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What social tics has the pandemic given you?Learning to communicate again

For many of us, it’s been a year of video calls and while there are some advantages to these over in-person meetings, some bad habits have been allowed to develop too. Your dress code has slipped, your personal hygiene might not be where it was, and your ability to maintain eye contact might not be so strong (do we look at the camera or the footage of the person we’re talking to?!). Not only that but we also have a million other windows open on the computer which means that during a video call we’re also likely to be reading other things, typing and texting. It sounds rude but most of us can admit to this behaviour at least once or twice, right?

So while the majority of us are DESPERATE to return to meeting people in person, how well are we going to behave when we do? Poor communication at work can lead to significant operational issues so if you’re in HR or lead a business, it’s important to take action as soon as possible.

1 Understand the problem

Firstly what sort of a problem are you dealing with? Has your workforce been entirely stuck at home for the last 12 months? Do they need easing out of their lockdown habits with a transition week of dress down wardrobe, informal group meetings and more? Or have they been fortunate to be able to enter a more formal working environment on occasion? Look at the environment your employees have been working in and anticipate the issues that might arise. Then you’ll be in a better place to solve them.

Things to consider are:

  • Anxiety about returning to the office – this could lead to tardiness, sick days, meeting absences or dips in performance if not identified and tackled.
  • Dress code and appearance – We hear of cases where people only dressed smartly above the waist for video calls but what are the minimum standards you require when back in the office?
  • Physical interaction – elbow bumping, fist bumping, toe-tapping or hugging (“It’s ok I’ve had both jabs”) – set a rule for all.
  • Meeting rules – as mentioned above, video calls have transformed the behaviour of meetings. Will this behaviour be tolerated going forward?
  • Use of equipment, desk and office facilities – if people are used to working at home, they may not worry so much about smelly food, a dirty desk, etc. Remind them of the need to be considerate of others.

Identify any new habits that should stay

So far, I’ve led you to believe that all new habits from working from home have been bad ones but there may be some positive action that you should seek to maintain and perhaps expand to the rest of your company.

Are there certain meetings that are better as video calls because they limit chit chat and encourage efficiency? Maybe louder dominant characters are less intimidating on video calls, allowing quieter, more junior individuals to have the confidence to speak up more? This change in dynamic should be fostered to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

What’s more, there might be some clients who don’t need a face-to-face meeting and video calls are a better option. Continuing this form of communication will not only save your employees time but also save your company a significant amount in travel costs.

Also, dresscode. While I assume jogging bottoms or pyjamas won’t be allowed, perhaps going back to suited and booted isn’t necessary? Some people will be desperate to get smart again; others will find it too much of a change so considering your workforce and finding a happy medium might be a welcomed change of policy.

Set rules and consequences

While it’s been a tough time for everyone, it’s important that business leaders assert their authority as soon as possible upon a full return to the office to ensure that everyone is clear of the rules. Leave it too late and it will be harder to reverse the problem. Done in the right way, you should see a strong adherence to the rules and those employees who don’t like the new policies can look for another role.

What needs to be clear is what is unacceptable behaviour and must never be done, and what is inappropriate behaviour and must not be repeated. After a year of working from home, you can be lenient to a few people taking some time to adjust.

Examples of action could be:

  • To issue a clear note on dress code a few weeks before return to the office. Notice is important as people might need time to get new clothes.
  • Set a rule for the organiser of any meeting to clarify which devices are allowed in the meeting i.e. no laptops, mobiles on silent and put away etc
  • Headphones – perhaps employees got used to wearing headphones at home to work to keep them focussed or block out other noise. Make a rule about whether or not these will be allowed in the office.
  • Encourage line managers to take steps to reassert their authority within their teams. After a year of video calls in which employees have grown used to seeing their colleagues and managers in casual clothes, in their own homes perhaps with their children walking on screen too, it may have changed the status quo ever so slightly and could lead to insubordination if not realigned.

As a baseline, revise your code of conduct and reissue it to all employees as soon as possible. To make sure important points do not go unnoticed, speak to your internal communications team or business heads about reinforcing those rules with further communication.

The goal is not to make people dread returning to an office of rules; it’s about ensuring the transition is as smooth as possible and getting everyone back to their best as quickly as you can.