Perhaps you’re going back to work in person part or full time and you’re nervous. Will people sit closer than you’re comfortable sitting? Will people wear masks? Will someone ask you to wear a mask when you don’t think it’s necessary? Yes, yes, and yes. All of these things are likely to happen. And addressing each situation will be uncomfortable. The good news is, if all of these events are predictable, they’re also preventable.
The time to talk about how people will behave in the office, is before people return to the office. Preventing a breakdown is always easier than addressing one.
Managers, get your team members together via phone or video and outline the organization’s expectations around masks, physical distancing, etc. Be explicitly clear. “Everyone is expected to be courteous and use common sense.” is not clear. My definition of being courteous and using common sense is different from yours. Follow the meeting up with written expectations that reiterate what you outlined during the meeting.
Direct reports, speak candidly with your managers about what you need. If you’re not comfortable working in an open floor plan, talk about it before you go back to the office. If you’re not comfortable attending a meeting with others in a conference room, have the conversation before the first in-person meeting. It’s ok to have concerns, and it’s ok to talk about them.
Teams, get together via phone or video before you go back to the office and agree on the practices you will follow. For example, if your organization’s policy is to wear a mask and a team member’s mask is below their nose, everyone on the team has the right to ask the person to pull it up. If a team member feels people are sitting too close, it’s ok to ask for space.
My point isn’t which Covid safety practices to employ. My point is to have the conversations before you return to the office. Anticipate every possible outcome. Talk with friends and colleagues who are already working in person and ask for the pitfalls and breakdowns they’ve experienced. Set clear expectations with your manager, peers, and internal and external customers. Then agree to talk about breakdowns as they happen. If you can predict it, you can prevent it.