Last week, my colleague George told me a story he’d heard recently. The set-up sounds like a joke, but I swear it’s true. A company president and marketing VP walk into an elevator at their high-rise office building. Neither had been to the office in over 15 months. The elevator doors close and they each go to press the button for their floor. They gaze at each other quickly realizing that neither could remember what floor their office was on! As we shift back to “normal,” let’s anticipate the back-to-work transitions we’ll face and prepare ourselves with a few tricks.
My nephew Ben told me another story, about his first meeting in the office since he started a new job, during COVID. Previously, having only met with colleagues on Zoom, one fellow associate scanned his tall 6’4″ frame and said, “gosh, I imagined you were 5’10” or so.” Ben’s height doesn’t matter, but feeling like your colleagues know you surely does.
I’m guessing we all have these stories. As the U.S. returns to at-office work, in-person meetings, and live training, we’re charting new ground–reinventing what “hybrid” means, meeting and re-meeting colleagues, and developing new skills after a long hiatus. Try these tricks to ease back-to-work transitions:
1. Reacquaint yourselves to ease back-to-work transitions
Spend time reconnecting with each other. “Break bread” and start chatting–use Thumballs or UNZiP-IT! decks for light or meaty topics, depending on the needs of your group. For instance, you might ask:
- How do you like to spend “downtime”?
- What are your goals for the next few months?
- What was your greatest challenge/loss over the past year?
- Reflect on any silver linings or happy memories that resulted from the year’s challenges
2. Build teams through back-to-work games
Just as spousal and family relationships need work every now and then, teams do too. Whether returning to work after a sabbatical, long vacation, or global pandemic, we humans need to take stock and invest time into reuniting with our colleagues. Over the course of extended absences, lots can shift around, including needs, processes, and participants. Using games can ease back-to-work transitions by giving participants shared experiences to dissect, digest, and discuss. Conduct non-threatening games that enable you to focus conversations on these important topics:
- Communication and listening skills – Colourblind is one of our favorite experiences to debrief and reflect on clear communication techniques.
- Leadership and team roles – Pipelines challenges groups to work together to pass a ball through an obstacle course without dropping the ball. Doing so requires coordination, strategy, and leadership.
- Systems and processes – Pass the Chicken and Simbols are two games that playfully challenge groups to figure out new ways to coordinate efforts under time pressure.
- Creative thinking – After working so hard to maintain the status quo through intense periods of uncertainty, we now need to challenge ourselves to try all kinds of new things. Seeing the Point requires inter-team collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking.
3. Address stress associated with back-to-work transitions
After being away from each other for a long time, and lacking face-to-face connections, we ought to check in with one another’s emotional stability and happiness. The following range of tools helps key into the emotional well-being of colleagues:
- Emotional Intelligence activities – the EQ Game, Developing Emotional Intelligence Coaching Cards, and EI Skills Assessment are wonderful resources for building EQ.
- Stress relief exercises – beyond squeeze balls, and Dammit Dolls, the Stress Management conversation prompts found on the Thumball and UNZiP-IT! deck can surface causes of stress, make those topics discussable, and identify ways to alleviate stress.
Change affects every person differently, but to strengthen our bonds and reinvigorate our workplaces, we must proactively manage our back-to-work transitions. By working together, we will discover new ways to fortify each other. We will improve working relationships, and improve our effectiveness in the workplace.
Read More to Ease Back-To-Work Transitions
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