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Blog Post

How to Bring Your Team Together in the New Normal

By Andrew Barenz, Client Engagement Associate

Northern Exposure was a television series set in the fictional Cicely, Alaska. During the series, one of characters, Bernard, shares a noteworthy and poignant observation: “In a sense, it’s the coming back, the return which gives meaning to the going forth. We really don’t know where we’ve been until we’ve come back to where we were. Only, where we were may not be as it was because of who we’ve become. Which is, after all, why we left.”

As Bernard so eloquently states, certain experiences in our lives fundamentally change us. Afterwards, when we return to our previous normal – whether returning home from a trip or returning to work after a pandemic – we experience what was normal in a different way because we have grown, changed, and become different.

I had the opportunity to spend 6 months living abroad in Europe while in college. Much of my preparation leading up to the trip focused on learning a new language, new cultural norms, and generally preparing myself for “culture shock.” While living in two foreign countries certainly had its challenges, perhaps the most difficult part was returning home and experiencing “reverse culture shock.” The experience of struggling to readjust to what was once so familiar and comfortable was unexpected, and because of that, more difficult than the original adjustment.

In a similar way, as we turn our focus to returning to work and what was previously normal, we may experience a reverse culture shock of sorts. However, we have an opportunity now to reflect on how we have changed – as individuals, teams, and businesses – and best prepare ourselves for a new normal.

Preparing for Reverse Culture Shock

One aspect that made my return from living abroad difficult was the lack of preparation. I thought I was returning to normalcy and comfort, and therefore, gave it little thought. Preparing to return to work in advance – whether that is to an office, a manufacturing plant, or a restaurant – can help your people with the adjustment.

  • Communicate and set expectations: Research shows that employees who received clear expectations once they started working from home during this pandemic were 30% more productive. Additionally, 92% report they would like to receive communication at least once a week. As the return to work will likely bring more change and its own set of challenges, these numbers are not likely to change a lot. Setting expectations and communicating frequently can help your team stay productive during their return to work.
  • Give your people a choice: Not many people want to be told how to live their lives, especially after many have been mandated to shelter-in-place for weeks if not months. Giving your people a choice is a sign of respect and empowers them to make the choice that is best for their unique situation. As is possible for your business, below are a few ways to give your people a choice:
    • Work-from-home policy: Some employees may prefer to continue working from home for safety reasons for some time after they are able to return to work. Additionally, if remote work has gone well for your team, employees may wonder if your work-from-home policy will change in the future.
    • Schedule flexibility: Returning to work and the reopening of different services that support full-time work will likely happen over a period of time, not all at once. For example, a daycare may not be open when you start brining your people back together. Maybe your people have found they are more productive after sleeping in a bit longer or that they fare better in the afternoon after a mid-day workout. Giving your people the option to flex their schedule in terms of regular business hours and days in the office can support your people’s needs, especially as they adjust to a new normal.
  • People will want to process, support them: Verbal processing is a common way for people to deal with change or emotion. Layer on the fact that 75% of people report feeling more socially isolated than before the outbreak, and you have a recipe for watercooler talk.
    • Team meetings: One way to support this in a constructive way that meets employee needs and keeps people productive is by addressing questions and concerns head-on through a town hall team meeting.
    • Team events: Happy hours or similar events are a structured way to allow for social connection and give your people focused time to work before the scheduled event.
    • Listening: Finally, as mentioned in previous articles, listening is a great leadership skill that supports your people in processing the readjustment to work.

Returning to normal may not seem as normal as it once was. Your people have likely adjusted to different routines, your teams have likely adopted new group norms with more digital communication, and your business itself may have pivoted to provide value in new and different ways. However, effectively preparing for that change can help your people readjust more smoothly and keep your business running.

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