As the debate about the return to the office vs. a hybrid working approach vs. remote working continues what can you do to prepare yourself as a leader?
Having exploratory conversations with your team will help you to understand their productivity drivers. Discuss which elements of their work require a more collaborative approach. Then you can intentionally design working practices with thought given to outcomes, place, time, energy, wellbeing and opportunities to learn and develop.
The demand for a hybrid working approach
The CIPD’s Embedding new ways of working post-pandemic report shows that some 40% of employers said that they expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic has ended. Data from the Office of National Statistics, prior to Covid showed only 5% of the workforce worked mainly from home.
A recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study of 2,000 UK employees demonstrated employee demand for a hybrid working model. 67% of those working remotely since COVID-19 want to be able to split their time between the physical workplace and home working in the future.
How can leaders balance employee needs and aspirations around how they want to work with business objectives?
The focus needs to be on how to support employee aspirations and needs, whilst delivering the required outcomes. To do this effectively leaders need to understand their staff, what motivates them and how they deliver the outcomes expected of them. This will help to intentionally design successful hybrid working models.
For the majority of leaders, this will be a new way of managing staff. Whilst you could argue that leaders have been managing staff remotely for the past year, the hybrid approach raises different challenges.
There are many instances where remote working hasn’t been successful. Leaders have struggled to engage their teams, or manage performance effectively. Staff have given leaders some lee-way, on the basis that it was new for everyone and people were just surviving. However, the new normal needs a planned approach if it’s going to be successful.
Questions to reflect on as a leader
By focusing on the outcomes that your team need to deliver it switches your attention from traditional ways of working to a focus on productivity. Engage with staff to understand how tasks are best completed. This can inform decisions around place and time, to support your hybrid working model.
- What outcomes does your team need to deliver?
- How are those outcomes achieved?
Time, place and energy
Remote working has enabled staff to gain flexibility around their working patterns. In many cases employees have benefitted from the reduction in commuting and time with their family. Staff have been able to work at times that match their individual energy levels.
- In your hybrid model are staff going to work chronologically, based on a specific schedule?
- How can you be flexible to individual’s energy levels?
- What extent will colleagues’ schedules coincide to encourage collaboration?
- How much autonomy will be given about working hours?
Your goal is productivity. People are more productive when they have energy and good levels of wellbeing. Working habits can become unhealthy when employees are exhausted or stressed. The pandemic drew attention to the need for wellbeing and it’s important that it’s not lost. There is a risk that boundaries get blurred when employees are working from home. For instance, they may start earlier, work through lunch breaks and struggle to step away from their work in the evening.
Create a transition period before and after work. For example, replace your daily commute with a walk around the block. This will provide your mind with a mental transition, which makes it easier to switch between roles. (Research by Kristen Shockley and Malissa Clark, University of Georgia)
- How can you encourage and support good staff wellbeing?
- What role do you play?
- What might hinder your team?
The challenges of home schooling demonstrated just how important it is to work in an environment without distractions, where you’re not interrupted or multi-tasking.
However, when you can’t see your staff it can lead to a feeling of a lack of control over their workload and performance. This can result in micromanagement and resentment.
- How can you support staff to create an environment where they can focus?
- What can you do to manage your own assumptions about productivity?
- How can you create a focus on outcomes in performance management?
Collaboration, connection and teamwork
There are certain tasks which require teamwork, either in coordinating tasks or in sharing ideas to innovate. Inefficiencies and divides are created when teams aren’t aligned. To work effectively as part of a team colleagues need to develop trusting relationships.
People have a need for social connection so that they don’t feel isolated, so you need to think about how you can build opportunities to connect into your hybrid working model. In a CIPD survey in Summer 2020 almost half of all of the people surveyed reported that social connections at work had worsened.
In 1992 BT adopted large scale work from home trails, resulting in a positive impact on call centre energy, well-being, and productivity. Since then, BT has steadily introduced new technologies to support its remote workforce. Culture and management style is essential. “We have used our communication platforms to build lots of virtual team check-ins so people don’t feel isolated, and we engineer virtual encounters like ‘virtual coffee’ so people have a chance to chat with people they don’t know so well.” BT home workers have been able to succeed in this model. “We’ve really learned that focusing on outcomes rather than being present in the office is crucial,” said Millard. That has meant developing processes for virtual performance management that include regular team check-ins, one-on-one conversations, and monthly reports to management. (Dr Nicola J. Millard, Principal Innovation Partner at BT)
- How can you enable staff to work collaboratively?
- How can you support staff in building trust and rapport?
Inclusivity, learning and visibility
There’s a risk that hybrid working creates a ‘them and us’ feeling, between employees in the office and those at home. The office environment creates opportunities for emerging talent to be noticed. Serendipitous moments to get involved in projects, join meetings or job shadow may be missed.
- How will you ensure that your approach is inclusive?
- Can you create opportunities for staff to learn from each other?
- How will you encourage staff to gain credibility, visibility and influence?
In summary, there’s going lots of learning along the way. Be willing to experiment as a leader, listen to your staff. Use this as an opportunity to develop a new, more flexible way of working.
Do you want some help in exploring the questions above, or the leadership behaviours required? Please get in touch. I’d love to help.