Are you getting ready to go back into the office? While you and your employees might miss the work-from-wherever system, there are ways to make this new transition exciting, meaningful, and effective for your team. It’s okay to feel a little nervous—it’s been a while since you’ve sat at your desk! Above everything else, approach your return to the office with patience for yourself and your employees.

Whether you’re a seasoned manager or a budding mentor, here are five ways to bring some of your learnings, behaviors, and activities from the pandemic into your return-to-office strategy. You never know; a little familiarity might make the transition that much better! 

1. Create opportunities for flexibility from the office

The transition to working-from-home meant that your employees had a little more flexibility throughout the day. While meetings schedules might not have changed dramatically, many were able to shift their daily routines to better meet their personal working styles. For example, some individuals tend to be more productive in the late hours of the evening (after 5:00 PM). In a flexible environment, this individual might be able to start their workday later and extend the evening hours later to help them become successful.

While the logistics of navigating a fully flexible environment can be a little more difficult in an office setting, you can still focus on creating opportunities for individual schedule needs. Focus on an outcome over pathways mindset: place your attention on if your employees are able to perform the work asked of them and not the working method they choose to get there.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider creating a flex day of the week, where employees can choose where and how they work. Initiatives like this can help combat burnout and improve employee productivity. If you’re able to support even more flexibility, make sure your approach is rooted in clear communication, shared expectations, and trust.

2. Incorporate gaming into your team-building strategy

Now that your team is back in the office, it’s natural to want everyone to work together as a cohesive team. Often, this is easier said than done: with different personalities, working styles, and job roles, it can be hard to bring everyone together.

Over the course of the pandemic, successful managers started to move away from mandatory happy hours and used technology to create engaging, team-building activities instead.

In a recent survey of online gamers, roughly 33 percent of respondents cited playing online games with their coworkers throughout 2020 as a team-building exercise. Using virtual poker or online board games was a way to connect with remote employees and build team unity without being in the same room. The truth is, just because the pandemic is coming to an end, you don’t need to go back to boring happy hours. Focus on finding fun and unique ways to engage your team and get them working with one another (even if it means you take an hour away from your regular meeting schedule).

3. Prioritize mental health with action, not just words

Mental health came to the forefront of conversation in 2020 as millions of Americans across the United States grappled with job loss, political turmoil, and Covid-19 mandates. In fact, Mental Health America reports a 62 percent increase in adults seeking mental health treatment over the previous year. Even though your team is heading back into the office, their daily fears, concerns, or mental health battles aren’t going away. 

Collaborate with your HR department to ensure that your team has all the resources they need to manage depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Show that you care about their wellbeing, but not just with an agenda slide in your weekly meeting. Set an example for healthy boundaries with your employees and create a space where they can process how they’re feeling. Ask for regular feedback along the way to understand what you’re doing right and where you can improve—good ideas can come from anywhere! 

4. Set up or send “surprise and delight” opportunities

It’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day needs of our clients or business that we forget to enjoy what we do. For marketing professionals, the tactic of “surprise and delight” is used to capture the attention of potential clients, bring a smile to their faces, and truthfully show that you care. Why not apply this same principle to your employees? 

Companies like KnackShop or Caroo offer fun and unique, high-quality gift boxes that can be sent at any time to those you care about. Did your team just hit a significant milestone? Send a surprise gift! Notice that someone put in extra effort to complete a project? Thank them for a few delicious snacks. You’d be surprised how a small package can go a long way when it comes to showing that you value your team. 

5. Schedule (and maintain) regular, meaningful check-ins with employees

While you might have been hard to catch between meetings before, the pandemic made bosses more accessible to their employees—a conversation with you was just a click away. As you transition back into an office environment, make sure that regular and meaningful conversations with your employees are still a priority.  

Based on information from the Gallup Business Journal, the most successful managers that create dynamic and high-performing environments are always: 

  • Involved in their employees’ work lives 
  • Help employees set meaningful goals and prioritize their work 
  • Hold employees accountable for their outcomes or performance 

A successful meeting with your employee can often cover all of these key focus areas. You can also use this time to gather feedback on how they feel about their job if they are receiving the adequate support they need to succeed, and where they may be struggling.  

Remember, this transition won’t be easy for everyone. With each of these ideas, always focus on listening to your employees first. As a leader in your organization, it’s your job to establish environments where everyone can succeed, whether it’s from the home office or desk at work.