As businesses around the world return to work, leadership teams are tasked with deciding how best to reopen for their customers, their employees, and their values. Some of these changes, like face masks and temperature checks, are sensible and often mandatory measures meant to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Yet so many of the other adaptations companies have implemented come from a well-meaning but misguided belief in “the new normal.” Following 2020’s shift to remote work, virtually every business adapted in ways they’d never previously thought possible.

Now, it’s time to take those lessons from the telecommuting era and apply them to the way we work together – without losing what makes your company unique. Here’s how.

Re-Meet Your Team.

The unexpected switch to telecommuting, which seemed to happen almost overnight, put many employees and managers in a position they’d never experienced before. One-to-ones and performance reviews suddenly needed to happen online, where confident direction and meaningful conversation could be undermined by slow buffering speeds. Team collaboration – once the hallmark of every open office – became a matter of sending the right Slack messages at the right time, bearing work status updates in mind.

That’s not to say remote work doesn’t have its benefits. Many employees report feeling more productive than ever before, and if that’s the case it’s a win-win for your company. Yet here’s the tricky part: How do you know whether your employees prefer working from home or not?

Social distance has given us all a chance to reassess how we work best. Zoom meeting interruptions and connectivity issues aside, some workers may be discovering for the first time how their home office contributes to their work flow. Others may be silently praying for the day they can return to your local office and reconnect with their team.

There’s no blanket solution to meeting the challenges of work in the age of a pandemic. By reaching out to your team members and assessing their view on your reopening plan, you’ll gain better insights into how best to move forward by bringing everyone aboard, even if your team remains dispersed.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained.

Companies around the world had big plans for 2020, from Olympic sponsorships to international trade shows and new product launches that would make competitors green with envy.

It’s easy to lament the loss of these events, even as many of them have been reproduced online. Yet it’s the events that don’t gain media attention that your employees likely miss the most. Team-building exercises, company dinners, and group outings have all fallen by the wayside.

Virtual reunions have made for a suitable stopgap while we settled into our remote work styles, yet as the summer months approach, it’s not enough to leave employees with little more than a ‘maybe next year.’ A hands-off attitude toward team morale never builds the camaraderie you need to thrive, and sends a weak message from leadership.

Again, it’s all about doing what you can, and making sure employees both understand and are involved in the process. If that means a virtual reality summer barbecue, then great – just make sure the rest of the team’s ready to grill.

De-Emphasize The Tools.

The days when entire startups ran on GSuite don’t seem that far behind us. Now, we all rush toward the latest tool that may offer us a hint of teamsmanship. An ever-changing array of Zoom backgrounds doesn’t change the fact that we’re stuck at home, and novelties like VR chat can only distract us from what we truly miss: that feeling of being together in person.

The apps and software we use are only as good as the people working behind them. While these tools are valuable, without a motivated, dedicated team to drive them, they’re just pixels on a screen. Rather than trying to find that one perfect app, it’s better to let employees work with what they have, then give you the suggestions for where to improve on remote workflows.

Creating an employee-focused work environment is nothing new for startups with high aspirations. The only thing that’s changed is deciding how to emphasize company values in light of the challenges 2020 presents us. Rejecting the new normal is about finding that balance – then letting your employees find their best path forward to renewed collaboration.

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