Every leader should be asking this question as their teams return to the office. Be prepared for the answers you’ll get.

If you lead a team, odds are you’re exhausted. Helping your people stay productive when working from home or under other kinds of constraints hasn’t been easy. Add to that here in the US (and in large cities around the world) a year full of elections, protest and civil unrest and the flood of news and social media that goes with that, and it is no wonder your stress level is incredibly high. But at least you know how you’re feeling, how you are coping with the various situations that are happening, and what you plan to do about it. What about the people on your team?

How’s everyone doing?

How do you know?

Can we go back to normal?

Welcoming people back to work and getting them productive and back to normal (whatever the heck that was) is a good step, but it’s not enough. Why not?

Because everyone on your team will have experienced the pandemic in a different way, and processed the experience differently. While it’s not your role to play therapist or try to control things that are completely out of your sphere of influence, you need to be aware of what’s happening. You might not be able to change them, but Ignoring the feelings and fears your teammates experience may lead to misunderstanding and resentment even when you mean well.

Inevitably you’ll ask people how they’re doing.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • It needs to be a legitimate question, not a rhetorical one
  • You need to be prepared to listen and empathize with the answer, even if you don’t feel the same way

Do you really want to know the answer?

Years ago, I took a night school class in Mandarin. I have forgotten most of what I learned, but one interesting tidbit is that in China, there are two ways to ask how people are doing. The first, ni hao is the equivalent of smiling at someone and saying, “how’s it going?” It’s technically a question, but really there’s no real expectation of getting anything more than a polite, perfunctory reply of “fine.” If the person asks, nǐ hǎo ma, it’s an actual question; the equivalent of looking the person in the eyes and asking, “really, how are you?”

Are you prepared for the answer?

For some people, going back to work is exactly the tonic they need. For others, it may be more stressful than what they’ve been dealing with already. Different people will need different levels of supervision, contact and performance management.

Underlying tensions like politics, race, belief in science vs populist memes may no longer be hiding under the water. Is Alice prepared to work well with Bob, knowing what his Facebook posts have looked like the last few months? These can be terribly difficult situations that extend beyond Alice and Bob’s relationship but can impact the whole team. If you are lucky enough to have an HR department, check with them on policies and resources to help you and the team navigate these choppy seas.

You might not be back together.

And there will be some people who will continue to work remotely, or prefer to do more of that. Your previously co-located, tightly knit team may have to radically change how you work together. Ask people about their concerns and expectations.

As a leader, you don’t—in fact you cant—have all the answers. But if you don’t know what your people are thinking and worried about, it is almost impossible to avoid making a stressful situation worse.

We’ve got the program to help bring your team together. 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate is available at a discount and in individual, on-demand components. 


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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