Finally, your team can get back to work, but it’s clear that we cannot expect to pick up where we left off.

Plenty has changed, isolation has taken its toll, relationships in the workplace have become fractured. Some workers have returned to the office full-time, others have opted to continue working from home –many are doing a bit of both.

The one constant is that teams succeed better together. Let’s explore how to build back those relationships, so that they are stronger than ever before.

The feeling on the ground

You can’t build bridges without trust. Circumstances and experiences during lockdown vary from one employee to the next: some flourished while they were working remotely, others didn’t; some resent having to return to the office now, while others are allowed to remain at home; some will return from a temporary lay-off insecure, anxious, even traumatised from their long period of isolation, and will battle to fit in until their anxiety has waned.

While getting back to work looks different for everyone, the physical disconnect and possible delays in daily interactions between team members may remain an issue – even now.

Of those who work remotely, 49% say it’s harder to build relationships with co-workers and 32% say their connection to company culture has suffered. – The HR Director 

For all these reasons, your plan to rebuild staff trust must feel inclusive; must engage everyone and enable reconnection.

Lead from the front

Working together with HR, the most senior staff members should take the lead and acquire new ‘soft’ skills to respond to the new reality. You can, for example, arrange training for your leadership team on how to:

  • forge camaraderie among team members who are working apart from each other;
  • show empathy with and acceptance of different circumstances;
  • negotiate different needs and be flexible;
  • be ‘visible’ to remote and in-office team members; 
  • listen and communicate unambiguously on changes in procedure and protocol; and, 
  • set an optimistic but sensitive tone at all times.

You’re all in it together. Reinforce this fact by creating safe spaces for managers and executive teams to share their thoughts, fears and hopes with each other and the rest of the staff contingent.

Connect with intention

The experts believe that working remotely is not to blame for our current feelings of disconnect. This moment calls for mindful action: reinvent your communication playbook with a fresh, hybrid-based treatment that involves:

  • Bringing in the tech

Software solutions such as Microsoft, Google Suite, Asana, Atlassian, Slack, Zoom and Skype can help your teams connect digitally across the hybrid workspace: to enable seamless collaborations on joint projects; facilitate teamwork; set deadlines and meet targets; conduct virtual meetings, workshops, chats and social gatherings.

  • Making it mandatory 

While you may give employees the choice of working in-office or at home, this does not include giving them the option of staying isolated! Your job is to institute regular check-ins within teams and with the company at large. 

  • Mixing teams up 

Disrupt the tendency to interact only with certain teammates. You can, instead, create cross-functional task teams consisting of employees from different departments, which will prove a good way for newcomers to meet and become reacquainted; and to learn what each person’s role entails. 

  • Giving the office purpose 

It used to be a rabbit warren of desk-bound employees rooted in place for nine hours at a stretch. Now, you can transform the office into a dedicated space for exciting collaborations and social connections. So, be sure to create a welcoming space where everyone feels a sense of belonging, can have a productive pow wow, and catch up with work mates in a positive environment. 

Bridging activities

Wherever possible, be inclusive – invite the entire team to engage and contribute. Here are a few practical relationship-building activities to do part in-person, part virtually or whichever way works best.

  • Make a fuss and celebrate: quick wins; major acquisitions; progress on a project; company milestones; new staff additions. 
  • Set up share-and-care group sessions: allow staff to share their experiences and feelings about emerging from the pandemic, the past two years of work (or no work), and their expectations for the future. 
  • Run teambuilding workshops on the positives of the new work ‘normal’, focusing on ways to embrace the changes we all face. 
  • Consult staff members on making the hybrid model work better for everyone: you can share a survey eliciting ideas about healthy work and new office habits – just be sure to be transparent about your findings. 
  • Inform everyone equally on changes in the company: what’s being abandoned and what can be retained and improved. Incorporate suggestions from your staff contingent so that they feel involved in the rebuilding process. 
  • Create bonding, bridging and linking opportunities across departments and the hierarchy. This will erase any doubts that some employees enjoy better treatment and more contact than others. 
  • Live your brand and values: make sure nobody is left behind. You can re-onboard staff brought back from hibernation to refresh their brand knowledge, and reintroduce them to your company values to strengthen their sense of belonging to the greater tribe. 

Working the hybrid model is little more than a mind shift. Your role as leaders is to ease your staff into this new way of doing things, and to help them connect intentionally; then you can recover the relationships and team spirit that will move your business forward in the best possible fashion. 

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