Managers Face New Challenges as Their Teams Return to the Office

Managers have had to work hard this summer to maintain something approaching normalcy with their teams. As they return to the office—often with employees still scattered—they’ll have to recalibrate again. We asked bosses who’ve gone back what’s stood out to them; here’s what they emailed.

There’s no one answer. Futurety, a Columbus, Ohio, data analytics firm, began surveying employees in May to gauge their comfort levels with various back-to-office options. “Ultimately, we realized there was never going to be consensus,” says Sam Underwood, vice president for business strategy. Some people wanted to be back in the office yesterday; others said they were waiting on a vaccine. The company opted for a gradual return, beginning with one office day per week in July.

Underwood says that rather than trying to make everyone happy, he’s altered his communication strategy. “The key for us so far has been explaining the ‘why’ behind every action. Why are we surveying? Why are we returning when our client will be home until September? Why now? It hasn’t resolved all concerns, but it’s reassured our team that we’re making the best decisions we can.”

Your success depends on others. “Most challenges revolve around whether other businesses or organizations are open, and at what capacity,” says John McGhee, managing partner of Webconsuls, a digital design firm in Nashville. “Almost every decision involves asking, ‘Well, are they open?’ This affects everything from clients and vendors to getting lunch.”

Say goodbye to paper. Go paperless to cut down on potential ways to transfer the virus. “When handling documents, we do them online,” says Nicole Garcia, chief marketing officer of DIY hobby site MostCraft.

Masks. Ugh. “Many people say that wearing masks for hours is unsustainable as they irritate the ears,” says Grant Aldrich, chief executive officer of OnlineDegree.com in Los Angeles. He’s found that masks that tie at the back are less annoying than those with around-the-ear elastic.

What social distancing? “People forget because they’re not used to it yet,” says Shem Mandajos, CMO of aquarium guide site Tankarium. “Co-workers haven’t seen each other for a long time and want to interact.”

Everyone is tired. “We’ve noticed a surprising amount of stress linked to returning,” says Alex Cook, director of Helix Law in Brighton, U.K. He says workers returning from furloughs worry that their jobs may be short-lived, while those who’ve been covering for furloughed employees “are ready for a break.”

It wasn’t for us. “We tried it, but the amount of safety protocols wasn’t worth it,” says Jim Jacobs, CEO of Focus Insite, a market-research firm in West Chester, Pa. The company struggled with the hassles of masks, social distancing, and disinfecting. “We let our lease lapse,” Jacobs adds. “We are in constant contact with Zoom and Slack, and since it is summer, we get together at outdoor restaurants for a socially distanced meal to keep the camaraderie going.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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