22 May

The Re-Integration Struggle is Real

The Pandemic Crisis seems to be easing and offices all over the country are inviting (and expecting) workers to return to the workplace at least in a hybrid capacity.  There are several potential roadblocks to work through, but one, in particular, is catching employers off guard and causing friction within teams: the reintegration of workers who were remote with those essential workers who continued to work onsite.

While every employee handles going back into the office differently, studies show that at least half of the American workforce is looking forward to returning to the workplace, at least part-time.  That said, there is still a group of workers who are hesitant and, frankly, resistant to returning to the office. Mix workers complaining about having to return to the office with workers who never had the opportunity to work from home for various reasons, and you are sure to end up with some drama.  

What can we do to facilitate the move back into the office, particularly if there is a workforce that remained onsite throughout the pandemic? My friend, Cari Kaufman, a retired Army officer, says that the return of the remote workforce is not unlike the reintegration of soldiers and their families that happens after a military deployment. Read on as she answers my questions with insights about how the military coaches families through reintegration. 

Soldiers are usually coming back from a war zone. Do you really think that these two situations are similar? 

Absolutely.  When a soldier returns from deployment (even a non-combat one), they have lived an entirely different lifestyle than their family members. They have had different experiences, created different habits (good or bad).  The weeks following redeployment are some of the toughest on military families.  I have seen so many marriages fall apart during that time because they could not survive the reintegration after time away. 

In the same way, essential workers and remote workers have had both an extended time away from each other AND a very different working experience. It has been traumatic for both in very different ways, and they may fall prey to comparing each other’s traumas.  They have developed new work habits, schedules, and ways of communicating. 

If you could tell these teams one thing about how to handle reintegration, what would it be?   

The most important thing we tell soldiers and their families is that they’ve both been through an emotional and traumatic experience.  If they are going to survive the reintegration process, they must enter into it with empathy for an experience outside of their own.  

The same is true for folks returning to the workplace and those who have been working onsite throughout the pandemic.  Having empathy for those who had to endure the trauma and fear of daily coming into work, working for hours while masked, and maintaining proper sanitization requirements is critical for remote workers coming back into the workplace.  Understanding that the ability to work from home could be seen as a position of privilege and keeping complaining and dissension to a minimum is important for remote workers coming back into the workplace. 

On the other hand, essential workers who worked onsite throughout the pandemic need to understand that remote workers also battled fear, isolation, frustration, and difficulties with communication while working remotely.  This group will need to hold space for remote workers to find their rhythm within the workday at the office.  

Ultimately, the key to reintegration is openness and empathy for everyone involved. Holding space to validate everyone’s experience this last year as difficult in its own way is a critical piece of successful reintegration.