Posted on 4th July 2022 at 16:50
At the moment much talk in organisations is around hybrid working. It seems to offer the win: win of more flexibility, greater productivity, greater employee choice, reduced travel time and costs, and reduced office space. But what is the reality and how do you lead and manage in such an environment? Here are some initial thoughts from us here at The Red Thread Partnership Ltd.
Purpose and Values
One of the notable changes in 2020 was the number of people who took time out to question what they were doing and what it was that fulfilled them. Some, like frontline and key workers, who are often lowly paid, may not have had the luxury to take the time to reflect have, however, been wondering at the difference between their pay and their importance to the ongoing running of our society.
As the pandemic recedes, or even if it doesn’t, these questions will more frequently come to the forefront for people, especially for those workers who have choices about who they work for and what they do. Does your organisation have a clear purpose and does that feel worthwhile? What are the organisation’s values and does it live by them?
If you are a leader you need to review both and check that they still make sense in a post pandemic hybrid working world. And if you are a manager you need to ensure that both purpose and values are woven through all your systems and processes and are clear in everything you do as an organisation? Crucially, does everything that leaders and managers do, show that they trust everyone in the organisation?
Hopes and Fears
In a recent McKinsey survey two of the top hopes and fears of staff were the same – whether they were returning to work, working in a hybrid fashion, or continuing to work from home – work/life balance and wellbeing. The evidence from lock down was very clear – leaders and managers who paid attention to the wellbeing of staff and how they were managing their work saw increased levels of engagement and productivity, and people relished the sovereignty – freedom, choice and control - they were given over their lives.
On the flip side there was also an increase in burnouts as people found it much harder to switch off and step away from work without that physical transition of the journey back home. Simple tricks such as separate rooms, or converted sheds are fine for those who have them, but not everyone has that luxury.
So as a leader or manager how can you help? First off, take a genuine interest in how colleagues are managing the balance in their lives. Let go of the outdated concept of work/life balance and encourage people to look at their life as a whole. The things that energise them, the things that sap their energy, what do they get paid for and what gives them other rewards – like a feeling of purpose and satisfaction.
Make it clear that it is ok to stop work early, to start late AND work late or start early – whichever is going to meet the individual’s and organisation’s needs. Focus on outputs and outcomes, and not on time spent at the computer. And whatever you do – don’t start using spyware to track activity. Nothing says I don’t trust you more, and your colleagues will return the favour and not trust you back – and loyalty and productivity will soon go too.
Crucially role model it. We hear so many stories of senior leaders who exhort their staff not to work late, but are on their laptops 24/7. It doesn’t work saying you don’t expect a reply – at least not till you let it be known that you’re not going to be in early one morning just because you want the morning off. And if your work is your life – if that is genuinely ok for you – still role model balance. Find things to do that mean you don’t have to be emailing colleagues. Actually, spend that time to do some deep reflection on the strategy or investigate competitors.
Hybrid working works because it can give back sovereignty over colleague’s lives and wellbeing. If you want to reap the benefits, nurture that sovereignty. Don’t activity watch - reward delivering outcomes, not busyness.
Of all the stresses of the pandemic and lockdown uncertainty has to have been the biggest. What is actually going to happen? What will the rules be? Will I have a job? Kotter in his seminal work on change states that senior leaders typically under-communicate by a factor of 100. Yes, read that again – 100!
Lots and lots of business are saying they will move to a hybrid way of working, but what does that actually mean. Of course, you don’t know what it will look like so be very clear that you are all going to have to experiment – and set out a clear set of guidelines to start with; articulate the evaluation and review process; and talk with, not to, your colleagues.
Think about how you are going to balance the arrangements for those who can hybridise, compared with those who have to be in at their place of work for whatever reason – how can you share the savings? What will feel like it is ‘fair’ to everyone? What levels of support are you going to provide to set up proper home working stations for colleagues? And when do people all have to be in the office and who says so? Crucially start to focus really hard on creating a high challenge, high support environment that will both give flexibility and expect commitment. You can get both, but it will need working on.
All of which will help build real trust. As Stephen Covey points out, high trust organisations work faster and cheaper than low trust ones. Investing in building that high level of trust will help you become more agile and be able to flex and experiment till you find the ways of working that really work for you and your people; and to be able to flex again when people or the competitive environment changes again. As it inevitably will do.
At the end of the day, however, we are all human and every human has some degree of need to feel that they belong. The reality is that some industries and organisations have been hybrid working for a number of years already, and research exists to show how people feel when they work remotely. Key among the findings is the sense of being left out, if you are the one who is working away, and others are in the office. Or feeling the lack of the camaraderie that comes with being a part of a close-knit team, if you are all working variable hybrid hours. Needless to say, that need for belonging and how it is achieved varies from person to person.
But you need to know it is there and work with the team to agree how that is best going to get met in a manner that works for everyone. Is it going to be one day a week when everyone is going to be in – and does that day need to vary week by week? Or will you have a fixed time and whoever can be there is ok? Or both? Or will it be a permanently open online meeting space that is the ‘water cooler’ that anyone can drop into at any time on the off chance of catching colleagues for an impromptu chat? There are no hard and fast rules – you will need to negotiate and agree it with your team and keep on experimenting.
One international team we worked with had members in 15 times zones around the world. They agreed a communication plan that set out what were acceptable times for people to be emailing or calling, when the team leader was available on their phone, and crucially agreed that they would meet as a team once per quarter and that the location for that would vary each time they met. When they did meet, they put aside three days for the meeting – two of which were for work and one which was for some sort of social event. Those events would be dictated by wherever they were meeting – one time it was carnival in S America, the next the AIDS wards in Africa (it was a healthcare company). The what, was less important than it was a shared experience.
It’s not a cost to meet this way – it’s an investment and it’s crucial to see it that way. The sense of belonging and shared purpose it creates and the issues it allows to be resolved provide an excellent return.
The reality is some forms of hybrid working have been around for a while and it is only fear or a lack of trust that have prevented the benefits from being more widely realised. Trusting your colleagues and investing in building the cultures, systems and processes that will create a sense of belonging aligned around your purpose, will enable you and your colleagues to be successful, agile and happy.
If you want your leaders and mangers to develop the skills and behaviours that will enable them to get the best of your new ways of working then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
*For more on this and how to meet the other future challenges leaders will be facing do have a look at our book: The 7 Steps to Frontier Leadership v2.0, which has been updated to reflect the challenges of working in the pandemic and considers post-pandemic ways of working. Available from Bookboon.com
Tagged as: Creating Inclusive Cultures
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