From the 1st August, the government has changed its guidance about asking people to work from home where they can and has given employers more discretion to make decisions about how their staff can work safely.

Whilst many may continue to work from home for the immediate future, organisations are now looking at whether they can bring staff back to the workplace.  At the same time, Covid-19 continues to have a considerable impact on businesses and the economy with many firms having to rapidly adapt and innovate just to survive. Staff may feel anxious about returning to work after many months on furlough or working from home, and business leaders need to be able to support them during this re-entry stage, whilst maintaining a motivated, engaged and productive workforce. 

Professor John Oliver OBE is one of our valued Masterclass speakers on our leadership programmes.  He is the author of Growing Your Own Heroes: The commonsense way to improve business performance which advocates three ‘Quick Wins’ for building an engaged team – communication, leadership style and recognition.  

In this article we will look at how focusing on these ‘quick wins’ can help leaders as businesses start to re-open. 


Clear and effective communication will be key as businesses re-open and welcome staff back to the workplace. Speak with team members beforehand to find out about their personal circumstances and any potential challenges or obstacles to them returning to work. Seek their input and views on the arrangements for re-opening and provide information and reassurance about how health and safety is being reviewed and managed. 

Given the challenges that businesses are facing, many have had to adapt their business model, strategically refocus or even, unfortunately, reduce staff numbers. Team members may therefore be returning to a dramatically different work environment and they may have lost trusted colleagues through redundancy. They may fear for their own job security or be anxious about adjusting to their new role and responsibilities. Communicate any changes early, listen to their concerns and try to address any questions they have. Explain ‘why’ the changes are needed, linking them to your vision of how the business will be able to #BuildBackBetter. 

2. Leadership Style 

It is widely acknowledged that the behaviour of senior leaders has a considerable impact, with leading author, Daniel Goleman, suggesting that it has as much as a 70% impact on an organisation’s culture, which in turn impacts business performance.   

Whilst it can be all too easy to put your head down and focus solely on the immediate operational issues, make sure that you take the time to speak with your teams. John Oliver encourages ‘managing by walking about’ as a way to get to know your people and their jobs better.  If people are back in the workplace this is more straightforward but video conferencing technology allows for informal individual or team conversations which can achieve the same aim. 

Be mindful of the emotional toll that this crisis has had on many people. Mental health related absence is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in UK workplaces and with 37% of adults reporting that the pandemic has affected their well-being, there is likely to be a significant impact upon the mental health of employees. Being open and honest about your own concerns or anxieties whilst embracing an optimistic outlook can encourage others to share their own worries. Find out what your employees need on an individual level and provide support and/or resources as needed. 

3. Recognition 

When a company demonstrates its commitment to supporting, developing and recognising its employees, they will be rewarded with an engaged workforce who are focused on contributing to the success of their organisation. 

Richard Branson is quoted as saying that “Happy employees equal happy customers”. As it is your employees who are in most regular contact with your customersbensuring that you engage them, this will in turn have an impact on your bottom line. Research by Gallup confirmed that employees who are engaged are more likely to improve customer relationships, with a resulting 20% increase in sales. 

Acknowledge and recognise the effort made by your employees over the last few months. Just saying Thank you’ can go a long way in making someone feel appreciated and valued, but remember that recognition should be specific, sincere and meaningful - “thank you, James, for your contributions to the Smith tender” is much better than just saying “good job”.  Encourage your managers to recognise good performance in their teams. This does not need to be complicated and can be as simple as a hand-written card or feedback given in a 1-2-1 meeting.   

By focusing on the ‘Quick Wins’ of leadership style, communication and recognition and by leading with empathy, compassion and awareness during this period and beyond, you can set an example and motivate your team as they look to you for guidance, reassurance and stability.  

Professor John Oliver OBE was the former Chief Executive of Leyland Trucks and in 1989 he devised the Team Enterprise concept which he used to transform Leyland from an unprofitable, declining truck maker into the most cost-efficient operation in Europe. He is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Lancaster University School of Management and speaks on our LEAD and GAIN programmes to help our delegates to embrace the Quick Wins in their organisation in order to build an engaged workforce, who are focused on driving improvement. 

If you would like more information on our online LEAD™, GOLD™ or GAIN™ programmes, please do get in touch with Jo Draper or Stewart Barnes here. 



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