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Including the return-to-work transition

There are set to be significant changes for your team between now and the end of 2021  – including possibly navigating a hybrid return-to-office, or figuring out how your company’s new remote hiring and WFH policy applies to your team. You might even be looking at an entire company reorg as leadership decides which functions or teams can work remotely, and which will be office-based. Teammates may leave as people re-shuffle to find companies that match their work and location preferences. And beyond 2021, we will likely find ourselves in periods of uncertainty for many reasons.

Especially with the transition to hybrid work in the coming months, managers I’ve spoken to recently are concerned about:

  • Making sure everyone has the information they need to do their jobs
  • Helping teammates build resilience when navigating changes
  • Making sure remote employees feel included and as much a part of the team as on-site employees
  • Coaching teammates on career development amidst chaos and uncertainty

With all of these changes underfoot, how can you best support your team? Here are a few useful principles to keep in mind to support your team through any period of uncertainty:

Reduce surprises by being intentional and clear with communication

In February, we rolled out a new team structure at Range, reorganizing to support the  company’s top priorities. 

Major changes like this take time and effort to implement successfully. We worked closely on a shared doc, with a day-by-day timeline of what 1:1s or meetings were happening to move this plan forward, and what communication was taking place across which channels. 

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This is what our communications looked like over a period of two weeks:

Week 1

  • Mention the restructure at the end-of-week Friday company meeting with high-level context to explain the reasoning for the changes (with a few accompanying slides).
  • Follow up with a company email re-stating the context and motivation, with slides attached, advising employees that logistics and details would follow shortly.
  • In 1:1s throughout the week, check in with people about any concerns or questions they have (write down concerns). Gauge interest in which teams they’d like to be on.

Week 2

  • Send an email to the company with a more comprehensive document about team structure, staffing, logistics, as well as addressing any concerns that were raised.
  • Create a new calendar of events and prepare for kickoff meetings.

Make sure that your main messages are repeated in different formats (email, meeting, async tools) over a period of time, so that people are not surprised. You do not want someone finding out they’re suddenly on a new team in a 1:1 with a peer. Read more here on how to avoid the common mistakes of re-orgs.

Set up regular check-ins with your team so that you’re not surprised

As changes are underway, it can be a lot of manual effort to ping everyone on your team everyday to see how they’re doing. But you also do want to know, well, how are they coping with the changes?

In a physical office, you can observe the team’s energy level or facial expressions for clues. Or you might catch some hallway conversations of people reacting to a company all-hands as they walk back to their desks.

In the hybrid world we’re transitioning to, you’ll get some of that, but not for everyone, and not reliably. Set up structured tooling so that you can automate a lot of this information gathering, and make sure you’re not missing out on anyone (especially remote employees) or any topics.

Our team relies heavily on async and synchronous check-ins to know how everyone is doing. 

What asynchronous check-ins look like:

  • Each morning, each team member checks in asynchronously on Range with a red, yellow, or green mood (and emoji)
  • We use check-in prompts (automated nudges to get information about what matters) to regularly check in on things like project updates, things to celebrate, lessons learned, etc.

What synchronous check-ins look like:

  • We start each meeting with an opening round, where each person shares how they’re doing. We end each meeting as well with a closing round, where people reflect on the meeting (very useful, especially if changes have been communicated during the meeting).
  • Coordinate amongst leads to ask about something specific in a 1:1. For example, “I wanted to see if you had any questions or concerns about the change we announced on Friday.” Regularly scheduled 1:1s can also be a great time to gauge reactions to asynchronous announcements or communications (sent via email, for example), without having to schedule ad-hoc meetings for every change that happens. 

Support teammates with coaching to find an anchor

Even when you’re communicating clearly and checking in with teammates, uncertainty still exists. To help, you can coach teammates to find a source of stability for themselves – an anchor. 

Anchors are goals or focuses that people feel in control of. They're things that are unlikely to change because they relate to more stable aspects of the company or to personal attributes or aspirations.

Years ago, when Medium had just gone through a round of lay-offs, I checked in with everyone who reported to me. I knew that there would be many more changes down the road (including my own departure), so my personal goal in these 1:1 conversations was to make sure each individual had something to anchor on during the upcoming changes.

For one engineer, we acknowledged the changes and talked about using this time as an opportunity to really dive deep into a technical area (that I was pretty sure would be undisrupted in the coming months). For another engineer, their anchor was mentorship and preparing to host their incoming intern. Setting them up with stable anchors helped them find something to focus on, rather than concentrating on everything changing around them.

Finding an anchor

In the examples above, I helped direct people to focus on things that I knew would be relatively stable. When it seemed like someone was relying too much on me or using me as a source of stability, I nudged them towards other more steady aspects of their work to focus on.

Anchors can also be mindsets. As you also navigate change (while simultaneously trying to support your team), I urge you to find an anchor that suits you. I’ve asked many coaching clients who are in the midst of tumultuous changes:

“Given all that is changing, what’s most important to you in how you show up during this time?”

Sometimes it’s that they show up and treat people with integrity. Sometimes it’s that they haven’t held back – they’ve said what they need to say in team meetings and in 1:1s, and feel like they’ve done all they can within their sphere of influence. 

You could also try zooming out and anchoring on a wider focal point – talk to your reports about what they want out of their time at the company. Change is a good opportunity to have these kind of conversations. Some ideas for conversation starters:

  • “I know there are a lot of changes happening. As these new changes settle in, I’ve been taking this opportunity to check-in with people: what does your ideal role look like here?”
  • “This may seem like an odd topic, but it’s one I like to have with everyone who reports to me, because talking about it directly helps me better support you: what does your ideal next role look like after your time at <company>?” Follow up with, “What do you want to get out of your time here, that will best set you up for your next role?”

Teams and companies are constantly changing, and some periods of transition can feel particularly challenging. As a gentle reminder to you and your team, the more we practice the skill of getting the support we need and supporting our teams through change, the better equipped we’ll be for future challenges.

Best of luck in the months ahead!

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