Avoiding the back-to-work blues

2015

January 5 is not the beginning of anyone’s new year, if you read the calendar. Yet, for most of us, the first Monday in January following New Year’s Day is the first “real” day back at work. The fact that the date comes so late this year can be rather disorienting, and it’s worth taking a moment to take stock of the team dynamics you’ll encounter this week.

Why does it matter? First, the planet hasn’t stopped spinning around the sun, and depending on where you are in the world you may or may not acknowledge Christmas or even celebrate January 1 as the start of anything special, but for about two weeks everyone’s schedule has been disrupted. Clients have stopped responding to email, some of your team is on holiday, others have been toiling away but since you haven’t heard from them you’re not entirely sure what on.

So today, everyone’s email in-basket is bursting with everything from critical, time-sensitive data to heartfelt season’s greetings to a million out of office messages. The aftermath of the “most wonderful time of the year” is maybe the toughest time for most managers.

Here are a couple of things to consider and talk to your team about as you all re-enter the “workosphere.”

“How were your holidays?” is a request for information, not a rote greeting. A lot can happen over a couple of weeks with sporadic contact. Some of it is work related, much of it personal - and that personal information has a bearing on how work gets done. Did they actually get to relax and they’re recharged? Was it horrible and they’re stressed and relieved to get back to work?

I know it can be hard to ask personal questions when all you really want to know is “did you finish the Spacetech report?” As remote leaders we don’t have enough chance to build personal connections with our team. This is a ready-made opportunity. Don’t waste it.

Is everyone on the same page? How do you know? One of the most frustrating parts of getting back to work is it seems you’re the only one who’s really prepared. Why aren’t they answering that critical email? Are your priorities their priorities? Take the time for a webmeeting or conference call so everyone knows where their team-mates heads are at, and to set priorities as a group. The longer it takes to get re-aligned, the more stressful the next week or so will be.

A lot of regulations and policies change with the year. What’s new that people need to be aware of? Whether the first of the calendar year is the same as your fiscal year or not, January 1 is a logical point for many companies to introduce new policies and procedures. Many of those may have been announced by emails or webinar over the last few weeks. The odds of anyone retaining all that information is remote. Take the time to ensure any changes to how people work are fully discussed and clear. Don’t assume anything you told people prior to mid-December was retained.

New year’s resolutions aren’t just for the fat and nicotine-addicted. The start of a new year is a big time for people to make personal resolutions like losing weight and stopping smoking. It is also a good time to examine your team’s policies and take stock of how things could be better in 2015. If you haven’t re-examined your communication charter or reviewed your goals lately, it’s a good time.

For leaders of remote teams, the next week or so will be a challenge, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of holidays. Take a moment to connect with your team, both individually and as a unit. Make sure you’re all starting the new year with the same goals in mind, and in a place to really help each other succeed.

Cheers. And a happy new year.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.