How will your team react to being back in the workplace post-lockdown?

With a year now passed since the UK’s first national lockdown, a great many of us have spent more time away from the workplace than we have ever experienced previously or are likely to experience again.

For some it has been an unexpected opportunity to take stock, enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with working from home, whilst for others it has been an inconvenience that has hindered progress, stymied relationships and largely got in the way. Whether good or bad (or a bit of both), it’s been more than long enough for us to form new habits and question old ways of working.

Being constrained to our homes, with little or no social interaction, is akin to a period of professional and social hibernation. But with that about to end and businesses looking to regroup, how will people react to coming back out into the wilds of work?

Using our popular People Styles model as a base, we’ve highlighted the most common predictive behaviours of the four ‘styles’ of hibernating animal post hibernation.

The grid is based on measuring two simple human dimensions: Assertiveness or dominance on the ‘X’ axis and Responsiveness – how much we display our own emotions and how aware we are of the emotions of others – on the ‘Y’ axis. We refer to this as being either Formal or Informal.

It is important that managers and leaders are aware of and ready to anticipate the most likely reactions and rejections caused by a return to a more structured work environment, and here we highlight the most common behaviours and offer practical tips on what managers can do to deal with them.

The Hedgehog

Key Characteristics: Easy Going and Informal.

Core Values: People and Relationships

Likeable and friendly, the Hedgehogs in your team will have missed interacting with colleagues and, whilst cautious, will be keen to get back to regular contact with others. They will have enjoyed the informality and flexibility of WFH so, where possible, managers should re-introduce more formal, restrictive work practices gradually e.g. staggered work-times, some flexibility on dress etc. Not known for being self-starters, Hedgehogs do what they are asked to do and will benefit from regular check-ins with managers. Managers should keep them fed with work and facilitate team collaboration which will naturally improve their sense of well-being and productivity.

The Tortoise

Key Characteristics: Easy Going and Formal

Core Values: Logic and Detail

Largely content to be left alone to get on with things, the Tortoise is very reliable and most likely to have been the most productive team member during lockdown. Change of any kind is never high on their list of preferences and the Tortoise needs time to assimilate to new things – including returning to once familiar surroundings. Above all, they need to be reassured that managers have done their due diligence to prove that a: it is safe to return to work and that b: there is sound logic and reasoning for doing so. Managers must be prepared, thorough and patient. Let the Tortoise get there at their own speed and they will.

The Bear

Key Characteristics: Dominant and Formal

Core Values: Results and Actions

Whether working with others or on their own, the Bear cares about results above all. Whilst some will have missed the face-to-face interaction with colleagues, the Bear’s main concern is not relationships for relationships sake, but how relationships help or hinder the task. If returning to a workplace will improve outcomes, then you’ll have few objections from the Bear. However, Bears have little patience or sympathy for others that are less pragmatic or focused on outcomes. They see no major value in taking time to allow other team members to re-acclimatise to the new/old surroundings, so managers will need to help others prepare for working directly with the Bear again. Less driven and less dominant team members will have enjoyed being out of direct contact with the bear for a while. Managers need to help Bears realise and accept that others are not as focused and need time and a little patience.

The Queen Bee

Key Characteristics: Dominant and Informal

Core Values: Ego and Recognition

A lack of structure brought about by lockdown will have impacted badly on the Queen Bees in your team. They are prone to start things but not finish them and the absence of an ‘audience’ will have been frustrating for their naturally expressive tendencies.

Managers must recognise and acknowledge that it is good to have them back as a central part of the team and allow the Bee’s natural tendency to enthuse and motivate others to be expressed freely once again. However, managers must also but be very clear about expectations and set small or tiered tasks to be reviewed regularly. Don’t give them free reign on a big project – even in a formal environment – it is unlikely to get done.  

Difference Makes the Difference

When dealing with behavioural ‘styles’ and the necessary but unfortunate use of labels, we must always remember we are not dealing with right or wrong or black and white, we are dealing with difference. No personality style has the upper hand on any of the others, but clearly different styles bring different things to the party. Successful managers and effective teams celebrate difference and harness people’s natural tendencies by putting square pegs in square holes wherever and whenever possible.

The only thing we can be certain of in these uncertain times is that our individual response to the situation will be just that – individual.  We simply need to remember that it is difference that makes the difference in terms of results and team performance and is something we need to work hard to understand, embrace and ultimately celebrate.

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