Returning to Work: Thriving in the New (Ab)Normal

Returning to WorkJudging from the variety of masks I see on pedestrians these days, a lot of people are repurposing those old tee shirts and bags of fabric from the attic. From floral patterns to Scottish Tartans, superhero logos to tattered swatches fit for the apocalypse, the masks are out in force these days, an indicator that many people are taking CDC guidelines seriously. But let’s not kid ourselves. Returning to in-person work after nearly three months of quarantine is a bit more complicated than donning an N95 and toting a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. In many businesses, the policies and procedures required for reentry are lengthy and technical. Seriously, how many of you will pass through a temporal scanner station before hitting the elevator of escalator? Yes, it’s a strange new world, but there’s still ample opportunity for our businesses and the teams that power our businesses to thrive beyond reentry. Let’s take a look at a few of the strategic decisions you can make right now to make the most of the new (ab)normal.


Prior to Covid, “readiness” was generally a conversation about market changes, supply shortages, or changes in customer tastes and demand. Today, readiness is first and foremost about the virus. If you want your team to return excitedly to the office, make sure you have a plan in place to sustain team health and a safe workplace. Your plan should also include contingencies for positive diagnoses, quarantine measures, acute sanitizing procedures, and an unforeseen reduction in workforce. Consider your readiness plan a step toward ensuring “peace of mind” for your team. Ideally, you’ll never need to move beyond the preventative steps of your plan. Your team, on the other hand, just wants to be reassured that there’s a strong plan in place.


While the uber-fit and healthy members of your team may be itching to reenter the office, the corporate veterans or those with a host of preexisting conditions could be reluctant to move beyond the screens in their home offices for the foreseeable future. What does this mean for your leadership? Until there’s a widely available vaccine, you’ll need to embrace flexibility in scheduling and work settings. If feasible, let those who can do their work remotely continue to do it remotely. If you need everyone back in the office to get the get business humming again, spend some time looking at options for “shifts” or reconfigured—and socially distanced—workstations. Listen to the concerns voiced by your team members, and clearly convey your willingness to be flexible.


Don’t let the heading fool you; it’s vitally important to provide time and space for your people to share their Covid stories upon reentry. Some will talk about boredom or weight gain while others will share heavy news of health struggles or deeply personal losses. Articulating these dispatches from the “front” is both cathartic and unifying. Giving the team a platform to discuss loss, pain, growth, and hope is an investment in your collective vitality.

The Ab(normal)

If your team is already well into a reentry process, you’ve noticed that some folks are relieved, others are energized, while many may still be scared as hell about the pandemic and the economics of the pandemic. Given all of the above, you just want your team and your business to thrive again, don’t you? Develop the reentry plan execute. Team masks might be a fun twist too 😉