On a recent coaching call, I heard about an issue worrying my client and I thought, “Hm, there must be more managers out there facing this same struggle.” My client is part of a C Suite with concerns about people wanting to return to work and the coming reunion with the employees who never had the work from home, or WFH, option.
A Common Struggle
Like my client’s organization, many others could never extend the remote work option or mandate to their entire employee base. People across the country manned warehouses, franchises, essential businesses, etc. While corporate employees across the nation haven’t been back to the office in over a year, countless other positions have adjusted, found a new normal, and worked in their usual place this whole time.
In fact, research conducted in a survey by Buffer states that “All together, over 60 percent of our respondents indicated their companies have a split between employees in an office and employees who work remotely”. Only 30% of those surveyed worked for companies that went completely remote. This means the majority of organizations will go through an experience just like that of my client.
How do we, as leaders, navigate managing two groups of people with entirely different histories this past year as they converge into one?
The best way to keep your workplace united after so much time apart is to be there for them on an organization-wide level. Reach out to each team member, each group of team members, whether united by age, race, culture, background, religion, or opinions, meet them in their shoes.
Another term for this form of meeting a person where they are at is empathy. Oh, you’ve heard of empathy before? No kidding. Empathy is a hot topic on the up and up again, and if I have anything to say about it, it will not be fading from the foreground for quite some time (aka ever).
The WFH group of employees and the non-remote folks will have vastly different experiences from the past year, but at the core, they don’t differ too much. The past year has been hard and filled with change, regardless of if that change led you home or not. Stand with your team as they relive and are shaped by their past experiences daily. Comfort, advise, and care for each employee as new changes will bring about new struggles.
The empathetic actions I have described so far are incredibly important, but right there with them is the compassion component at the same level of importance. It is powerful to sit with a person in the midst of their struggles or their joys. It is another incredible thing altogether to take action to alleviate their pain or share with them in their joy.
For the Non-Remote Groups
So you’re returning to work, right? What’s next, you wonder? Well, let me help answer that. Your group of employees that were stuck in the grind at the workplace this whole time, go talk to them. Ask them what their concerns are for returning to a mostly non-remote workspace. Stand in their shoes and hear their hardships from the past year. Rid yourself from judgment, seek to understand the true experiences they are sharing with you, and then develop a compassionate action plan.
Perhaps it’s throwing them an extra appreciation day for sticking it out when the going got tough, and boy, do we all know the going got tough. Ask them what perks/rewards they would like to see for their hard work. Say thank you. Discover the ways that they made non-remote work a more seamless process. Nothing remained the same, so what changes did they make? Can you execute them at an organizational level when your whole workforce returns? If so, then show how deeply you value your employees’ opinions as you integrate their work and ideas into the organization.
For the Return of the Remote Employees
When your remote employees come back to the workplace, tread carefully, they have been accustomed to a wildly different life. The hustle and bustle of a busy office may be something they haven’t experienced for well over a year. Do not rush them or hassle them, or force the adjustment period to be quicker than necessary.
Ask them what their concerns are about returning to work. Stand in their shoes and listen to the hardships and challenges they most likely faced outside the workplace and the ones they fear coming up within the fully functioning workplace. Come up with a compassionate action plan. Is it COVID-19 they fear? Address this, target the virus with the systems and processes that will make your employees feel safe. Ensure that any policy adjustments progress alongside the world as we enter new phases of the pandemic.
Make sure to appreciate them in new ways now that they are in person. Host events that bring your team together and strengthen the bonds created through distance. Have fun. Say thank you. Ask about alterations they made to daily operations to ease their job performance. If any strike you as worth a shot, then be sure to implement them at a broader level, and don’t forget to give credit where credit is due.
Your Call to Action
Motivate yourself to see, understand and respond to the people on every side of this new phase. Invite them to engage in dialogue and get to know their peers that maybe had vastly different experiences. After all, there’s something to be learned from the human experience in every situation.
Regardless of your team’s situation for the past year, I have one last Call to Action for you, my readers— be with them in empathy, be for them in compassionate action.