--- For better or worse, people are returning to the workplace. There are no right answers about how to manage this process. There are, however, a lot of strong and mixed feelings personally and organizationally. In this article, I will share a research-based approach to help leaders develop a solution. Let me start by acknowledging that remote work has been hard on many people. Those without supplemental care for kids or parents in the house, home office space (however improvised it may be) and adequate internet connectivity have really struggled. Juggling everything to work through the pandemic has taken an extraordinary toll on some individuals and relationships. I believe we will only fully understand the impact with the benefit of hindsight in the years to come. Of course, some workers never stopped going into work. For many of these people, the pandemic may have been even harder. For many essential workers, the months ahead are neither a return to work nor even a return to the workplace. Indeed, some are viewing this “return to work process” as a welcome (if gradual) reduction of the public health-related precautions that have been so challenging for them. For many organizations, the decisions in spring 2020 were clear cut: Move all non-essential workers to remote work, and do it as quickly as possible. Mountains were moved to make it happen. Laptops were found, connectivity issues were addressed and schedules were realigned. I was inspired by the compassion that many leaders showed toward those juggling challenges in every area of their life at once. It didn’t happen overnight, but many were surprised by how quickly we figured out how to continue working and collaborating effectively remotely. The organizational challenges of helping people now return to the workplace are very different from those we had in going remote. Some are returning fully. Others are staying fully remote. Many organizations are choosing to become hybrid workplaces, where people work some days in the office and other days at home. However, none of these options will happen successfully just by making the decision and willing it so. The leadership, cultural and organizational challenges ahead are extraordinary. In many ways, the switch to remote working was an easier challenge to navigate than our imminent search for a new workplace normal. In my opinion, those who do not approach it with sustained skill and commitment will face a rocky road ahead. This kind of challenge demands a deliberate approach to learning. My favorite such process is called “mindful engagement,” an area of research by Susan J. Ashford and D. Scott DeRue. In mindful engagement, we move repeatedly through a four-step cycle aimed at helping us learn more from experience and move toward continual improvement. Studies have suggested that those who take control of their own learning and development in this way learn more and achieve better outcomes over time. How then might leaders apply this process to the crucial return to workplace phase ahead?
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