A neighbor shared that at soccer practice, none of the parents spoke to each other as they would have done pre-Covid. Other parents I asked echoed this saying everyone stayed in their cars or concentrated on their devices. It feels like we have lost our ability to be social, even in situations where we have something in common with the person next to us.
It has been well over a year since we became Zoom Buddies with our coworkers instead of being Office Mates. During that time, we have built new habits and lost others. As we return to our offices and activities, it is time for some reprogramming.
Start by Reconnecting
Successful teams trust each other. We all need to practice our social awareness skills and our ability to read non-verbal cues. Normally, we rely on three communication tools: Words are 7%, Voice is 38%, and Body Language is 55% of how we communicate. Virtual meetings made communicating a challenge, especially in terms of tone and body language. Is it any wonder Zoom meetings were tiring?
The first staff meeting in the office should have a social component to it. Find out who earned “At Home Teacher of the Year” honors, who got a new puppy, who took up running and who mastered baking. Not only will you learn about your coworkers, everyone will have a chance to practice communication skills in a non-threatening environment.
Companies are doing everything they can to keep people safe physically. However, you and/or your coworkers may be experiencing additional anxiety as you return to the workplace. Some stress is normal as we still face some uncertainties about the pandemic, and we leave the safety of our homes. Maintain an environment where people feel free to express their concerns. Your peers are likely experiencing the same things that you are right now so share the positive and negative experiences. Following a regular routine, both at home and at work will also help.
Communicate frequently, especially with face-to-face conversations. We got into the habit of sending messages rather than having yet another virtual meeting. Not everything needs to be done via email or Slack – we can talk to each other in person again! Yes, it might take a few more minutes than typing a quick note, but the impact will be far greater. (See the reference above about non-verbal communications.) Remember those casual conversations in the hallway that often led to progress and innovations? Those quick questions over the wall of your cube that saved 15 minutes of searching? It’s time to bring those back.
Share the Vision
A lot has happened in a year. Employees want to know what changes have been made, and how it impacts them and the company. Take the time to talk about the changes. As a leader, it is up to you to inspire and engage your workforce. Sharing your vision creates a culture that gives everyone a sense of purpose. Your vision cannot be just a sign on the wall or something in a handbook. It should give purpose to each person’s role. Research supports that feeling that your work has meaning and impact is not a “nice to have.” It is a human need that is crucial for motivation, and well-being.
Being together in person again is going to take some practice, and some adjustments. Great leaders turn anxiety and vulnerability into confidence. Be available and visible to your team. Talk to them and encourage that they talk to each other. Give value to each person, and maybe a little time to adjust to being back in the workplace. Healthy snacks in the break room might help too!
Author: Sandy Merritt, Business Coach in Louisville, KY