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3 Tips to Ease Back-to-Work Transitions

Last week, my colleague George told me a story he’d heard recently. The set-up sounds like a joke, but I swear it’s true. A company president and marketing VP walk into an elevator at their high-rise office building. Neither had been to the office in over 15 months. The elevator doors close and they each go to press the button for their floor. They gaze at each other quickly realizing that neither could remember what floor their office was on! As we shift back to “normal,” let’s anticipate the back-to-work transitions we’ll face and prepare ourselves with a few tricks.

My nephew Ben told me another story, about his first meeting in the office since he started a new job, during COVID. Previously, having only met with colleagues on Zoom, one fellow associate scanned his tall 6’4″ frame and said, “gosh, I imagined you were 5’10” or so.” Ben’s height doesn’t matter, but feeling like your colleagues know you surely does.

I’m guessing we all have these stories. As the U.S. returns to at-office work, in-person meetings, and live training, we’re charting new ground–reinventing what “hybrid” means, meeting and re-meeting colleagues, and developing new skills after a long hiatus. Try these tricks to ease back-to-work transitions:

1. Reacquaint yourselves to ease back-to-work transitions

Spend time reconnecting with each other. “Break bread” and start chatting–use Trainers Exchange, Thumballs, or UNZiP-IT! decks for light or meaty topics, depending on the needs of your group. For instance, you might ask:

  • How do you like to spend “downtime”?
  • What are your goals for the next few months?
  • What was your greatest challenge/loss over the past year?
  • Reflect on any silver linings or happy memories that resulted from the year’s challenges

2. Build teams through back-to-work games

Just as spousal and family relationships need work every now and then, teams do too. Whether returning to work after a sabbatical, long vacation, or global pandemic, we humans need to take stock and invest time into reuniting with our colleagues. Over the course of extended absences, lots can shift around, including needs, processes, and participants. Using games can ease back-to-work transitions by giving participants shared experiences to dissect, digest, and discuss. Team building exercises like these are a vital part of the complete employee engagement program and are a tried and tested method for improving cohesion and boosting morale as well. Conduct non-threatening games that enable you to focus conversations on these important topics:

  • Group playing Colourblind Game in a Back-to-Work TransitionCommunication and listening skillsColourblind is one of our favorite experiences to debrief and reflect on clear communication techniques.
  • Leadership and team rolesPipelines challenges groups to work together to pass a ball through an obstacle course without dropping the ball. Doing so requires coordination, strategy, and leadership.
  • Systems and processes –  Simbols Games playfully challenges groups to figure out new ways to coordinate efforts under time pressure.
  • Creative thinking – After working so hard to maintain the status quo through intense periods of uncertainty, we now need to challenge ourselves to try all kinds of new things. Seeing the Point requires inter-team collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking.

3. Address stress associated with back-to-work transitions

After being away from each other for a long time, and lacking face-to-face connections, we ought to check in with one another’s emotional stability and happiness. The following range of tools helps key into the emotional well-being of colleagues:

Change affects every person differently, but to strengthen our bonds and reinvigorate our workplaces, we must proactively manage our back-to-work transitions. By working together, we will discover new ways to fortify each other. We will improve working relationships, and improve our effectiveness in the workplace.


Read More to Ease Back-To-Work Transitions

Communication and Listening Exercises

Stress Relief  / Stress Management Activities

Jooble: a great resource to grow your team

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