Bored of lockdown yet? Yeah… us too. Not seeing friends and family, juggling work and home life in a far more intense way than before, and now if I only eat 3 entire packets of biscuits a day, I’m practically on a diet. I knew I should have bought shares in McVities…

But wait, there are whispers on the horizon. A promise that actually this could be nearly over soon, and there is light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of a pint down the pub, and leaving your house for something other than another packet of chocolate hobnobs (the unchallenged king of biscuits).

So, when you finally have your team back in the office, they will be so excited to be back that everything will go straight back to normal right? Unfortunately, probably not. For one, your team will be exhausted. Not least because they have to get up earlier to commute to work again, but also because lockdown will have taken its toll. They will most likely be mentally and emotionally drained, and whilst they will be happy to be back at work, there could also be a slight sense of loss. Loss of independence and autonomy, loss of that extra quality time with family or friends, loss of being able to put tools down at 5pm and already be at home. Sounds strange given the apparent eagerness to get back to ‘normal’ but change for even the most adaptable person can be tough, and your team will be coming back from what is very much their comfort zone – home.

The company focus will understandably be on customers, clients, suppliers, and trying to gain that commercial edge as the world begins to breathe out and press play. But one of the central points of focus should be on your people. Making sure your employees are engaged and energized to work will make a huge difference, not only to their mental health and wellbeing, but to your productivity as an organization. Employee engagement has been a buzz word for years, and it has never been more important than it is now. Don’t panic – we know that investing in a pool table or funding a big work night out probably isn’t exactly factored into your budget with everything going on, but here are some simple things you can do to gently bring your employees back into the fold:

Go easy: Take it steady with the urgency for a million meetings, for the phones to be ringing constantly, for instant results as soon as you have bums on seats again. Coming back to work will be a shock to the system, good or bad, and you won’t see immediate performance improvement from day one. Welcome everyone back with a relaxed start time, or a coffee morning to talk through lockdown experiences. Give your team some control over their own return to work - only they know how they are feeling, and how quickly they will be able to switch back into full work mode.

Catch up: Lockdown has been tough, and everyone’s experience of it will have been different. Take the time to have a proper catch up with everyone individually, not about work and how you want them to pick things up, but about how they’re feeling, and whether they might need any additional support in getting back up and running. The time at home will have given employees a lot of extra thinking time, and they may have new ideas they want to talk to you about, new ambitions, or they may need some advice or guidance. Make the time to really hear what your employees have to say, and how they’ve been impacted by the changes going on. Seems a small thing, but making the voice of your employees heard, and engaging with them on a personal level will help them feel appreciated, and warmly welcomed back to the work environment.

Involve your team: There’s no doubt that your organization will have changed over the last couple of months, whether that’s new processes you had to put in place to adapt, or it could be that the company is struggling and there are some serious considerations to be made. Whilst this sounds more like a board level discussion, it can really help engage your employees if you involve them in what’s happening. An ‘all hands’ meeting over a coffee or a beer, an open forum where seniority goes out of the window and no opinion goes unheard. Be honest with your team about where the company is, where you would like it to be, and how you want to get there. Feeling involved in the bigger picture, and a safe space to offer up suggestions and ideas to help, will again give employees a voice. Honesty and respect for your team, enough to include them on what would ordinarily be an ‘inner circle’ discussion, will send employee engagement through the roof.

Recognition: This word is everywhere when you read anything about employee engagement. Anything from bonuses to a bottle of wine, everyone is different, and every company has a different strategy. And whilst it’s obvious, this is a HUGE part of employee engagement. Again, at the moment you may not be willing to suddenly dish out bonuses or financial rewards, but I’m talking about the recognition that almost every human craves. Praise. It could something big and bold, brandishing it all over social media about how great your team are if that’s what you think they would appreciate. But in my experience, the most effective and meaningful praise comes in the form of a personal postcard in the post, a delivery of their favourite snack to their home address, a phone call to discuss nothing other than what a great job they have done. Proactive, personal, and genuine praise and recognition, especially after the last couple of months, will mean more to your team than you know.

Ensuring your team come into the office with something to look forward to, whether that’s the knowledge they can work at their own pace, catching up over a pint, or the opportunity to be heard, will help to keep them engaged, and coming back to work with a spring in their step, no matter how tough things have been.

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