“Have your feelings about going back to the office changed?”
That was a question on an anonymous FGBer’s mind this week. “A month ago, I would have told you I wanted to go back to the office,” they wrote. “Now, not so much. While I was excited about getting a few days in-person with my teammates, now, with the Delta variant I'm feeling uneasy and concerned.”
It’s safe to say others are conflicted and apprehensive as well, even with the presence of the vaccine. According to an American Psychological Association study, 48% of vaccinated adults are wary of returning to in-person scenarios. Many FGB'ers shared these concerns.
"The Delta variant has significantly changed my feelings on returning to the office," one FGB'er wrote. "In my previous job, I was going into the office two days of the week; last week I started a new job and employees will be remote for the foreseeable future. Even though I am vaccinated and wear a mask indoors, I don't feel very comfortable going into a shared office at this moment."
"I am not looking forward to returning to the college classroom. We just got a mask mandate, but there won't be social distancing. Though I am fully vaccinated, I am very anxious," another added.
Nerves are high and confidence is low. For many workers, the transition period could be even more stressful than working remotely during much of the pandemic.
How can managers support workers who are nervous about returning to the office? In the Harvard Business Review, Constance Dierickx and Dorie Clark offer the following ideas.
“In normal circumstances, people perform better when they have enough stability that they aren’t distracted and fatigued by frequent changes,” Dierickx and Clark note. “That’s even more true post-pandemic, when employees — rattled by a year of uncertainty — will hunger for data and reassurance.”
The answer? More — and better — communication. Managers can use different channels, such as in-person meetings and email, to relay information to their employees, concerning work procedures, safety, how-to guides and more.
This advice is echoed in an HR Executive article by Diane Adams from May 2020, otherwise known as the thick of the pandemic. “Everyone knows that things aren’t ‘business as usual,’” she writes. “Give people the opportunity to understand what’s happening and ask questions by communicating frequently and quickly.” This remains true as the pandemic persists and confusion abounds.
People are anxious and stressed, and they need a forum to express their concerns. It can help them recognize that they’re not in this alone — their colleagues are sharing the same apprehensions. And even just listening to your employees can allow them to work through their fears. You don’t have to solve their problems; lending a sympathetic ear may just be the support they need.
Dierickx and Clark point to Amy Edmondson, who has found that prohibiting employees from vocalizing their concerns contributes to an unhealthy work environment.
During this tumultuous time, people are craving connections. At the same time, we’re feeling more disconnected than ever before. We’re experiencing a sense of isolation due to long periods of a lack of in-person contact.
This can lead to a lack of engagement at work. Even when we’re back to working in a workplace, it can be difficult to ease back into our old routines. As a manager, consider facilitating stronger connections. Dierickx and Clark suggest making small gestures, like holding lunches or happy hours.
Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president with Principal Financial Group, agrees, adding park get-togethers to the list, as well as encouraging employees to bring their lunches and simply “be in one another's presence."
Your own emotions, health and safety matter, too. Don’t forget to pay attention to yourself.
According to Dierickx and Clark, research shows that “a leader who consistently sacrifices their welfare is vulnerable to emotional and physical exhaustion that impairs thinking and decision-making.”
In other words, neglecting yourself will make it more difficult for you to lead effectively. Take the time for self-care and engage with others in order to help yourself, as well as others. Paying attention to your well-being will make you more capable of managing others.