With the gradual reduction of lockdown measures, it has led me to reflect on how organisations and individual teams will come back together again after a significant period apart.
Recently I have been involved in several webinar and think tank forums, alongside various contributors across different industries and have discussed this at length. It is a topic at the forefront of HR leaders’ minds as we enter this next phase.
What has become apparent is that whatever ‘camp’ you are in – whether it be furloughed, short time working or working the same hours at less pay, we have all had our own individual experience of this change and are coming back to the workplace with our own perspectives on the ‘fairness’ of each other’s situation.
This isn’t any different to other change that happens to us, but what is different is we are going through the emotional transition on a global scale in an intense time frame, which heightens our sensitivity around it and therefore magnifies our response.
What is needed here is a truly human approach that requires us as leaders to further develop a variety of attributes– empathy, appreciation, perspective and understanding and skills such as listening, questioning, communicating, and engaging. All of which are going to be increasingly important if we are to navigate our way through this reintegration of teams.
There has been much discussion on the practical aspects of the return to the workplace such as physical distancing, increased hygiene measures and temperature checking but what about the human and emotional aspects? How do we bring teams back together after a period of fragmentation under the most difficult of circumstances, so they feel emotionally safe and able to bring their best selves to work?
Here is my 4 A’s approach to thinking about what is important for HR leaders and leadership teams.
It is simple to rush back to ‘how things were before’ but we know from managing transitions, William Bridges says in order to move on to new beginnings we need to let go of what was before. It is important to take stock of where individuals are on the transition curve and what emotions they are feeling based on their individual experience of lockdown and change to working pattern? What new working practices and ways of engaging as a team do you want to retain moving forward? Essentially what are all the positive changes that have been initiated because of lockdown that should not be lost to keep the business moving forward?
It is easy to get stuck in our own perspective and think that everyone has it better than us. Take time to talk to your team about how they feel about being furloughed for example. I have spoken to people who have loved the opportunity to take time out, enjoy the sunshine and spend time with loved ones whilst reigniting their passion for forgotten hobbies. But equally I have heard of frustration of wanting to remain involved, guilt about being paid for not working whilst colleagues are struggling to keep up with workload and concern about what they are going back too. Being away from work causes a shift in our identity and how we see ourselves as well as impacting confidence. How can we create a forum where our teams can share their experience and gain insight and appreciation into each other’s position?
In order to move on to those new beginnings, William Bridges talks about the final stage of the transitions model where it is important for people to gain acceptance of the impact of the change on individuals, teams and as an organisation. People will be coming from different levels of comfort and anxiety and once we have an awareness of that, we need to accept that their view may be different from our own and that is ok. There is also a process that some leadership teams will need to go through to accept that flexible working is possible in areas where it was previously thought not possible or at least not preferable.
I think it is clear that we simply can’t switch things back on as they were before. But when organisations are planning their reintegration of staff it is important that a clear and conscious plan needs to be formulated to support people from all ‘camps’ through this time. Roles and boundaries may need to be reviewed and redefined, people may need to be retrained on changes to process or systems and as always, communication needs to be clear and regular. Business priorities and focus may have shifted so it is important that people are aligned to these.
Maya Angelou famously says that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Organisations that focus on how their people are feeling during this transition of reintegration by taking a truly human and authentic approach will be those that will survive and thrive post pandemic.