Suntiva Post-COVID

Managing the Return to Onsite Work: There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Solution


Returning from remote to onsite work successfully will require managers to draw on all their leadership skills, including empathy, flexibility and agility. Now, more than ever, your role as a leader and manager is critical to guiding your workforce to achieve the highest level of results with the least amount of angst. You’ll need to be proactive about having conversations with employees regarding their individual needs and be ready to support them differently than before. Because while we are all in this together, we’re not all in the same place as far as our work/life situations go.

Meeting people where they are

As restrictions begin to loosen up and people are expected to start returning to the workplace, there are those who may not want to — with some good reasons not to:

  • Individuals who may now assert that they’re just as productive or even more so working remotely
  • Parents who may be able to return to the office but now have no safe place for their children to go
  • Individuals in the high-risk category or who are living with high-risk family members
  • People who must take public transportation but don’t want to be in close proximity to others
  • People experiencing heightened fear and anxiety, especially those managing mental health issues
  • Others who may feel peer pressure, expectation or self-imposed responsibility to be on site
  • Those who job-share and would have to use the same desk and office equipment
  • The risks of people sitting in separate cubicles or offices but still close to each other
  • The risks of using shared spaces, such as elevators, meeting rooms, kitchens and bathrooms
  • The need for social distancing outweighing the benefits of the team collocation
  • The concerns over work overload with too much to do or job security with not enough to do

As leaders in the federal workforce, you will need to understand where members of your team stand on these issues and plan for ways to address them prior to communicating return-to-work protocols and expectations.

Life-changing and staff-altering turns

Additionally, there may be more far-reaching impacts on the makeup of the federal workforce. Senior and tenured staff members may decide this is a smart time to ride the retirement wave and leave early. Working couples may have one parent jump off the career path to stay home and take care of the children, as schools still grapple with remote learning and social distancing mandates. Younger workers may reconsider their job choices and even put their careers on hold to protect parents and grandparents.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if our basic needs for security and safety aren’t met — and can’t be assured — we’re not going to worry about meeting our self-esteem needs for prestige and accomplishment or self-actualization need for achieving our full potential. And that can have a significant impact on how you and your people move forward. Agency leaders can plan on one certainty – and that is that the workforce will change and the performance, morale, engagement, and commitment of the public servants are sure to continue evolving.

A pragmatic approach to navigation

So what can leaders and managers do, and what support can be put in place to navigate this uncharted territory and mitigate risks? Workforce Transformation experts can help you navigate the various scenarios and options. They can help you:

  • Align leaders and managers on a path forward with a unified approach and develop messaging and communications materials such as FAQs and tip sheets for guidance.
  • Focus on individual needs with empathy, while holding each person accountable by setting clear expectations for performance and delivery.
  • Leverage support tools on how to frame conversations about safety and how to handle difficult conversations with diplomacy.
  • Take an agile approach to addressing the realities of changing circumstances, evaluate workloads and employee needs to provide balance, and consider upskilling or reskilling as needed.

Remember, you don’t need to go this alone, and sometimes an unbiased, external perspective can help. Federal leaders could very well be struggling with some of the same safety and security challenges that the workforce is dealing with, with the added pressure of having to confidently lead through this storm.

They need their managers to guide them through

One of the top reasons people stay in their jobs — or leave them — is because of their managers. So it’s important to show your leadership skills, understand your individual employees’ needs, and help your team through this gray area. There are great tools, training and resources that can help you operationalize getting the work done while meeting people where they are.

At Suntiva, we understand what drives human behavior. We know the resistance points that will come up as agencies plan for post-COVID action and can help proactively address them through planning, communications and employee engagement. We can support leaders with coaching and work with teams to help them through the necessary transitions, and build habits that will drive organizational resiliency. We also have crisis communications expertise that can help leaders develop a strategy and plan to guide their workforce through uncertainty. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you navigate the near-future and beyond, contact us today.

Written by Wendy Myers and Jordan Parsons