The past two years has taught us all a lot. As we begin the transition back to offices, in-person work, and hybrid ways of working together, we have a small window of opportunity to tap into our collective wisdom and be intentional about how we would like to do our work together going forward.
Two years ago, most people and organizations were not particularly good at working virtually. Video calls were rarer, webinars were awkward and often boring, and most conference calls were done over the phone (remember the phone??). We have come a long way and many people who initially struggled with virtual work even prefer it today. Our skills and capacity to do our work together virtually is, quite frankly, incredible, and not something I would have foreseen before the pandemic.
Many people are nervous or even afraid to go back to in-person work. Some people have never met their teams in person and others are nervous about returning to office dynamics. People are unsure how to act, what it will be like, what the expectations are, and how they will get their work done in this new world. How do you navigate commutes and commuting time? How do you focus like you are able to remotely in an office world? What are the strengths and benefits of being together in person? What are the challenges? What are the strengths, benefits, and challenges of working virtually? So many questions, but if we take the time to discuss our questions, share what we have learned, and work through our concerns together, we can emerge much smarter with more joy in our work, deeper relationships, more cohesive teams, and less stress.
Therein lies the opportunity. Consider bringing your team together to discuss these topics, to learn from one another’s experiences, and to co-create the way you (all) would like to proceed into the hybrid future. As opposed to our reaction to the pandemic when we were all thrown into a new way of working without much say in the matter, we now have the opportunity to respond and make this new hybrid work world exactly what we want (and need) it to be.
Creating time for this intentional reflection and connection will cause…
People are social and will want to reconnect. Plan an hour or two of social activities to start the first day in person together. Give it structure, but with plenty of breathing room for people to have the conversations they are craving without any rush.
Start with food and allow people to spend the first 30 minutes or so to mingle as they wish. Then, build in structure. Not everyone has worked together in person or necessarily even met one another “live.” Pick partners, each person sharing what they are excited about and what they are most nervous about with this transition. Come back to together as a full team and have partners share for one another. Or, to keep it shorter, mix pairs into groups of 4 or 6, share together, then have those larger groups share out 1 or 2 themes to the full group.
Designate people who have been around for a while to tour small groups through the office space. Show the new people the layout, where things they may need are, how to use the space, etc. Include a few others who have been around for a while in these tours too, not just the new people. This is an opportunity for people to continue to connect.
Take the time to do this as a Team. Have flip charts, whiteboards, or wall space designated for each. Give people the time to put all their ideas up, then do a wall walk. Collect themes.
The best focus for this exercise is on working in an office/in person. There were a lot of routines and ways of working that we now know are wasteful and others that many of us have missed. We have learned a lot from working virtually, what lessons can we adapt to in person work to make our work better?
Create a list of norms together as a team. This is a starting point to create more predictability in your work together. This list is not an “end all, be all” but a starting point. It should (and likely will) evolve to meet the needs of the team over time.
(Note: Even if you have a team that has been together and might have created norms previously, revisiting them can provoke a powerful conversation. A lot has changed in the past couple years. What have you all learned?)
Full Team: What are the assumed/unspoken expectations that people have about work, how you work, when you work, etc. Do an exercise to surface these. Do not assume anything is widely known.
Sub Teams: Have sub-teams meet for their own time together. Do a similar “Expectations/Alignment” exercise in these smaller groups. Bring questions, and new creative ideas back to the larger group to share Expectations and ask additional questions.
Have sub-teams align on individual roles and sub-team purpose, roles, and contributions to the larger strategies of the team/organization. Return to plenary and have each sub-team share with the full team.
There is a lot of wisdom in a group of people. Many have likely already come up with creative ideas that have made their work less stressful, discovered how to create more balance in their routine, and/or helped them become more productive. Run an exercise to collect everyone’s best ideas, share the “what” & “how” with one another, and make 1-2 commitments as a team that you will try out and see if they help you all work better together (i.e. No meetings for 2-hour blocks each day, or set “focus” time, or…)
Many have continued under pre-pandemic assumptions, thinking going “back” is the answer. But the world has changed, the working landscape has changed, and people have changed. If you take the time to connect and learn from one another, you can craft expectations and commitments that will guide how you work together most valuably in this new world. As a leader, your job isn’t to have all the answers. Your people have the answers. Your job is to help reveal them. What conversation is it time for now?