How to Mentally Prepare Your Team to Return to Work


As businesses reopened their workplaces, decisions on how to redesign offices/work areas to prioritize worker health and safety became priority. It is equally important that leaders incorporate into those plans how to support the emotional and mental well-being of their employees, who likely face new concerns, stressors and demands brought on by a return to an on-site work environment.


Many workers from our region have been away from their jobs for over a year. Employees who suddenly moved to remote work as COVID-19 spread experienced a loss of control over many aspects of daily life. So, for some there are cheers of excitement as they return – a welcome opportunity from working in a makeshift office with poor technology or feeling isolated from colleagues; and for others, it is not as exciting as it can increase their stress and worry. COVID-19 has affected us all differently, and some workers have dreaded returning to work on-site.


Here are some tips on how to mentally prepare your team to return to work.


The Need to Support Returning Employees Now

Recognize that every employee has a different experience and reaction to the pandemic and remote work, each facing unique stressors. Employers and their leaders can set a tone that emphasizes concern for employee well-being by offering compassion, honesty, and openness. Check in with your employees and actively listen, so they feel heard. Communicate consistently to reduce employees’ uncertainty and build emotional support.


Take an Individualized Approach

How employees work is not a one size fits all. Supervisors and their employees will need the autonomy to lead the most effective strategies for returning to the workplace and adapting to changes by developing individualized plans. Employees returning to the workplace may need new approaches to routines that they have lost; supervisors play a role in helping staff structure their day.


Empower Employees with Work Flexibility

Employers can create a favorable environment by encouraging employee control over decisions about where and when they work. Though this may not be suitable for all positions, consideration might be given for the employee to continue to work remotely and/or set their own work hours. Employers can also consider providing a dedicated flex hour, beyond lunch, that is devoted to outdoor activities, recreation, or exercise. This extra time can serve as a coping strategy to help people recharge and transition from working remotely to returning to work on-site.


Involve Employees in Discussions About Their Work Area

Talk to your team about what might change and what they now will need. Employees who are informed and participate in decisions about their own work area feel more comfortable in their workspace. Employers that continue to solicit input regarding individual workspace needs, will help their team members adapt to changes that they cannot control.


Leaders Are Role Models and Help Set Examples

Often overlooked, employees look to leaders during a crisis. Acknowledge that things are different and that returning to their workplace is not, initially, a return to the way people previously worked. Many factors affect this, including consumer confidence in the product or service that is sold. Organization-wide policies and practices may need to adapt and change with the uncertainty of the effects of COVID-19. Prepare to be flexible, consistent in communications, and provide continuous support.


This transition of returning to the workplace will impact everyone differently. A key behavior for the newly-required roles is communication, communication, and more communication. As our team members return on-site to their jobs, these practices can help reduce some of the anxieties, uncertainties, and emotions in returning to work.