After a year working remotely – or worse yet, being out of work – many people are now returning to their jobs. But this transition can be challenging, and organizations should do whatever they can to ease the stress of this transition for their workers.
What’s more, some employees found that their job descriptions expanded during the crisis as they worked longer hours or took on responsibilities for managing remote workforces. Now, these new leaders are adapting to overseeing an in-person workforce without the authoritative stamp of a new title.
Companies must reintegrate their employees and formalize new job responsibilities across the organization. They must find creative ways to encourage productivity and support and train their new leaders as they transition back. Let’s explore some ways to better understand and respond to the transition back to in-person work.
In this Article:
- Types of new (post-COVID) job transitions
- How to help employees transition back to work
- Support new transitions into leadership roles
The new job transitions
Before the pandemic, there were three common job transitions. Vertical transitions (promotions) involve moving up the corporate ladder and typically assuming new responsibilities and additional authority. In contrast, horizontal transitions involve moving to a different business unit within a company but keeping a similar job title. Some people manage to do both at once, leading vertically and horizontally in their organization.
Then there are geographic transitions, which involve changing locations but keeping the same position. This transition may be in conjunction with a vertical or horizontal transition, or for personal reasons such as providing family care. This latter change is most like what we are seeing in the post-COVID era.
The pandemic created a new set of job transitions, and perhaps the most significant is the transition back to work in a traditional office environment after working fully remote for over a year. Reacquainting remote workers with face-to-face interactions and rebuilding skills of unemployed workers will take time and effort.
Many employees enjoyed greater flexibility while working from home. Besides their company work, they could also focus on domestic responsibilities or freelancing gigs where they could make an additional income on the side. These factors can make for a challenging transition back to a typical 9-5, and companies should be ready to support employees as they reenter the in-person work force.
Companies must also consider those employees who had to pick up the slack as corporate workforces shrank rapidly. Many workers took on new roles and worked longer hours to accommodate pandemic-related issues. Reintegrating those who experienced these invisible job transitions and providing them with the tools and resources to perform the full range of their new responsibilities will be critical in the near future.
Helping employees transition back to work
According to the International Labor Organization, in 2020, the global workforce lost a staggering 255 million full-time jobs, and that’s not even including part-time and contract work that ground to a halt.
In the United States, unemployment reached 14.8% at the height of the crisis, the highest rate in recorded history. While the unemployment rate has now dropped to 5.8%, many people were unemployed for an extended period and will face challenges returning to the workforce.
The lucky employees who kept their jobs may also find it challenging returning to the working conditions they knew pre-COVID. Employees who spent a year or more working in their pajamas must now consider resuming commutes and spending extended hours away from the house. There are a few steps companies can take to help employees get back to normal as quickly as possible.
Provide opportunities for socialization
One area where employees likely have lost out is in face-to-face interactions. Your employees may have spent innumerable hours on Zoom meetings, but it is just not the same as interacting in person. In online meetings, people often miss the physical cues that enhance and refine communication. Moreover, you can become numb to everyone talking over each other because no one has a signal as to whose turn it is to speak.
Consider having welcome back events or team reintroduction sessions to reacquaint team members with one another. Start meetings with icebreakers and check-ins to give workers a chance to socialize and relearn some in-person communication skills.
Retrain or up-skill workers
During the COVID crisis, many workers spent time learning new skills online. Many people learned things like web development, coding, and data analysis which could be very beneficial to your company. Companies now have the opportunity to expand upon that investment and help move employees to new positions or help them learn more skills.
Provide employees with purpose-built educational tools to further improve their skill sets in order to develop the next generation of company leaders. Particularly for small businesses post-COVID, maximizing the skills of every single employee will make your teams more productive and high-performing.
Onboard your existing employees
If you have employees returning from remote work, consider having a brief “re-onboarding” period. Contrary to what some people think, very few companies actually quit operating during the pandemic. In the United Kingdom, for instance, less than 12% of small businesses completely ceased operations. Nonetheless, many of these companies radically changed how they operate in order to plan against future large-scale disruptions.
Employees need time to adapt to these changes, as well as get used to being back in the office. Set aside some time to bring employees up to speed on where the company stands, what new infrastructure and software tools they can expect, and how the business has adapted its operations. An investment in re-onboarding may help ease the transition and lessen the negative effects of the pandemic on your business.
Supporting transitions to leadership positions
In addition to reorienting your whole staff to in-person work, special attention must be paid to employees who assumed new leadership roles during the pandemic. Employees who took on added responsibilities during the COVID crisis likely did not receive the training that many new or promoted managers normally would.
Both companies and employees must take responsibility for easing these invisible leadership transitions. While companies should provide transitional support for new leaders, workers must also find ways to facilitate their own transitions and ask for what they need from their employers.
Recognize and formalize authority
Giving employees new managerial responsibilities without acknowledging their authority (for example, with a new title) puts them in a tough position. Colleagues and teammates may reject requests from the invisibly promoted employee because they do not view them as having any official power.
Even if a new title is not an option, companies must back the authority of their new managers. Leveraging re-onboarding sessions and reintroduction meetings is one way to get the message to other employees and help the transition go more smoothly.
New managers must also take responsibility for themselves in this respect. They must act as leaders and show team members that they are taking the reins, whether or not the company has formally identified their new roles. New leaders should formalize plans for their teams and communicate this to their own bosses so everyone can progress into the post-COVID working environment.
Encourage constructive communication
Effective communication is a hallmark of any good leader, and employees experiencing invisible leadership transitions must learn to communicate with their teams. Constructive listening is just as important as providing constructive feedback, and both may have been challenging to maintain in a remote work environment. Companies should communicate their expectations of their new managers, and new leaders should express their needs and challenges during the transition.
Recognizing excellence is important and will lead to a happier and more productive workforce. For example, studies show that women leaders in particular excel at crisis leadership, and what was the pandemic if not a crisis for many businesses. Companies must find opportunities for new leaders to demonstrate their skills and find ways to train them where communication skills might be lacking.
Support learning and collaboration
Effective managers know that they have much they can learn from their teams. The more time team leaders spend on self-improvement, the more credibility they will have when they ask team members to learn new skills as well. But transitions take time, and it’s important that new leaders are given a chance to acclimate to their new positions in an in-person environment.
Putting new company leaders in cross-disciplinary teams gives them exposure to people they can teach and learn from. Diversity is key here, and new leaders should be open to learning from the backgrounds and experiences of their team members as they transition into their new roles.
It is an exciting time for companies and employees alike as businesses return to life. But reintegrating the workforce will take more effort than just reopening the office doors. Understand that your employees may need time to readjust to in-person interactions or adapt fully to new responsibilities. Provide workers with the support they need and give them opportunities to expand their skills, and you will likely find that your company emerges from COVID even stronger than it was before.
Written by: Shanice Jones