Making the transition from remote work back to the office will be a challenge for all employees. But for those who began new jobs remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, it comes with an extra layer of difficulty.
These workers have had to get to grips with their new roles while working from home, learning about the organization, its processes, and their new co-workers virtually.
For them, returning to the office means getting to know a brand new commute, office, and group of people. You may have initially bonded with your new coworkers over Slack and Zoom — and once you’re back in the workplace, you’ll want to keep the same connections that you made while working remotely. So what can you do to translate virtual interactions into real-life relationships? And is it possible to do it while social distancing?
This article will explore how you can manage the transition back to the office as a remote starter and connect with the colleagues you’ve gotten to know through computer screens.
Reinstate the buddy system
A buddy system is a handy onboarding tool used to welcome and share knowledge with new hires. The employee is assigned a "workplace buddy" to guide them through the first few weeks or months of their new role.
While your organization may have assigned you a buddy to help with the virtual onboarding process, it could be helpful to connect with them again for the return to the office. Having a point of contact for those crucial first weeks back will help with everything from finding the restrooms to figuring out office etiquette, as well as acquainting yourself with other team members.
According to the Project Management Institute, a good buddy should strive to:
- Familiarize the new employee with the layout of the office and introduce them to other staff members.
- Explain anything related to company culture, guidelines, and etiquette.
- Share insights into how things are done at the organization.
- Involve the new hire in social activities, from lunch breaks to coffee meetings to after-work events.
You’ll undoubtedly have plenty of questions about all of the above, so having a friendly face to direct them to should alleviate some of the return-to-office stress.
If you started your new job remotely, any interaction with your new colleagues was most likely limited to your teammates. The move back to the office means you’re suddenly mixing with dozens (if not hundreds) of new people from many different departments. Sounds overwhelming, right? And yes, it can be a little scary.
However, you shouldn’t be afraid to introduce (and re-introduce) yourself to people outside your immediate team. Revisit the organizational chart to brush up on names, faces, and titles before you go back to the office. Handshakes are, of course, off the menu — but you can state your name and role and mention you joined since the pandemic and it’s your first time in the office. Be sure to ping them a message post-introduction, so they know where to find you if necessary.
Plan some (safe) activities for the first week back
We know what you’re thinking: It was hard enough to stay connected to your colleagues when working remotely, and now you have to figure out how to do it safely back at the office. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of team building — statistics show that socializing between team members improves communication by more than 50%. What’s more, being familiar with your colleagues is said to improve your performance over time, so cultivating these relationships is vital.
Consider organizing some events for the first week to help everyone settle in and get used to mingling in person again — a team lunch on day one, for example, or a happy hour to cap off the week on Friday. If your team is willing to indulge their competitive sides, you could suggest a socially distanced games afternoon or quiz night.
Maintain little rituals established for connecting at home
Part of the beauty of office life is the ability to stop for a chat or grab a coffee with a co-worker as you go about your working day. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink everything we know about team bonding. What was once a casual conversation in the lunchroom is now a regular Zoom meeting blocked into our calendars. We had to make a deliberate effort to stay connected while working from home, but perhaps this idea of purposeful communication is worth taking with us back to the workplace.
Say, for example, your team met for a virtual coffee break once a week while working remotely. Suggest building that time into your week at the office, too. While you’ll naturally fall back into spontaneous meetups, having a regular time to meet each week will ensure that newbies feel included. Plus, a 2010 study from MIT found that co-workers who take social breaks together perform better than those who don’t. It’s a win-win!
And most importantly, don’t panic
Starting a new job remotely is a learning curve, and making the jump back to the office will be another one. You’re essentially experiencing a second "first day on the job" with many of the same worries, from navigating the building to making a good impression on your boss and colleagues. There’s also the crucial matter of staying safe and socially distanced while reacquainting yourself with office life.
With Wrike’s versatile work management software, it’s easy to communicate with your team, no matter where you are. Organize and store everything you need in one digital workspace, visualize your progress with customizable workflows, and tag team members to collaborate in real time.
The transition back to the office will be tricky to handle, but don’t let it intimidate you. With the proper preparation, a positive attitude, and a little help from your teammates, you’ll thrive. Good luck!