice, given the imposed trial of one? What systems and organizational changes make sense based on the recent experience and future needs of the business? Should work from home become a formal policy and opportunity for particular roles? Does virtual work suggest restructuring of teams and departments?
- Identify what competencies and talent development should be supported in light of changes made for the company. Do you need new roles for crisis management experts or management training for mastering change? It is time to provide cross-cultural training/awareness to build on the efforts of remote teams in multiple national locations?
It’s best to plan for this before you open your doors to welcome people back. Integration done well is powerful. Making the most of this opportunity can take your organization to a new horizon.
Finally, remember this:
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Donna Hamlin co-leads the Strategic Services Practice Group, working with clients in all industries to facilitate their strategic planning and business performance improvement. With more than 35 years of experience in strategy, change management and human performance improvement, she works with clients ranging from Fortune 500 global enterprises to start-up companies spanning more than 40 countries.