For most people, the shift to working from home at the start of the pandemic was abrupt, involuntary, and stressful. As many employees begin to return to the workplace after an extended time (nearly two years, for some) away, it’s normal for them to feel some uncertainty about this change. If handled well, however, the return to the workplace can be a positive event.
With a bit of planning and the implementation of three simple (and low cost) strategies, leaders can ease the transition to back to in-office routines and leverage a rare opportunity to build greater unity
Greet Employees at the Door
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions: having leaders greet employees as they return to work on the first days back is an unusual gesture but one that seems an appropriate response to a once-in-a-lifetime event. Rather than treat these firsts as non-events, leaders can show their support by being at the door. Even when smiles remain hidden by masks, a friendly wave and a warm welcome will convey important (and free) messages of support and unity. Greeting employees by name is another excellent way to turn up the warmth, especially when interacting with newer employees who joined the organization during the work-from-home period and who may never have visited the physical office.
Use Music to Bring Everyone Together
Music can lift the mood and communicate excitement at almost any occasion. With smartphones and music apps offering easy access to extensive music libraries, leaders can play a variety of upbeat and inspiring songs as folks return to work. Another option is to ask employees in advance for musical suggestions and put those songs on a “back to the office” playlist shared with the entire team or organization. Songs that focus on unity and togetherness are great additions here, such as “We Are the Champions” (Queen), “We Built This City (Starship), “We Are Family” (Sister Sledge), or “I Won’t Let You Down” (OK Go).
Make It Special
Treat the return to the office as if a family member were coming home after spending a year abroad: it’s not just another day but a noteworthy event! Mark the occasion with decorations (such as welcome signs and balloons), special foods, or even gifts. None of these has to be expensive. Donuts in the morning, for example, or pizza for lunch would be a nice treat for everyone. Unexpected yet simple gifts such as pens or masks with the company logo can boost spirits and foster connection.
Focus on Unity
Helping employees reconnect with each other and reengage with purpose is vital part of bringing everyone back into the office, and companies should seize this opportunity to promote a positive, supportive workplace. (Don’t hide behind safety concerns as an excuse to do nothing. If it is safe enough for people to return to the workplace, it is safe enough to take these steps to foster connection.) Given the current employment climate, it’s more important than ever for organizations to retain valuable employees. Making a special effort as they return to the workplace will send a loud and clear message that employees are valued and that all are welcome.