Returning to the Workplace: 3 Focus Areas to Smooth the Transition #HumansFirst
Published Jul 07 2021 08:12 AM 7,678 Views

First things first. It’s OK to be nervous about the future. Or maybe you’re excited. Or maybe both!
We’ve been through a lot. The global pandemic has deeply impacted our lives, companies, and families. Now depending on location, we are getting ready to return to our offices. It’s important to note, especially if you are a leader, people manager or Adoption Specialist, that there will be varying degrees of anxiety, excitement, trepidation, and general angst about this process. But we do have some data on the topic from the Work Trend Index report:


Work Trend Index report showing 70% of workers want remote flexibility, 46% plan to move and 66% of leaders are planning to redesign physical spaces.Work Trend Index report showing 70% of workers want remote flexibility, 46% plan to move and 66% of leaders are planning to redesign physical spaces.

People need and want flexibility, especially now that they’ve seen how it can have a positive impact on their lives. Facility managers, leaders and IT professionals are discussing how to best redesign the physical space to truly embrace a hybrid workforce. While the pandemic sent many of us home overnight, this return to work will take place over many months and will be a journey as we determine what is best depending on our role, region, and organization. If we can agree that our goals are a) the psychological safety and health of our workers, b) the operational productivity of our organization as a whole and c) our ability to impact our customers, partners, and employees in a positive way then I have some ideas. Let me break it down into 3 specific areas where you can help your co-workers and organizations with this transition.

#HumansFirst – Create safety & belonging
This change is about people: About how they collaborate and create an inclusive environment that is their lived, shared experience, no matter the person’s location or role. Let’s not make the collective mistake of thinking that our conference room technology or any meeting solutions is going to completely bridge the new gaps between those who return to the workplace facility and those who do not. It’s critical that we lead with empathy as we assist people with their return. Going to work will not feel the same as it did 16 months ago. That’s OK. It’s OK to be nervous especially given the diversity of accepted standards regarding vaccination status.


Image of green, yellow and red wrist bands to indicate level of comfort with physical contact. Credit: James Osborne, LinkedIn PostImage of green, yellow and red wrist bands to indicate level of comfort with physical contact. Credit: James Osborne, LinkedIn Post

This unique and completely optional idea of color-coded bands depending on your comfort level with physical contact was recently shared by James Osborne on LinkedIn. While this may not be useful for your company culture it is worth having discussions, broadly or just within your team, about comfort levels and concerns.

Consider meeting 1 on 1 with your staff to gently discuss the topic of returning to the workplace. Each person will have their own experience and opinions which need to be respected while seeking balance for the whole of the organization. We can all lead from wherever we are in our organizations on this topic. If you want the outcome of productivity and talent retention, seek to create an environment of psychological safety to discuss these and other issues.

Regarding the physical return – give yourself and your staff time to reorient to the office environment. You may not remember where the sugar is, or where the copy machine is located. That’s OK. You may experience random anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed while another co-worker may be wildly excited to be able to concentrate while no longer managing remote education for their small children. We’ve been through a joint psychological trauma and depending on how much loss you personally experienced it may take some time to feel comfortable back at the office. Don’t rush it. Discuss this with trusted allies and respect your own feelings and those of others.

Create Clarity – Communicate Company Policies
At Microsoft it has been clearly stated that we can return to the office once a given stage is attained and work from home up to 50% of the time without manager approval. Does your organization have clearly stated policies? We follow our states mask guidance and even when no longer required, it is perfectly acceptable to continue to wear a mask if that makes you comfortable. This comfort level may be different for everyone, especially for those of us who are caregivers to people with underlying conditions or may be concerned about the lack of knowledge regarding virus variants. That’s OK. What we need are clearly defined policies, communicated repeatedly and through multiple channels. If you aren’t doing that, I’d suggest that starting now would be helpful for you and your employees.

Communication is a key pillar of organizational change and service adoption however, many of us have hit the Covid-Information-Overload-Wall (my own term :smile:). There has been so much discussion of the situation that many are tuning out what you are saying. Be brief, be bright and be gone. Rinse and repeat. Give employees short, actionable guidance for where they are in the return to workplace cycle. Consider creating a channel in Teams or Yammer for questions. Use email, video, chat, and town halls to land your guidance. You can not communicate too much in this situation. A single email is not a communications plan!

Use the Technology – Differently and with more precision
Not only do we have information overload regarding the Covid-19 situation, but we also have shared online meeting fatigue. That’s OK. As we return to the workplace we can once again meet over coffee, in a conference room or hallway. When we do, the old challenges will re-emerge – lack of information transfer, failure to include all who are impacted by decisions and more. Now more than ever we can utilize the other capabilities of Microsoft Teams (and other collaboration technology) to share updates, ideas, and decisions with our co-workers. Including a Teams meeting link in every meeting allows you to chat before, during and after a meeting, share files and notes as well as track action items. These best practices existed long before the global pandemic. Using SharePoint pages and Lists integrated into Teams provides fast ways to share status reports, work items and a variety of data types in a structured way. As we return to the office and collaborate with those who work, at least part time, remotely it is even more important to utilize the tools that are available to us to improve our collaboration practices.

It's also time to update your #HumansFirst meeting best practices for these new situations. Identify when you will use video, who is taking notes and how you will ensure those not in the physical room will feel included in the conversation. Adding to your agenda dedicated time for remote participants to give feedback and having all members join the Teams meeting to see chat are ways we can improve our inclusiveness in the phase we are now stepping into. As an Adoption Specialist now is the time to bring these adoption themes back out for broad consumption. We’ll be discussing this and more in our Microsoft 365 Champions program when we resume our monthly calls in August 2021. We hope you join us!

Of course, we believe it is also essential to review your meeting room technology to ensure you have what is necessary to create a productive, collaborative environment. New categories of Teams Devices from Microsoft and our partners will make this easier and more affordable than ever. It is extremely worthwhile to review your new and upcoming options in this area.

#BetterTogether - We can do this!
The last 16 months have permanently changed me and my approach to people management, technology adoption and solution architecture. I’m convinced that not only can we best succeed by approaching situations with a commitment to empathy and diversity but that we will create new opportunities by doing so together. I have always loved technology but my desire to be helpful to people is, for me, the most important thing. However you may be feeling about the next 16 months, just know you aren’t in it alone. We are with you and always ready to help. Join us in the Driving Adoption blog for more on this topic or read our Adoption Newsletter on LinkedIn. Whatever you do, give yourself time to adjust and talk with your trusted allies. Share your stories and let’s help each other reimagine the future of hybrid work together.

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‎Aug 05 2021 01:02 AM
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