How will Training and Talent Development offices respond to COVID-19 concerns and risks once employees return to work? There are scores of tip sheets from SHRM and other organizations on how to go back to normal. Many of these resources focus on new rules for hygiene, sharing machines, face masks, sanitation, and health. Some resources are painting a dismal period highlighted by thermal cameras, closing huddle rooms, and more (https://fortune.com/2020/05/23/post-pandemic-workplace-coronavirus-changes-work-office-covid-19/).
While many Training organizations will have to deal with these “handbook” issues, one of the most serious issues facing leaders and teams is the unexpected culture shock leaders and teams will face.
Will This Happen to You?
The Chinese office of one of our clients sent me an urgent request. They were back at work for three weeks. “Team members have returned to the office to work, but the team is still not fully recovered mentally from the epidemic. We’ve found the team lacks passion, self-discipline, and energy now that they are back from working from home. Therefore, we want to organize an engaging workshop to help people managers to engage themselves and team members to fill the team morale gaps ASAP. What are some ways that can help them identify personal roadblocks to instilling passion into their work and being motivated to contribute to the team? And what are the best practices for the team to function as a whole and achieve their goals? How can they leverage passion and innovation to motivate themselves to contribute to the team success?”
The New Normal
What will the “new normal” look like and what can Training, Talent, and HR do to bring people back to a psychologically safe workplace?
1. You can never go home again. When expatriates are asked, “What was the most difficult part of your international assignment?” the most common response is “Returning home.” Home was an ideal picture in their heads that will not be found at the other end of the rainbow. Coming home is so difficult because they have changed during their assignment, and home has changed, as well. The same will be true for those returning back to work after the pandemic. They have changed, and so has work.
2. How have employees changed? According to Global Dynamics, Inc., organizational and team effectiveness trainer Eileen Flynn, people are coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, and “crisis leads to innovation. People learned new virtual skills and adapted to connecting from a distance. They became smarter because they were forced to become resilient. Zoom calls made it harder to hide, so team members paid more attention to one another, and were more present. Trying to balance work and home was a challenge. Many people had to help children learn virtually while trying to focus on their jobs.” They will be bringing this new reality back to work.
3. How to help teams re-integrate. According to Flynn, those responsible for their integration will need to interview each of the leaders to gain their perspectives on these last few months. How did they feel about their ability to lead their virtual team? What were they most proud of? What leadership skills might they want to develop based on what they learned about themselves?
Then they must turn to their team members. What did they accomplish as it relates to delivering on their goals and objectives? Is there a specific example of when it went really well? Not so well? Did they worry more about efficiency and less about effectiveness? That then leads to the “how.” Can the team leader describe how the team worked together during the pandemic? Were they able to build stronger relationships because they were all in the same boat? Did they take the time to talk about how they were feeling and what was happening in each of their households? Was trust built and were team members committed to meeting their deliverables, or were they too distracted? Were they able to figure out how to have effective meetings? How did everyone stay connected outside of meetings and did communication flow?
4. Practical Steps for Teams to Take Once Back
- Schedule morning meetings with your team and check in one-on-one with individuals, showing flexibility and empathy to support individual needs.
- Focus the team on their collective strengths and purpose—who are we as a team, what strengths can we contribute, and how do we want to show up now for the benefit of the greater good?
- Use humor, fun, and creativity to boost team spirit.
- Collaborate across teams, clients, and other organizations to create and implement solutions together.
- Build trust—forge stronger, more vulnerable relationships.
- Create a rallying cry.
- Conduct off-site activity.
- Once you get back, enhance the unity you created during the virus—not business as usual; create a better new normal.
High Tech and High Touch
According to Global Dynamics Inc., consultant Linda Weinzler, leaders must exemplify compassion, vulnerability, and grace. “Since many leaders may not be comfortable discussing these topics, internal or external facilitators can help model the way those conversations can be led—help the leaders understand what they can do: Show empathy and give direction on how to move forward. External resources can provide coaching, Webinars, or in-person workshops to build team cohesion. The team leaders will be squeezed from both ends—compassion and patience for their team members and pressure to start producing from above. If organizations want to keep their best people team, leaders need to speak truth to power!”
When employees return, they will want to be seen as full human beings. This is not a time to focus exclusively on productivity and efficiency. The key focus must be on relationships. We must re-establish trust, and that takes time. People will need time to form new styles of relationships, combining the best from working from home with the new work environment. The pandemic can be the catalyst for more creative, engaging, and inclusive organizations where high tech and high touch become a new reality.
Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit http://www.global-dynamics.com.