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January 2021 Newsletter
In This Issue
  • Thanks for Joining Us!
  • Managing a Team After Self-Isolation Lifts
  • Provide Employees Autonomy in Their Workspaces
  • Quick Reference: Flexibility and the Return to the Workplace
  • Quick Reference: Determining the "Next Normal"
  • Create a Communication Calendar
  • Coach's Corner: Honouring with Rituals
January 2021
Volume 8, Number 1

Thanks for Joining Us!

January is here and with it the end of a year the likes of which none of us ever in our lifetimes expected. While saying "Happy New Year" may seem a bit trite, all of us here at Wendy Ellen Inc. wish nothing but the best for each of you, and hope 2021 offers good health, positivity, and strength as we make our way through the pandemic and come out on the other side.

As we begin 2021, we all look forward to the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine and hopefully some easing of restrictions. With that in mind we want to explore how the workplace will look as organizations anticipate the return of teams to the office. Will you consider offering flexibility to your staff? How do you engage your teams? How anxious will your employees be in the work space?

Keep reading for more learning!

Managing a Team After Self-Isolation Lifts
After physical distancing and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may be excited to return to their workplaces. However, this change might be a tricky one for employees who have been working from home or furloughed for months. As a manager, your team will look to you for leadership during this time of transition.

Plan ahead. Because the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was so sudden, many managers didn’t have the chance to plan what work would look like during this time in terms of staff, productivity, and projects. But as a manager, your team will look for your leadership to guide work expectations. In the days leading up to the return, identify your resources. Confirm how many team members you have returning to work, and if they will all be working full-time. Also identify the projects that are your priorities. Setting clear expectations of work priorities will make it easier to plan your first weeks back at work.

Get familiar with the safety guidelines in place. Continue to follow any safety recommendations made by governmental and healthcare agencies. Do you need to maintain physical distancing at work? Should hand sanitizer be provided at desks? Request to be on a building manager’s email list to receive any updates pertaining to the worksite. These will help you adjust your expectations of what work will now look like, and help you answer any questions your team might have.

Communicate with your team. In the days before your workplace reopens, it’s a good idea to message your team, ensuring they have everything that they need for a successful return. Remain mindful that some employees may have lost child care options previously available and may be anxious about locating new resources. Assist them to connect with the right department or resource(s) to help them meet their needs. When you’re back at work, make time for one-on-one catch-ups both to check in with their wellbeing as well as their workload. It is also a good idea to include a “Welcome Back” meeting for all team members. Seeing friendly faces will probably be a welcome change for those who have been working at home during the pandemic.

Ease the transition through flexible work options. You might find that some employees who have been working from home now really enjoy it; others might have to continue to work from home to accommodate for childcare or elder care responsibilities. If an employee expresses concerns about being able to make a full-time office-based schedule work, see what options are available to them for working from home, working flexible hours, or working part-time.

Make priorities and expectations clear. If you’ve planned ahead, you’ll know what projects should be tackled first. Make it clear to your team what projects should be completed first, and what deadlines you need to be followed. You might consider putting a quick and easy prioritized project task list, so your team feels they’ve accomplished something important in their first week. They can build off that momentum in the weeks that follow.

Keep regular office hours. If you’re worried about having too much work to do, it can be tempting to stay hours past when you would usually go home. Your team will look to you for leadership and follow your example. Make it clear that work-life balance is a priority to keep your team happy, and leave the office when the day is done. Many employees have had a hard time differentiating work and personal life while working from home. Make it OK to leave work behind.

After physical distancing and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may be excited to return to their workplaces. However, this change might be a tricky one for employees who have been working from home or furloughed for months. As a manager, your team will look to you for leadership during this time of transition.
Adapted from Morneau
Create a Plan to Bring Your Employees
Back on Site
Provide Employees Autonomy in Their Workspaces
As restrictions ease and work places open up, a transformational approach to reinventing offices will be necessary. Instead of adjusting the existing footprint incrementally, companies can take a fresh look at how much and where space is required and how it fosters desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience. 

“For years we’ve applied the one size (open plan) fits all rule to workplaces,” says Aranda-Mena, Associate Professor in Property, Construction and Project Management at RMIT University. “In a post-COVID-19 era, we have the opportunity to learn from remote working and apply lessons before employees return to their offices. Modes that I see returning include ‘activity based working’ which allows organizational teams to arrange spaces to suit different tasks and working styles.”
“Working from home has enabled many people to create a personalized work environment that supports not just their productivity and engagement as well as their general wellbeing.” 
-Guillermo Aranda-Mena, Associate Professor,
RMIT University.
According to Aranda-Mena, these set-ups are also meant to make us feel, think and act in different ways that promote wellbeing, collaboration and innovation. This includes biophilic design - which involves use of discrete elements such as water features, vegetation, sunlight or even pets - as another approach makes shown to reduce stress and increase serotonin levels in office workers.

