Our pandemic lockdown is ending and many businesses are allowing their people to return to the workplace.  Going to work seemed so simple 18 months ago, so why is it a challenge now? For some people, working from home has been a gift of quiet and freedom.  For others, it was a balancing act and isolating.  Regardless of where you fell, going back to the workplace is going to be a change in habits and routine.

A successful return to the workplace starts with you and your attitude.  Here are some simple tools and tips to ease the transition.

Check your Habits

Many of us were multi-tasking while on video calls.  It was pretty easy to turn off your camera, read or send a quick email or text, then rejoin the meeting. Face-to-face meetings require you to be fully present – no phones or emails.  Get back in the habit of setting agendas, then sticking to them so meetings are short and productive.

The majority of our communication is non-verbal, which was a challenge with video calls. Make a conscious effort to be aware of non-verbal cues – posture, eye contact, distraction.  Pay attention to your body language as well.

Rebuild the Team

Relationships and teamwork were just a few of the casualties of working remotely.  The person who was a teacher during the day and an accountant in the evening had limited interactions, and lost connections with coworkers.  Even those on the same schedule stopped having those casual conversations that are so critical for innovation and problem-solving. 

Create opportunities to rebuild relationships.  Reacquaint yourself with your team and encourage them to connect with each other.  Now is the time to build community. Help your team to find commonalities.  Check in with people, perhaps more frequently than usual until relationships and routine are more settled. 

Leaders need to create a safe, accepting environment. Remind people of any well-being resources your company offers.  Gossip and judgement of others needs to be shut down immediately.  We do not know or understand what others have been through.  Empathy is needed now more than ever.

Adjust the Physical Environment

Very few organizations have the resources to totally remodel to accommodate social distancing at all times.  However, there are many steps that you can take to make employees feel safe and comfortable.  Regular cleaning and disinfecting should be second nature by now. 

Improvements to ventilation systems will have long-term effects on the comfort and comfort level of employees.

People value the privacy and quiet they have had for focused work while working from home.  Our workplaces need to provide for that, as well as areas for hybrid meetings with colleagues working remotely. 

During the pandemic we have all spent more time outdoors.  Providing an outdoor space such as a place to walk, eat lunch, or just take break allows your people a place to reset in a healthy way. 

Awareness of Others

There is going to be some anxiety, whether it is yours or from co-workers.  Be kind, to yourself and others.  It will take some time and patience to adjust. You will need to pay attention to sense when someone is uncomfortable and be ready to offer support.

I recently met a Zoom colleague in person. He informed me that I was “much taller on Zoom!” We all will have times when we need to adjust our perceptions about others. People’s appearance may have changed, whether it is from a new habit of running, or losing their pandemic facial hair.  Some folks may need a reminder about dress codes after a year of only seeing shoulders and faces. 

Our return to the workplace is going to have its challenges, and at times discomfort.  Creating an environment that is kind, supportive, and welcoming will help everyone through the transition.  This is an opportunity to build a culture of support and community that will serve your people and your business well going forward.

If you need to determine how your employees feel about their jobs, let me set up a free Employee Engagement Survey followed by a debrief of the results. It is a great tool to help you plan for a strong future.  Reach out to me at [email protected].


Sandy Merritt, Business Coach in Louisville, KY