Return to on-site work

Employee guide to preparing for back-to-the-workplace conversations

Make time to reflect

The COVID-19 pandemic asked a lot of everyone. You changed where and how you work and responded to your needs outside of work, all during a time of societal stress and uncertainty. After such an eventful year, you may have mixed feelings about the milestone of returning to onsite work. Whether you are excited about the possibilities of a new normal or experiencing feelings of burnout, one thing is for certain – your back-to-the-workplace mindset will affect your success and well-being during the transition.

Self-awareness can help you be more present in conversations with your manager and make it less likely that your feelings about returning to onsite work get in the way of constructive conversations. These questions will help you be more aware of your own goals and emotions regarding back-to-the-workplace planning.

  • What one word captures your feelings about returning to onsite work?
  • What have you learned about your personal strengths during the pandemic? What resources and relationships have been helpful to you?
  • Has telework during COVID-19 been a good thing for you and/or your family? If so, how?
  • In what ways did working from home make doing your job more challenging? Make it easier?
  • What are you looking forward to about returning to onsite work? What is causing you stress or anxiety?

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Prepare for your back-to-the-workplace conversation

1. Educate yourself about policies related to telework and flexible scheduling.
Prior to meeting with your manager, review information about planning for fall quarter return, telework policies and agreements and flexible work arrangements. If you have questions about the University’s guidance or policy that you would like answered before meeting with your manager, contact your unit’s HR administrator or HR consultant.

2. Plan to manage up.
Managing up involves trying to understand your manager’s priorities and perspective so you can present information and ideas in ways that show how they can benefit your unit. While this will not guarantee how your manager will respond, it will help strengthen your working relationship and increase the chance you’ll get the outcome you hoped for. Managing up can also help you reframe emotional issues so you can talk about them constructively at work.

Here are three tips for managing up during return to onsite work conversations:

  • Consider your manager’s priorities. Consider what you know about your unit’s goals for the year and about the priorities for your position. If you have personal concerns about your return to onsite work and/or you plan to request telework or an alternative schedule, anticipate how your request for flexibility could affect your unit’s progress on its goals. Then, be ready to address how you’ll avoid any negative impacts.
  • Take the initiative to address concerns your manager may have. Did your manager, colleagues or clients share any concerns about your performance during remote operations (e.g., lack of a timely response, missed deadlines, forgotten tasks)? If your answer is yes, be prepared to acknowledge the concerns, any changes you made to address them and what the outcome was. Share how you will prevent or address the issues after returning to onsite work and propose how you will work with your manager to monitor improvement.
  • Be clear about your manager’s role. Managers are expected to help employees access UW resources that can help the employee succeed in their job, including supports that address work-life conflicts that may affect work performance. After listening to your concerns, your manager may need time to consult with their supervisor or their HR administrator for assistance.

3. Understand the goal for your conversation.
Whether it is you who initiates a meeting or your manager, be clear about the purpose of the conversation. For example, know if it will be a time for your manager to share information, if it is a time for you to propose your back-to-onsite-work ideas or if it will include both. Know whether your manager would like to you to provide them with a written proposal or if they would prefer to talk things out first. If they want information in writing, ask how far in advance of the meeting they would like information and what specific information you should provide.

4. Clarify your boundaries for sharing personal information with your manager.
Many employees will want to talk with their managers about personal concerns that could affect their work performance. Managers understand that returning to onsite work will be a big change and they expect some employees will share personal needs that conflict with their unit’s back-to-the-workplace plan. When preparing to talk with your manager about work-life concerns, keep their role in mind (see above) and think ahead about what personal information you will share and how much detail you will provide.

You are not required to disclose personal information with your manager and some employees will not feel comfortable talking with a person in authority about their family situation, health concerns, disability or other private issues. Your HR administrator or HR consultant can help you navigate personal concerns that may affect your work performance in ways that respect your privacy, and the Disability Services Office can help you understand the explore the accommodation process if you have a medical condition or disability.

If you do plan to share personal information with your manager, these questions can help you focus on what is most relevant:

What is your specific work-life conflict?
For example, do you have gaps in child care, are you concerned about anticipated commute time affecting your ability to engage effectively at work, are you more effective when you have uninterrupted space or time, etc.?

You do not need to share private details about yourself or your family, such as medical diagnoses or changed financial circumstances. The focus should be on what can change related to your work.

What specifically can your manager do to help?
For example, approving occasional or regular telework, changing a deadline or work assignment, providing scheduling flexibility, increasing the feedback you receive, helping you understand what UW wellness resources are available, etc.

If there is nothing your manager can do to remove your work-life conflict,
what are your goals for sharing your situation?
When it comes to sharing work-life concerns, remember to practice managing up (see above). Sharing that something personal may affect your work is different than talking about hobbies or sharing family stories. Your manager’s job is to ensure the success of their unit. They may understandably be concerned if you share you may be distracted on the job without saying how they can help, or how you plan to minimize work impacts.

5. Prepare a plan and have back-up options.
Managers will be working to find solutions that ensure their unit’s success while trying to support multiple employees’ needs. They may not be able to approve every individual employee’s ideal return to onsite work proposal, so come prepared with options and be ready to make the case for how your request will benefit your position, your unit and you as an individual. Understand your own boundaries about sharing personal information in mind, and then prepare your plan by thinking about the following questions.

  • How might your personal situation impact your return to on-site work?
  • How could telework or flexible work arrangement benefit your work? Your team?
  • Why are you a good candidate for telework? For a flexible work arrangement?
  • What is your proposed schedule? How will you adapt if any part of your request cannot be met?
  • What are your suggestions for evaluating success of a flexible work arrangement during the pilot period established by your manager?
  • What will you need from your manager and others to be successful?

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