Managing your Returning Team – Taking It Step by Step…

#leadership #postlockdown #returntowork

Slowly but surely, in some places imperceptibly, in others with a loud slamming of the front door, people are returning to the workplace. They’re emerging from their converted lofts and back bedrooms, blinking in the sunlight before tentatively setting out for the office, hoping the car will start after standing four months in the driveway.

For many, this is a truly gigantic step and will be approached with a plethora of conflicting emotions and feelings. Some will be relieved, excited and optimistic but others will be extremely anxious, perhaps even terrified to set foot in the workplace, for reasons both real and imagined.

If you’re a leader or a line manager, how do you cope with this range of reactions? How do you help your people manage this major transition? How will you know if your staff are OK? The following will hopefully provide some guidance through a step by step approach to handling this process.


To create as smooth a passage back to work as possible, ideally the work starts well before the employee returns. In a previous article (check LinkedIn or we spoke about the importance of maintaining communication with your employees through lockdown, the ways to communicate and the difference this makes.

Without wishing to repeat this the main thing to emphasise is that everyone will be in a different place, physically, mentally and emotionally. People will often feel worried, that they’re a special case, they may feel isolated, out of the loop and disenfranchised from your business. Having been required to go through a monumental change back in March, they’re now been asked to go through another big transition now, which may feel like a complete reversal of everything they were being asked to do just a few weeks ago.


Back in the late 1960s, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed what’s known as the Transition, or Change curve. It was originally intended to reflect the different stages people go through when grieving but nowadays it’s more widely recognised as a tool in business, to help anyone going through a transition.

The five stages of the model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s highly likely that members of your team will be somewhere on this curve. How do you establish where exactly?

It’s absolutely vital that you hold 1-1 conversations with all members of your returning team. Listening with empathy is going to be huge here. We need to understand their individual concerns, issues, state of mind, aspirations and intentions. This can only be really ascertained with a conversation. Not an email or a text, but a conversation, preferably face to face.

Ensure you allocate enough time to do this as it will be time well invested. Also, make sure that it’s private, it’s confidential and that you create an environment that encourages an honest two-way discussion.

It may well be that employers will have to show a much higher degree of flexibility when looking at how they support their teams. Working from home has been the only option for many throughout this latest crisis but going forward, it may be that some form of home working or more flexible working hours can really help demonstrate your business’ commitment to helping.

On this subject, it’s also really important that leaders seek to reengage their people on the company vision and mission. This may have changed during lockdown, but whether it has or not, it’s a great opportunity to re-gain buy-in, underlining not only the purpose of the organisation but, more importantly, the role of the employee within that business. This is such an effective way to help our people want to come to work again.


Once your people have returned to work it may take some time to establish the “new normal”. Apart from changes to policy and procedure, health and safety, social and office etiquette etc, it’s likely that people will remain in a heightened emotional state for a while. So ensuring that we continue to hold regular 1-1s, that we also frequently acknowledge any extra pressures or difficulties with the new ways of working and also taking time to thank our people for adapting while remaining positive are all valuable ways of protecting the considerable investment we make in our people.

In times of crisis, there’s invariably an opportunity for us to really show our qualities as leaders. The current state of play presents what may be our biggest ever chance to re-engage our people and to make our workplaces ones where, despite their understandable reservations, staff will want to return to and feel they’re valued, they’re safe and they have a future with us.