Re-integrating teams post lockdown: the challenges and what to do about them
Unsurprisingly, few companies have found the post pandemic return to offices seamless. While it would have been lovely to put everybody back behind desks and pick up where we left off that has rarely been realistic. The last twenty months have changed many of us as individuals and especially our relationship with work. People are feeling burned out, have had their egos bruised, are feeling professionally isolated, have settled into a new work-life balance etc. Trying to re-establish a cohesive team is far from straight forward.
Understanding individual experiences of the pandemic
As the market picks up and we interview increasing numbers of candidates it is becoming clear lockdown and the wider impacts of the pandemic have left some employees carrying emotional, work-related baggage.
Being furloughed has caused some staff to reconsider their prospects at their current employer. Other staff who worked throughout the pandemic are not only suffering from zoom fatigue and general burnout but are also questioning the recognition they have received for the extra work and responsibility they took on while their furloughed colleagues were earning a pay cheque for watching boxsets. Some employees who were hired through virtual recruitment processes during lockdown are now also questioning whether they are a good fit for their new teams.
Some of the calls we are receiving from these candidates might not happen if managers were prioritising reconnecting with their teams at an individual level. Many of these disenchanted individuals are simply looking for recognition or reassurance that could be provided through updated personal development plans or simply by an arm round the shoulder.
Remote working, productivity and recruitment/retention
While emotional baggage is driving some candidate activity, a desire for more personally appropriate flexible working is, along with wage inflation, the most common theme.
The pandemic forced a warp speed shift in working patterns which had previously, to the frustration of many employees, evolved far slower than advances in technology allowed. And having experienced freedom, employee expectations have exploded. The majority of candidates that we speak with are prioritising some form of flexible working in their new role, though just how important it is to them and what that flexibility entails is hugely variable. What is evident is that some employers in the insurance sector are not meeting their employees’ expectations and this, together with rising salaries, is encouraging proactive calls to recruiters.
While the variety and extent of flexible working options across the industry is generally significantly improved compared to 2018, the conversations we are having suggest the majority of employers (understandably) expect teams to be in the office the majority of each week. Commonly this is because, as remote working dragged on organisational productivity suffered reflecting that it isn’t possible to replicate the office environment’s ability to spark collaboration, creativity and immersive learning using online tools.
For example, during the pandemic many companies observed a wider than normal skills gap emerge between those with less than 3 years’ experience and those with more than 5 years’. This reflects how much employees early in their careers benefit from being immersed in a team where they absorb, almost by osmosis, how peers and managers approach different challenges.
Employers who proactively explain the challenges that flexible and remote working pose to the business but also look to employees to suggest solutions will generally find it both easier to retain and attract staff than those who simply dictate terms or use pre-pandemic flexible working policies as a benchmark to try to ‘sell’ new policies.
Why integrating teams matters more than normal post pandemic
No matter how well you re-integrate your teams, staff churn is likely to be higher currently than at any point in recent years. This is largely driven by an ongoing, industry-wide game of musical chairs underpinned by companies recruiting for new roles while simultaneously trying to replace staff who had been waiting for an end to the economic uncertainty before jumping ship. With hiring managers already busy and candidates in short supply it makes particular sense to treasure your existing team. Open communication and encouraging employees to offer solutions will help make them feel valued and re-establish that sense of organisational belonging that many individuals lost to some degree when not in the office.