How coaching can support leaders in managing the return to office

It is during such periods of change and uncertainty that communication is of utmost importance

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The corporate world has been abuzz recently with more organisations mandating that employees return to the office. While some have welcomed the move with open arms and excitement, many are resistant and do not see the real need behind this mandate.

Managers are now faced with yet another challenge as they manage and navigate this change, not only for their organisation and teams, but also for themselves. An article in Forbes magazine1 referred to this as The Great Disconnect, where more employers than employees want to return to the office.

As I was reading through articles from around the world and speaking to clients and colleagues about the concerns and difficulties of returning to the office, it occurred to me that coaching can be of great help during this time. It is during such periods of change and uncertainty that communication is of utmost importance. And just as coaching is about partnering with clients, that same partnership and trust are needed for managers and employees to co-create new(er) ways of working.

Here are some tips grounded on the ICF Core Competencies that HR leaders and people managers can keep in mind while communicating with their teams about returning to the office.

Do a mindset check first

(aligns with the ICF Core Competency on embodying a coaching mindset)

As a manager or HR leader, you yourself are also impacted by this change. Do check yourself first for any personal beliefs, perceptions, assumptions, or values that might be impacting the way you communicate or interact with your bosses or your teams.

If you find yourself also experiencing confusion, anxiety, or stress about returning to the office, do seek support also for yourself.

Prepare yourself before engaging in conversations whether it’s with your own boss or your team. Make sure your mind is clear and you are free from any strong emotion.

Always engage in conversations with curiosity and an open mind. Try your best not to judge especially when you do not share the same viewpoint. Instead of preparing a rebuttal, silence your thoughts, pause and then ask questions out of curiosity instead.

Create a safe and open space for conversation

(aligns with the ICF Core Competencies on cultivating trust and safety and listening actively)

Allow yourself to be vulnerable as well. Share your own thoughts and feelings too. This allows your employees to see and appreciate what makes us all human.

Withhold judgment and show respect for what others are sharing. Remember that what they share reflects their own beliefs and values. Seek to understand more about where they are coming from.

Acknowledge their thoughts, ideas and feelings. It’s not your job to make them feel better, but it’s your job to make them feel seen and heard. You can do this by non-verbal gestures such as nodding and eye contact. You can also clarify or paraphrase what they have said.

Co-create new ways of working

(aligns with the ICF Core Competency on Facilitating client growth)

Though you are the manager, it doesn’t mean that you need to have all the answers and solutions. Encourage your team to share their thoughts and ideas too.

Ask your team about what has worked and not worked for them in this setup. Ask them also about what they think might work and might not work. Brainstorm ways on how to address gaps that you’ve jointly identified.

Ask them what resources might be needed to make the setup work. Technology? Transportation? Childcare support?

Agree on ways to monitor progress and regularly check in.

There are many applications of coaching in the workplace, and the conversations around the return to the office is one of them. These conversations need not be formal coaching sessions like professional coaches do. These can be done as part of your regular team or one-on-one meetings.

Don’t carry the entire burden of this by yourself. More ideas and possibilities will open up when you’re able to tap the hidden gems that are in each of your employees. All it takes is open communication, collaboration and co-creation — all made possible through foundational coaching skills.

You got this!

You’re not alone! In navigating the return to the office policy, you can partner with ICF Credentialed Coach to get professional coaching services, which can be found using ICF’s directory of credentialed coaches spread in India and all over the world

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 50,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and maintaining the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.

The author, Kurly de Guzman, is a Global Career and Leadership Coach who helps growth-driven leaders become catalysts for career growth and wellbeing for themselves and the people they serve. She also supports new coaches in building a thriving career in coaching. Coach Kurly’s coaching practice reflects the divergence of the different areas of experience and expertise she brings to the table both from the corporate world and as a coach and consultant. Her mission is to co-create a flourishing and thriving world of work where professionals love what they do and contribute to a higher purpose.

Reference

1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/2021/10/05/the-great-disconnect-many- more-employers-than-workers-want-to-return-to-offices/?sh=24a079ec1ad3

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