After 15 months at home, the return to the office has begun. We’re adjusting, once again, to new routines and becoming reacquainted with the joy of commuting. Many will encounter new office spaces and modified schedules. Those hired during the pandemic will, for the first time, be meeting colleagues face-to-face. Not surprisingly, the reaction to re-entry ranges from excitement to trepidation.
There are many things about re-entry that are out of our control. Happily, there are lots of stress-reducing things we can control. So, before showing up on that first day, spend a little time planning how you want your re-entry into the office to turn out.
Shape your second first impression
Even though we’ve been together every day on video, connecting in person is different. Your first day in the office is an opportunity to reintroduce yourself to colleagues. An in-person meeting is your second chance to make a first impression.
Saying “hello” is a moment when you have someone’s undivided attention. Forgo default questions like “How are you?” and use this instant to appreciate and recognize your colleague. Call out either a specific incident or a general willingness to support you during the past year.
If you’ve had a problematic video relationship with a colleague, make a point of meeting face-to-face. It may be uncomfortable at first, but this is the right moment to reset the connection.
Acknowledge that working on video was difficult. It sounds like, “It’s good to see you. We had a hard time meeting over video. Now that we’re in person, I’d like to work on communicating better.” The faster you can acknowledge the difficulties of the past, the easier it is to improve them.
If you were hired during the past year and only remotely, use your in-person meetings to find out more about your colleagues. When working virtually, the tendency is to engage in specific tasks. When you meet in person, ask colleagues about the full scope of their responsibilities and think about new ways to collaborate. Make sure to ask how they prefer to communicate. With this information, you’ll feel more confident and can be more productive.
Develop your re-entry story
On average, we humans retain seven to nine pieces of information in short-term memory. But that’s under ideal circumstances. Your first day back at the office is likely to be fast-paced, distracting and full of input.
If you want to be memorable, plan the story you’ll tell. Keep your narrative short and sweet. Include three elements, one about business, one personal and one aspirational. Constructing your story allows you to acknowledge the past year, insert a personal element to create human connection and be aspirational as a mechanism for shifting the conversation to the future.
Ending with a future focus is the entry point for talking about new collaborations and ideas.
As you’re planning your story, consider the questions you’ll ask of others. “What’s the biggest adjustment you’re making for returning to the office? What are you looking forward to?” are two good, open-ended questions to consider. An excellent resource for creating conversations that matter is We! Connect Cards.
Connect to client success
Organizations advance at the speed of productivity. Your productivity is a primary indicator of performance. When you perform well, you advance your career. Management expects that you will come back to the office and be immediately productive.
To meet that expectation, connect your work with the more significant outcome of client benefit. Even the most internally facing roles have an eventual connection with clients. Make a list of your daily tasks and identify those that connect with clients. Evaluate how you do those tasks and consider if modifying them improves the client experience. A minor tweak or incremental change can make a big difference. Then, pitch these ideas to your manager.
By connecting your work with client success, you elevate the importance of daily tasks to activities that improve the lives of others. Engaging with your work in this way creates a sense of purpose and focus that will keep you productive and energized.
Returning to the office is a chance to refresh relationships and start anew. Showing up to the office confident and curious will help make your adjustment a positive experience.
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You can also check out Forbes.com/CFO blog where I write about communicating with and motivating teams.