Aranda-Mena added that there is an emerging research field that suggests our physical environment can impact our oxytocin levels, which can in turn increase engagement and empathy.

“There are many simple design strategies we can introduce into our offices including natural elements like plants, light, fresh air, sounds, water and even fire that can help bring some of the benefits of home work spaces into our offices with us when we return.”
Quick Reference: Flexibility and the Return to the Workplace
Our large-scale work-from-home experiment has shown that at least for some industries, it is possible to get work done not only remotely but on a variety of schedules that best accommodate people’s preferred working hours and personal commitments.

As workplaces reopen, employers can expect pressure to maintain this flexibility, particularly from team members caring for children or sick loved ones. Many may wonder, “If I can’t return to a pre-Covid work situation, will I be viewed as not fully committed or, worse, lose my job?”

Employers who wish to reduce anxiety can discuss and align on how to handle these issues now. They should consider the following questions:

Do we follow the example of Twitter, Facebook, Nationwide, and others and move to a largely remote model?

If not, to what extent will we allow different employee groups to choose when to come back to the office?

Is a full re-evaluation of our work-from-home policy in order?

What accommodations do we need to make to enable a truly hybrid workforce (including work-from-home and remote employees)?

How can we ensure a continuing priority on diversity, equity, and inclusion while managing a remote or hybrid workforce —and that there won’t be unintended consequences for those who remain offsite?

How will we protect older workers, employees with medical conditions, parents, and populations disproportionately impacted by the virus from being discriminated against?

Determining the "Next Normal"     
As your organization begins its transition back to the worksite, consider nominating a specific date, or timeframe, that the organization will collectively treat as the start of the “next normal” and around which rituals can be enacted. This is the point at which the social ties that bind the organization together are refreshed and reinforced and renewed. Of course, not everyone will re-enter physically or psychologically at the same time or pace. Things could go awry because of public-health concerns and consequential disruption. Starts are likely to be staggered and involve shifts and cohorts.

Throughout this phase, focus messaging on discovery as a way simultaneously to look back and ahead. Essentially answer this question: Through the crisis and our response, what have we learned about ourselves, each other, and our organization that can help us in the future?

Practical steps include:
  • Make the focus of communication the well-being of employees, not work.
  • Provide a “welcome back” kit, consisting of what employees need to navigate the new normal. This might include equipment, coffee cards to encourage socialization amongst team members, as well as rules of the road for meetings, elevator use, and so on; medical experts can offer specific guidance on the most appropriate products to include, such as masks, hand sanitizer, and a tool to help open doors and press buttons.
  • Be sure people continue to know where to turn for help and continue to communicate the availability of resources, including employee assistance programs (EAPs).

Source: McKinsey & Co.
Coach's Corner: Honouring with Rituals

Rituals create a sense of familiarity and reassurance. They help us navigate loss and celebrate joyful events in our lives: births, graduations, weddings, funerals, and more. People often turn to rituals because the psychological processes underlying them have been shown to have a stress-reducing component.

Likewise, COVID-19 has created unprecedented upheaval in the lives of our organizations. New rituals, along with company values and a renewed sense of purpose, can serve as pillars of psychological safety and normality. They can help employees process what has happened and rebuild social capital—and hopefully replace some of what people have lost. Rebuilding old rituals will be just as important. All rituals are a way of communicating to employees that the losses they have experienced are collectively acknowledged and are manageable.

Consider creating company-wide recognition efforts to honour employees who assisted in any way
 during the crisis (medical personnel, volunteers of all types), or kept the organization moving (the “quiet heroes”). And of course, it may also be necessary to honour employees, clients and external colleagues who lost their lives or employees who lost someone during the pandemic, from whatever cause. Being explicit about these recognition efforts will stop the losses from becoming a great unmentionable.

As grief expert David Kessler says, “What everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed.” Leaders are important sources of resilience for their people—and also important factors in post-traumatic growth following crisis.

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Returning to the "next normal" will take knowledge and experience.
Contact Wendy Ellen Inc. for all your HR needs today!
About Wendy Ellen Inc.
Wendy Ellen Inc. specializes in providing human resource and benefits management skills to small to mid-sized companies on an as-needed basis. From recruitment, Human Resource policy development and legislative compliance, employee retention and engagement, individual advisor/coaching, succession planning to employee development and performance, Wendy Ellen Inc. will help you protect your most valuable resource, your people.
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