4 Helpful Activities for Heading Back to the Office
If you’ve been mentoring virtually over the last couple of years, you may now be wondering how to engage your mentoring partner through the fears, anxieties, and excitement of heading back into the office or switching to a new hybrid working model. While your HR team and managers are equipped with processes to support employees in this transition, mentoring pairs haven’t received the same amount of guidance—even though mentoring conversations are a natural setting for these conversations to take place. It’s time to equip yourself with helpful tools to tackle these upcoming conversations.
The top 4 strategies to engage your mentoring partner include:
- Check in on how they’re feeling
- Understand how this transition can impact anxieties
- Engage, but don’t force conversations
- Reframe for the positive
Let’s dive into these in more detail.
1. Check in on How They’re Feeling
Our headspace determines how we will react to a situation (verbally and nonverbally). In the context of mentoring, if you are feeling anxious, frustrated, or stressed about the office transition, your emotions will play a role in your conversations. While sometimes this can be helpful for empathy, it also risks piling on to an already heated topic. Or, if you’re rather excited about heading back into the office, you may unintentionally block the space for your partner to share their concerns (and vice versa).
If checking in on your emotions is new to you, start with a personal 2-word check-in before your mentoring meeting. Ask yourself: What two words describe how you are feeling at the moment? You can also ask yourself: What two words describe how transitioning back into the office makes me feel? As those feelings become stronger during your mentoring session, acknowledge them by name (in your head) and take a deep breath to keep them from overtaking the conversation.
2. Understand the Ways this Transition Could Increase Anxieties
Take a moment to reflect on the impact transitioning back to the office will have. Not just for you, but also for those in different life situations.
In addition to the uncertainties that come up with a change in routines, those with family obligations will need to rebalance their priorities…again.
Some will find they are monitoring their conversations more than usual, making them feel less at ease. For example, they may be nervous about making an off-the-cuff comment about vaccinations. Or, they could regret sharing excitement about upcoming travel plans now that such events are interpreted much differently than pre-pandemic.
For others, working from home was a great option to manage social anxieties. If that option is not available, those individuals will find themselves in fight or flight mode more often and may have trouble keeping up with their productivity.
3. Engage, but Don’t Force the Conversation
Your mentoring partner may not be aware that your relationship is an appropriate place to share thoughts and feelings on transitioning back into the office. Kick-off your meeting by checking in on how they are feeling about going back to work. Your partner may not be ready to engage at that moment, and that’s okay. If they try to change the topic or begin to look physically uncomfortable, don’t force the conversation. The important thing is you’ve opened up the door if and when your mentoring partner is ready.
It will also be important to keep an open mind. Your mentoring partner may have different opinions on how to approach the pandemic—which can be a particularly challenging experience. Keep it specific by focusing the conversation on the pandemic’s impact on work. If the conversation starts heading to broader facts or topics, try to respond in a non-accusatory, non-judgemental manner. For ideas on offering supportive responses, check out this Harvard Business Review guide on how supportive leaders approach emotional conversations.
4. Reframe for the Positive
As humans, we may find we subscribe to a negativity bias—in other words, focusing on the negative. This means all the stressors that bombard us on a daily basis take up a ton of space in our psyches. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tells us that we can counterbalance this bias by intentionally acknowledging the positives. Here are some ways this could show up in your mentoring relationship:
- Social connections are good for our stress levels and for preventing burnout. Working from home eliminated almost all informal workplace social connections—the quick “good job” in the hallway after a meeting, or the impromptu “what are you watching on TV?” coffee chats. Those are back and make us feel good!
- We’re all in this together. Remember, change is hard for everyone. Those feelings that popped up in your 2-word check-in? They are valid. Remember that, and validate your mentoring partner’s feelings. Then, focus on anything you are able to directly control rather than the unknowns or out-of-reach concerns.
- Change opens up other doors for us. This is a great opportunity to focus on benefits that aren’t afforded in the WFH world. For example, is there a last-minute opportunity to invite your partner to an interesting meeting now that you are in the same space? Can you revisit walking meetings?
- Use this as an opportunity to prioritize mental health. As a mentor or mentee, you might not be fully versed in the mental health benefits available at your company. Help your partner by encouraging them to reach out to HR and ask for a full rundown.
And remember, even in an office environment, you can still manage your mentoring relationship virtually if that is most comfortable for you.