Coming home after a long journey is always bittersweet. When Bilbo returned to the Shire, peace and tranquility came at the cost of awe and adventure. When Dorothy clicked those heels, she fulfilled her mantra, “There’s no place like home,” but left behind some invaluable friends.
Returning to the office may not feel as epic of a hero’s welcome by comparison, but the parallels are there. Employees have grown during COVID-19, whether that’s in how they work, why they work, or what they value in their leaders. And while rising vaccination rates are cause for optimism, new variants are gaining steam—and creating new adversity.
No matter the challenge, make sure your people are ready. Whether you’re returning to the office or implementing a hybrid work model, here are three ways to adapt to variants like Delta—and bring out the hero in every employee:
1. Prioritize physical and mental health.
It goes without saying, but it also bears repeating: When returning to the office, employee health comes first.
If mindfulness and well-being weren’t top concerns before, they are now. Entire communities have acclimated to new standards of hygiene, cleanliness, and self-care. So when ushering your people back into a state of “normalcy,” you must be hyper-attuned to these needs.
Returning to normal does not mean reverting to normal. Over the past 18 months, organizations have developed a cavalcade of new health and safety protocols, many of which are here to stay. As a leader in your organization, make it a priority to have the following in your office:
- Clear mask and contact-tracing policies
- Regular hand sanitizing stations
- Self-cleaning door handles
- Well-ventilated central air
You’ll also want office signage communicating policies and best practices to your employees. Here’s some sample signage (courtesy of PI’s brand team) you can use as inspiration.
Employee health isn’t just physical—it’s emotional and mental. At a time when stress is high and burnout is rampant, it’s critical to give your people the support they need. As for how to accomplish this? Workplace flexibility is a good start.
Hybrid work has rapidly become a viable option for any business looking to embrace remote work without abandoning a physical office. By giving employees the autonomy to decide how they work best—whether that’s from home, the office, or a mix of both—you show them you’re putting their well-being first.
Flexibility doesn’t stop with hybrid work. If The Great Resignation has shown one thing, it’s that employers can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Work is under scrutiny; everything is open to critique—and improvement. Whether that’s creating no-meeting blocks, implementing four-day work weeks, or providing flexible PTO options, be receptive to new ideas to level up the employee experience.
2. Get creative with your team building.
As organizations hop on the hybrid work wave, they’re bringing their teams along for the ride.
According to The 2021 People Management Report, 68% of companies say they will have at least some hybrid teams moving forward. For many organizations, these teams are in uncharted waters—making way for fresh opportunities, but also potential challenges.
Teamwork looks a whole lot different now than it did 18-plus months back. Where traditional teams once congregated in meeting rooms and common areas to strategize and delegate, hybrid teams may stretch across cities and time zones. In the absence of in-person facetime, teams are relying on tools like Zoom and Slack to bridge the gaps.
Even then, there’s a heavy emphasis on team autonomy. Trust isn’t just a value to live by; it’s a necessity if team members want to do their jobs successfully. As a leader, then, it’s critical to find ways to foster and protect that trust.
Thankfully, you’ve probably already prepared some of the necessary groundwork. Many of the team-building tactics employed at the height of the pandemic still apply today. These include:
- “Breaking in” newly formed teams with virtual ice breakers
- Keeping engagement high with remote team-building activities
- Showing how the team’s goals tie back to the larger mission and vision
- Rewarding those who exhibit the qualities of a team player
That’s not to say you shouldn’t break the mold. Hybrid work is new to almost everyone; there’s no one playbook to follow. Let creativity drive your team-building efforts, and you’ll give employees a real reason to get excited about the future of work at your organization.
An example of hybrid team building in action
Curious how creativity can help drive trust, engagement, and productivity? Innovation comes in many forms—as we at The Predictive Index can attest to.
Every year, PI hosts an annual “Office Olympics” event. Over the course of a week, PI employees compete in various sports for fame (15 minutes, to be exact), glory, and fun. In years past, the festivities took place predominantly in person, with technology like Zoom in place to support our remote employees.
Then came 2020. As PI employees went fully remote, we had to adapt our approach to teamwork and collaboration. Office Olympics were no exception. And yet, thanks to our phenomenal People Ops team, we participated in a fully remote event, with nary a hiccup.
In 2021, we had the chance to go bigger and bolder. We had already implemented a new hybrid work policy, which would allow employees to work either fully remote (Field), fully in office (Studio), or a mix of both (Flow). So naturally, when it came time for this year’s Office Olympics, our People Ops team was committed to making it work for all PI employees.
Those who felt comfortable returning to the office drove (or flew) to Westwood, MA, for a week of in-person activities including minigolf and tug of war. Those who chose to telecommute were able to participate in virtual games like charades and trivia, while keeping tabs on in-person events via a Twitch stream. But the real magic was borne from our hybrid activities. In these set piece events, on-site and remote employees joined forces for everything from flip cup to an egg & spoon race.
It was the Wild West. Golfers snuck in secret mulligans. Participants squabbled with referees over trivial points. But it was charming, creative, and empowering for all involved.
3. Make empathy your superpower.
If there’s a throughline to all of the above—COVID, burnout, team building—it’s that heart makes the human. Empathy matters. As a leader, you have the power to set the tone and influence the culture of your organization. Why strive for anything less than honesty and understanding?
Of course, it’s not always so easy to break down walls between employees. Stress levels remain high, regardless of industry or tenure. People are questioning their careers and, in a year dominated by health scares, they’re reprioritizing what’s most important to them. Words of encouragement aren’t always enough to sway a person’s mind.
Instead of words, turn that sentiment into action. Show your employees you don’t just talk the talk, but that you walk it, each and every day. Back that commitment up, whether that’s by meeting with them 1 on 1, letting them take charge on a high-impact project, or helping them map out their career journey at your organization. Even seemingly small gestures, like putting hand sanitizer in your office, or asking before shaking someone’s hand, can have big ripples.
PI’s talent optimization platform can help you make the most of these interactions with your people. Leverage 60-plus years of behavioral science to understand what drives your people in the workplace, so you can tailor your leadership style to their needs. Build trust with your direct reports, have open and honest conversations, and create a team culture of self-awareness.
A hero’s journey wouldn’t be complete without some introspection, enlightenment, and perhaps a few new additions to the toolbelt. By putting your people first, you’ll see you have one superpower already at the ready.