Any form of change can be stressful, anxiety-inducing, and/or disruptive. Prior to you or your team transitioning back to working on campus, ensure that you have embraced the decision that Trent University is aiming for a full return to operations this fall. It is possible that you may not agree with this decision but as a leader with responsibilities, you should try to set aside your own opinions and find ways to operate in ways that help in the achievement of the university’s decision.
Here are 3 tips to help you embrace a decision that you may not necessarily agree with:
- Resist communicating to your peers and employees that you do not agree with the decision that was made.
- Trust that decisions are being made for the best interest of the institution.
- Accept the decision and focus on the next steps following the decision. Prepare for the how’s and not the why. Accepting that the decision has been made and is not going to change, will allow you to move forward. Once you have committed you are ready to start leading your teams through the transition.
It is normal to experience negative emotions when setting aside your own opinions. In situations like this, writing down your emotions may help you in processing and finding ways to move forward. Use mindfulness techniques to keep you grounded and ready for the return to campus operations. Being mentally prepared to lead your teams through this transition will help in a successful transition back.
Here are some tips to help you mentally prepare for the transition:
- Welcome change and keep an open mind. Look forward to the possibilities of the new normal we will be returning to.
- Spend some time practicing mindfulness.
- Anticipate possible operational disruptions you may encounter while transitioning back to campus.
- Accept that you will have difficult situations and conversations during the transition to the new normal.
- Remember the transition phase will not be perfect and may need to be adapted regularly.
As previously indicated, the transition to full operations has not been an overnight process. We are now in the final phase of the return to full on-campus operations. While many staff have been gradually transitioning back to on-campus work since August 16, 2021, many continued to work remotely. As of November 15, 2021, all university staff and faculty that have continued to work remotely will be asked to gradually return to on-campus operations with the intention for all employees to return to work on campus by January 5, 2022.
Be sure to keep track of updates on the Trent forward website and stay tuned for any communication that may be coming out as we return to campus. Make sure you are up to date on the process and procedures individuals will still have to follow until all public health restrictions are lifted, such as completing their daily covid screening before leaving their place of residence.
Attending the weekly managers' meetings will be important in staying informed as well. If you are unsure about any topics related to the return to campus or health and safety, please contact the department of Human Resources for clarity and support.
Remember that not everyone is the same and the same situation will be experienced in two different ways by two different individuals. Some individuals do not take change well and may experience intense overwhelming emotions. Seek to empathize with your staff and try to remain flexible where you can while trying to ensure that you are moving your team towards a full return to working from campus.
When you encounter a situation where a staff is experiencing anxiety or stress returning to work be:
- An active listener
- Try to empathize with the individual
- Ask them how you can support them before providing any advice. Sometimes people do not want advice, they just want someone to listen
- Direct them to resources they could get help from if you are unable to support them in the ways they require.
- Find ways to help them remember that they are capable of working through their current feelings and that what they are experiencing is temporary.
The return-to-work guideline document has indicated that the total transition time to full operations on campus is approximately 6 weeks. Make sure that you have reminded and informed your employees of this. Some employees may be feeling anxious to return to campus thinking that they will not have enough time to adapt to the changes.
Utilize this time wisely and allow employees to slowly move to fully working from campus. Ask your employees to submit their plan to return and provide necessary feedback on their plan to help support them with returning to full operations on campus.
Recognize that employees will need time to get their campus space functional again, which may include tidying and reorganizing their workspace, getting IT equipment set up, getting back into the routine of commuting, and just being back to campus.
Tip: Review this guide by the Canadian Mental Health Association on planning a psychologically safe return to the workplace.
While staff may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, try to highlight the bigger picture of why we are returning to campus. Remind them of the community that they help create and are a part of as an employee of Trent. Remind them of the success Trent has achieved in the past and how their return to campus can help achieve what Trent envisions. Highlighting the positives from working from the campus again may also be beneficial:
- Creating clearer boundaries between work and home life
- Better networking/socialization opportunities
- Exposure to student success
- Ability to engage with the beautiful campus
- Ability to easily attend extra-curricular community and events activities
- Achieving Trent’s mission and vision
- Improved collaboration and teamwork
- Quality of workspace is ensured
Here are some tips to lead your employees during this transition:
- Be transparent, open, and honest. It's okay to express that you are unsure of an answer but will look into getting a response to the employee as soon as you can. Avoid responding to employee concerns with “ Sorry, but it’s out of my control.” Rather make them feel heard. Express you hear them out and will bring forward the concerns where possible but cannot promise that you can provide what they are asking.
- Allow individual time to grieve. Returning to working from the campus may come at a loss to some of the newly found passions, routines, and connections that individuals may have developed. Employees may also feel like they are losing control over how they spend their time. Adjusting back to working from the campus will require time.
- Don’t burden them with your ambivalence. Be honest with yourself about your own struggles with returning to campus. It will take time for you to adapt too, however, be mindful not to overexpress your struggles to your team or to vent to them. You are the individual they look up to and if you lead with a poor attitude your team will adopt the same attitude. If you need a space to talk to someone, speak with someone from HR or a fellow manager.
- Be a source of Joy. Find humour and lightheartedness to help reduce the anxiety your team may feel about returning to campus. Share stories about your work from home struggles, remind your team about the social connectedness that we all missed when working from home and express what you look forward to about the return to campus.
- Lead Mindfully. Use this return-to-work checklist for mindful leaders to help you and your team transition.
As we transition back to full operations you will find that there are some of your employees who are easily able to progress to working from the campus while there will be some who will require more time. Be patient with all your employees. During the transition, you will have difficulty keeping everyone connected and may still need to utilize remote work processes to ensure that everyone is able to attend meetings and is kept in the loop. During the transition phase plan to account for the adjustments. Being flexible during the transition period will help you and your team have a smooth transition.
As most employees finally transition you may still have employees who have been provided medical accommodations and may not return to work on the same schedule as everyone else. If one of your team members is in such a situation make sure to keep them included, engaged, and productive. Check-in with them frequently, take some time out to have general conversations with them too and ask them how you can continue to support them
The pandemic has shown us that there are multiple ways of doing things and many of the lessons learned from the remote work experience can be applied to working from the campus again. Review your old processes and compare them to your remote work processes. You may find that some of the newly adopted processes for remote work can actually be utilized upon your return.
For example, the department of Human Resources adapted a new electronic paper handling system to reduce the amount of paper that is printed and shared through our department and across different departments. We intend to continue to maintain the usage of digital files versus printed papers even when we transition back to working from the campus.
Going back to normal does not mean keeping outdated, inefficient practices in place. Be open and stay innovative by challenging the way you think!
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