August 23, 2021 Leading Others in a Hybrid World of Work
We’ve all had to adjust to a different way of working, which includes managing business priorities and interacting with others. It goes without saying that leaders need to be MORE connected with their employees today than ever before, especially given the need for flexible work practices.
What’s a HYBRID work model and how does it impact workplace relationships?
A hybrid work environment is made up of people who work from the office or work location and those who work remotely (anywhere outside the work location). So, as a leader of others, how can you better deal with what I refer to as ‘the now normal’? Do you really understand what makes your team thrive in this new world of work? How will you encourage strong workplace relationships?
Some leaders believe that having everyone in one place facilitates higher results. That’s a fallacy and an outdated approach, which leaves employees feeling less empowered and demotivated. As we know, a healthier, happier workplace will facilitate higher levels of employee engagement, commitment, and productivity.
Finding the right hybrid formula will depend on the type of work your team does. Core to all of this, is the understanding that those at the work location have very different experiences and expectations compared to those who work remotely. One group has to commute to work, while the other may not. One group can have in-person interactions with teammates, while the other doesn’t…and so on. Remaining in sync with what they need to thrive is essential for your business to succeed. The added challenge in a hybrid work environment is how to deal with workplace conflict. Not an easy task, but as a leader, your team will look to you for guidance.
Whether you’re creating or renewing your Hybrid Workplace Model, here are some suggestions. In short, you’ll need to be open to change, flexible and yet structured.
Start off by making your team and company goals very well understood. People need to know whether it’s business as usual or if goals have had to be modified, because of changes in the business landscape. Establish key performance indicators and ways to measure success. This allows you to better plan, make any necessary changes, recognize, and reward your employees. The alternative is leading on the run, which spells disaster!
Ask your employees for suggestions on work arrangements. The gesture will show that you’re taking their professional and personal priorities seriously. Ultimately, you and the leadership team will need to create a workplace model that doesn’t stunt productivity or frustrate customers, and at the same time create a thriving work environment. This isn’t a ‘one and done’ exercise! Make sure you get feedback and solicit input again after six months. This way you can make changes as needed and you’re inviting your employees to help manage the situation.
Share the plan
Explain the reasons behind your workplace model to help everyone get on the same page. Some may like it and others may not. But your explanation of why certain work arrangements have changed will allow people to think rationally by referring to the facts. Allow your employees to ask questions and help them understand why changes are necessary. Remember that this can be an emotional topic for people and tackling any workplace conflict immediately will show them that you’re leading the charge. Giving regular business updates is a great way to create a more open culture which will also give you more frequent contact with your employees.
Invest in tools
Keeping everyone connected both within and outside your business today requires a digital footprint. To be able to get information in a timely manner, make and share decisions immediately and solve problems via technology requires an investment. For most businesses, it’s a ‘must have’ for the team to survive, let alone thrive.
Set ground rules
In a hybrid workforce, where not all employees are in the same physical space, it’s necessary to establish what’s acceptable and unacceptable. For instance, attendance at team meetings is a requirement of their job and not something that folks can opt-out of. Make meeting agendas mandatory, so that everyone understands the purpose, their role and how to come prepared.
Review how work is being done and identify processes that need to be modified. For example, your supplier or customer processes may require an update to better align with the hybrid work model. I’m also including processes that govern how your employees work. For example, if you haven’t already done so, offer flexible working arrangements for those who need to care for family members and loved ones. Engage team members by creating task forces that can recommend improvements.
One-on-one conversations can help employees remain motivated and will help you keep a finger on the pulse. Regular touchpoints can minimize workplace conflict before it escalates. Depending on the size of your team (especially your direct reports), schedule a weekly or biweekly fifteen-minute catch-up. The idea here is to directly hear from them about their work and how they’re doing. You can keep it informal or focus on a certain topic such as celebrating wins or generating new ideas. Allow time for some fun, such as scheduling a virtual monthly happy hour. It’s so important to ensure that your team members feel included and that they feel part of a greater picture. The human need to belong cannot be underestimated.
It’s not uncommon to hear that people are putting in more hours because they now work remotely. (By the way, if you’re sending endless emails over the weekend, your employees will think that you’re expecting them to do the same!) This invariably creates stress and undue tension within the team. It’s healthy to encourage your employees to ‘shut down’ and unwind. Being connected to the laptop and other devices for hours on end never bodes well for anyone’s mental or physical health. As a leader, you’re in the best position to model the right behaviour. For instance, you could suggest no meetings on Friday afternoons and instead encourage your team to invest time into their professional development, complete any administrative tasks or plan for the upcoming week.
Don’t get too comfortable with the status quo. None of us can predict what the workplace will look like in a year. Getting the team to comfortably pivot is something that not all managers have had to face before. Make the topic of ‘being a change agent’ and ‘dealing with change’ part of your everyday lingo.
We may never go back to the way work was done before – so it’s prudent to plan, take action and measure the success of your hybrid work arrangements. As more and more companies offer flexible work practices, it isn’t surprising to see the rise in employees leaving for greener pastures. Yes, the grass may not be greener on the other side but consider the cost of losing employees and the disruption to your business. Plan ahead to be ahead!
We’re Vas and Sobha Nair, two sisters that have lived and breathed all aspects of human resources for over 50 years between us. Giraffe was born from our global experience coaching leaders and business owners navigate the same tricky workplace issues and discussions that you face. We know the best practices and proven processes that help turn workplace conflict on its head – and we want to share all of this and more with you in Giraffe.