Everything you should know as a leader before you venture back to the office

- June 1, 2020 3 MIN READ

Are you ready for the face-to-face interaction as we transition back to the physical office? I wasn’t – quite! writes Sharon Williams, founder of Taurus Marketing.

Yesterday, I was faced with the first face-to-face meeting since lockdown with a prospect in the city, followed by our first get together as a Taurus team in The Rocks with wine and cheese.

Both encounters were met with a mix of considerable excitement, discomfort, unease and awkwardness. Should I hug my team? How does the excitement of seeing each other play out? Should I stand far from the prospect? Should I accept the glass of water offered? Were the seats distant enough? Should I actually give the prospect our printed pack of info? Was it OK to breathe in the same air for what turned out to be a 2.5-hour meeting in an enclosed space?

When I automatically offered a handshake to the new prospect, it was slightly awkward to suddenly withdraw my hand at my meeting hosts aghast expression.

With my team, there were certainly open hugs, absolute openness, no fear and no concerns. Others, there remained significant distance, a little dance to dodge each other, side on hug, hand on heart and even an ankle touch.

It struck me, as leaders and business owners, we might need to invest the time upfront, to prepare ourselves and our teams, to transition “back to the office” in a way we have never had to before.

Without this foresight, you risk a period of transition that is undetermined, permits discomfort for some, insecurity and fear for others and may create a few false starts.  It is likely you, your team and the community have forgotten how to interact face-to-face on a personal and business level and are not sure of the new “rules”.

This is a gap, as a leader, you can easily fix and take control of to smoothen out.  Moving back into your office space is like giving up a sport and the associated training for three months. For some the road back to fitness is instinctive, for others a hard slog and others will resume like a duck to water. The important reality is, the experience is not going to be the same for all your team.

For some team members, they may have moved on and entered a whole new way of interacting. In the case for some in my team, the threat of viruses on family members with challenged immune systems is just all too scary to be anywhere near an office environment for the foreseeable future, and they need encouragement, reassurance and empathy.

Well before COVID-19, our norm was back-to-back face-to-face meetings and gathering together was joyful. As you take those first timid steps back to physical office space on Monday 1st June, and we observe the 1.5m rule, it’s going to look and feel a little strange.

Take time out now to address anxieties some team members in our care may be facing as we start the step back to the new, “business as usual.”

Here are some tips to help ease the hesitation, smooth the process and make the comeback a comfortable success for everyone.

  1. New protocols – remember, handshakes are a thing of the past. Set new team protocols. Perhaps agree to offer a hand on heart, air hugs or even new foot kicks to greet one another and avoid the initial awkwardness and awkward dancing around each other.
  2. Social distancing – is visually confronting and quite a shock when you see it in action, so prepare your colleagues to see desks with a 1.5m spaces in between, which quite frankly looks odd and anti-social when used to a more intimate desk experience.
  3. Book bigger board rooms – be smart about the size of the rooms you book and the number of guests invited to the meeting. You literally need double the space to fit. Give yourself, team and clients the capacity to socially distance and comfortably run face-to-face meetings.
  4. Hygiene amenities is a must – ensure each staff member has their own hand sanitiser on their desks, meeting rooms are cleaned and sprayed with disinfectants and you are complying with Safe Work Australia’s regulations.
  5. Remote work is here to stay – tried and tested and it’s clear the future of work is flexible, remote and digital. Something I’ve always encouraged anyway. Now you will have to offer flexible working arrangements to assist teams in making a gradual and comfortable transition back to the office.
  6. Be prepared – with what you need to set up again, lunch, equipment eg. chargers and what needs to be back in the office to perform effectively.
  7. The commute – do remind teams to factor in the commute, buses, trains, busy roads. Not only have we all been hyper-productive with no travel time, but it’s also almost an interruption to have to set off on a journey to work again!
  8. Be empathetic and gauge your company overall readiness – be transparent and communicate your transition plans with the team. After lock-down, moving back to the office, jumping on public transport and sharing office space can trigger concerns and anxiety. Take the time to check in on each person’s requirements, personal circumstances and ensure feelings are respectfully acknowledged. Then plan around their decision.

Good luck! Welcome back.