‘A Complete Reset’: Going back to work in a post-COVID world

Gregg Popovich, the legendary head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is the longest-serving head coach in the NBA. Over his 22-year career, Coach Popovich holds the record for the most wins of any NBA coach and is one of only a few coaches to have five NBA championship titles.

He is known for his intensity, gruff manor and fiery outbursts, but for those that have studied his career, his success is largely due to forging a team culture for the Spurs that’s the envy of the league.

One key aspect of this culture is their team dinners. Spurs players, coaches and staff – past and present – view their recurring team dinners as a central aspect to building successful team chemistry. The dinners provide a valuable opportunity for the team to slow down and truly connect in a different mode outside the workplace.

Building strong team culture matters. It is perhaps even more important now given what our teams and individual employees have been through. Workplace teams of all sizes and all industry sectors have been thrown into disarray by the pandemic. Our businesses and staff have learned to cope and combat this difficult situation in creative ways, but it has taken a toll.

Some teams are fully remote without having physically connected with coworkers for nearly a year. Other teams are physically together, but separated by safety protocols and PPE. All of us have experienced an incredibly stressful year, with feelings of frustration, defensiveness and isolation.

Even as our economy begins to open back up, the challenges of the last several months will have a lasting impact. The return to a more traditional work environment may be awkward, uncomfortable and perhaps even frightening for staff. Employees are dealing with personal and family health issues, childcare shortages and financial concerns. It may not be realistic or productive to expect an immediate return to normal.

As we cautiously approach the reopening phase and look toward the eventual post-COVID world, leading local companies are using this time to plan the future of their businesses and especially the future functioning of their teams. The focus on safety is essential, but so is the need to reestablish stability, personal connections and team cohesion. As leaders prepare for this next phase, they are exploring ways to not just restart their business, but to reset their team dynamic.

A complete reset is perhaps the right approach for many businesses because over the last several months best practices and workplace etiquette has changed dramatically. The transition calls for renewed approach to employee relations that is patient, flexible and positive. Business leaders can plan ahead for an uneven restart and anticipate the need to reinvent company culture and re-engage burned-out employees.

A great local example of this forethought and planning comes from the teams at Chateau Chantal and Hawthorne Vineyards. Management has conducted ongoing staff outreach to assess protective measures and their staff’s personal support options, as well as weekly Zoom chats with those forced to remain home.

The Chateau Chantal and Hawthorne teams have recently completed their joint planning session for 2021 that served as an after-action review of what was learned in 2020, as well as a jumping off point to enhance their preparedness and teamwork for 2021.  Throughout the process, management is actively supporting employees, helping them through the closures and showing that they are a valued part of the team. This is workplace culture in action.

The return-to-work process, or at least a return to something a bit closer to normal operation, provides a tremendous opportunity to reinvigorate relationships, reset expectations and reorganize teams. In this environment, aiming for and celebrating small, attainable, quick wins is a great way to re-energize a team.

Now is the time to refocus on strengthening team culture. While we may be some time away from in-person team lunches, dinners and full workplace engagement, the vaccine rollout provides hope and a reminder that we can start planning and preparing for these rebuilding opportunities. It’s good for our companies and employees – and besides, our local restaurants will need the business!

Warren Call is the president/CEO of Traverse Connect, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact him at warren.call@traverseconnect.org.