Research & Thought Leadership

How to reconnect post-pandemic

Guy Lubitsh & Carina Paine Schofield

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How is hybrid working impacting communication and the quality of relationships at work?

The abrupt shift to remote working has put pressure on leaders and staff across various sectors and settings. However, our need for connection remains strong and the skills for creating effective relationships are becoming even more valuable to organizations. As such, we are researching how the Covid 19 pandemic, and the associated move to remote working and limited social contact, has impacted how we communicate and connect at work. What have been the challenges? what have been the highlights? how have people adapted?

This research (in which you can take part here) follows the publication of the book ‘Connect – Resolve conflict, improve communication and strengthen relationships’ (Lubitsh & Lubitsh-White, 2020). Since 'Connect' was written, a global pandemic has dramatically affected our connections inside and outside of our workplaces. So where are we at now?

Why connection is so important now

The shift to remote working in the past year has put pressure on leaders and staff across all sectors. Remote working has some significant advantages over the old way of interacting, with many enjoying less commuting time, more focussed meetings and a better work-life balance (e.g. HR News, 2021).

However, there are also disadvantages. A recent survey by HBR with more than 1,500 respondents in 46 countries, in various sectors, roles, and seniority levels, showed that burnout is rising as the boundaries between work and home life blur: 85% of respondents said that their well-being had declined during the pandemic; 30% said that they felt unable to maintain a strong connection with their family; 39% with colleagues, and 50% with friends (Moss, 2021). As people struggle with zoom fatigue and feel more isolated without the workplace culture (Fosslien & Duffy, 2020), we are also witnessing a reduction in human connection and an increase in loneliness (Lubitsh & Lubitsh-White, 2021).

Post pandemic issues impacting connectivity

In terms of what the future of the workplace looks like, there is great ambiguity. With different organizations offering different models, and it looks like hybrid models of remote working are likely to persist in the wake of the pandemic (Lund et al., 2020). What is certain, is that as people gradually come back into the office, leaders will have to contend with new issues impeding their teams’ connectivity due to the following:

  • During the last year, people have become accustomed to attending and hosting virtual meetings in their own homes where they have balanced work commitments with a host of distractions. In many cases, this has led to a reduction in our genuine engagement with one another. Leaders will need to allow time for employees to readjust to face-to-face communication where much more concentrated attention is required.

  • With the introduction of furlough, many have missed months of formal and informal communication at work and may feel as though they are returning at a disadvantage with relationships and roles developing while they were absent. Similarly, those that worked through may hold resentment or jealousy towards those that were granted paid leave to focus on their family and home commitments.

  • Over the course of the pandemic, many teams will have undergone significant changes in personnel, be that natural progression of staff moving on over the course of the year or enforced redundancies as a direct result of the pandemic. Leaders may find that they returning to the office with a new team, facing new dynamics and potentially the loss of integral unifying personalities.

Now more than ever businesses are under pressure to keep a balance between the need to stay profitable in a tough trading environment whilst keeping humanity when interacting with the workforce. It will be up to leaders and managers to find ways to work through the difficult emotions and diverse experiences and bring their teams back together as a cohesive unit. Some suggested tips/strategies are offered below.

Strategies and tips for reconnecting teams

There are several strategies leaders can employ to address these issues and reconnect their teams post-pandemic.

  1. Be Positive. Fredrickson (200) argues that in High Performing teams, you need a Ratio of 3:1 of positive interaction to negative. As a leader, you need to make sure that you continuously amplify positive emotions/interactions for successful communication and performance

  2. Make sure that you are adaptable. Under pressure, we tend to make thinking errors and our fears take us over into virtual phantasies such as; people are not interested in my views’, ‘no one is willing to help me’. Our thinking can become too rigid and we ‘get stuck on one solution’ and losing flexibility (although there are many ways to resolve a problem). It is very important to recognize when we get stuck in unhelpful patterns and think about how to reach out to your manager, colleagues and stakeholders.

  3. Allow time for Micro-Moments of connectivity (MMC). Make time for yourself in a busy schedule. Keep in touch with good colleagues and strategic partners. Ask for and offer support

  4. Increase psychological safety in your organization. Given the loss of physical connection, it is important to invest more in a climate of psychological safety in which people can express themselves without fear of sanction.

  5. Regular open forums to express and share painful emotions. Organizations tend to focus on the more tangible aspects of organizational life including targets, actions and bottom-line performance. However, it’s important to organize forums where staff at all levels can discuss some of the painful emotions arising from the last year.

  6. Reset expectations. Hold a kickoff meeting with your team and key stakeholders to reset expectations on ground rules of working together including who is doing what and how have roles shifted? What are the ‘open’ as well as the ‘hidden’ expectations? How do we communicate now? How do we make decisions and resolve conflict?

  7. Do not give up on difficult conversations. The virtual space may have made it easier to avoid difficult conversations. Use face-to-face opportunities to create the space for conversations on difficult strategic choices or any other painful decisions that were made.

  8. Set up a buddy system. It may help nurture team bonds if you assign those returning from furlough a mentor or buddy. This connection may encourage your team members to share their experiences over the last year and offer support, dissipating any resentment or tension between the two groups.

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