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Challenges and Opportunities for Returning Employees to the Office

With lockdown measures finally coming to an end, companies are eagerly awaiting their employee's return to the office. Whilst businesses have already complied with health and safety measures within the building space itself, many may not have accounted for the psychological strain that are facing many workers returning to the office. Adhering to government advice and sticking to the rules is not enough to ensure a sense of safety. People need to feel psychologically safe in their surroundings. Trust and open communication is vital in any relationship, including that of the employee and employer. If Employers choose to discard this reality, the business world as we know it may be headed for a rude awakening.

The work from home model thrust upon us by COVID19 provided opportunities for organizations to provide flexibility and capturing worldwide talent from pools previously out of reach. However, there has been a decided lack of collaboration and communication due to the required physical separation. Employees want to feel connected to their team and with it, a sense of belonging. Employers need to consider three significant challenges when returning their workforce to the office:

1. Attitude Shifts

COVID19 has given employees across at levels the ability to determine how they value their work-life balance. What was once thought to be a millennial 'all about me' attitude has shifted to all generations because of the value virtual business provides. Cost-cutting a physical office and cutting out long commutes are appealing, but can limit impromptu discussions and the ability to connect as a team, which is essential to productivity and performance. Companies choosing to move to a hybrid approach to returning to the office, should be aware of the mental toll experienced by most in the last year. Life as we knew it has been altered, many have suffered great losses and all have been deprived of connection to some degree. Employers should be aware that because of this, may employees will not want to deal with anything they view as extra tension.

2. Interpersonal Conflicts

Because attitudes have changed, there has been a rise in the amount of interpersonal conflicts experienced by organizations bring back workers to the office. The transition has been far from smooth as issues that were previously swept aside prior to COVID19 are coming to a head, in addition to attitude shifts, have caused employees to refuse to return to the status quo.

3. Compromised Skills

Over the last year, team and larger organization communication has been impacted, if not impaired. When interpersonal skills are left to the wayside, it is more difficult to pick them up again. Much like skipping the gym for a year, failing to engage in meaningful communication, feedback and deeper debates, has caused these skills to weaken. Because of the lack of engagement of interpersonal skills, face-t0-face conflict is all but guaranteed.

How to Address these Concerns Effectively

Employers should take time to invest in their employees. Engaging in regular check-ins promotes healthier communication around difficult conversation. Providing soft-skills training such as active listening is equally beneficial. Even starting a weekly team game hour can help build moral that may have been lacking over the last year. Regardless as to whether businesses choose to return to the office full-time, remain at home or a hybrid of the two, the focus needs to be on the wellbeing of the employees. It can be easy to fixate on COVID protocols, but creating a sense of safety and belonging in the workplace starts with conversations.

Business can also be proactive in tackling conflict before it gets out of hand. When asked most companies immediately know where some areas of tension lie within their teams. taking quick action on issues or complaints promotes trust. A healthy work environment is one that addresses complaints or requests professional and seriously. Business can and will thrive when the focus is on the employee. Invest in your staff and have the tough conversations that lead to thoughtful decisions. Doing so rebuilds trust and strengthens skills sets that have been left dormant.

There may be the possibility that engaging these recommendations is not enough to flush out the conflict and tension that has been building. Often times when issues have festered for too long, bringing in an outside resource, like a mediator can help address the issues and present new ideas.

Please contact Dawkins Mediation for more information on how we can help guide you out of conflict and find long-term successful solutions for your team.

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