How to Hybrid: 8 Tips for Leaders
Believe it or not, it has been 18 months since we developed a new vocabulary courtesy of COVID-19. It’s hard to imagine a time where you wouldn’t hear people proudly proclaiming ‘it’s ok, I’m double-vaxed!’. And now we have hybrid: the latest addition to the COVID-19 lexicon, the word we have landed on to describe the happy medium between working exclusively at home or in the office.
It’s been an empowering revelation to realise that actually, it’s not necessary to be in the office 5 days a week, commuting 2 hours a day on a packed tube. Instead, we can do a solid day’s work at home and still be around in time to cook tea for the children, walk the dog or pop to the gym. That’s a small but priceless change to my personal routine and I’m relishing it.
This story is the same for countless others. Workers around the world have had their eyes opened to a ‘New Normal’ and they don’t want to go back to the frenetic, 5 day a week office presenteeism they’ve happily left behind. So what can we do as employers to embrace this trend and realise the benefits for our people? Consider these tips as to get you started:
1. Set out a clear policy on what hybrid working means for your organisation
If your people do the kind of work that can be done well from home, expect them to start pushing for more flexible working arrangements. Some will not be ready to come back to the office at all, others will be jumping at the chance. It’s worth taking a fresh look at your flexible working policy for this next stage and re-issuing it so you’re clear and consistent with people on how often you would want to see them coming to the office. Several employers have settled on a 2-2-1 approach (two days in the office, two days at home and one day of choice). Others are comfortable with full-time home working; some will call people back if the content of their work demands it. Be clear where the line is for you and let people know up front.
2. Ask people what they want and make it happen (within reason)
Exploring a hybrid model presents a valuable opportunity to open a conversation with your people on their individual needs and comfort levels when it comes to returning to the office. Your employees have multiple identities: they are parents, carers, live with disabilities, physical or mental health challenges. Take this into account when you’re consulting them and most importantly show people you’re listening to how they are feeling and that you intend to act on their suggestions. Let them know they have been heard, and you will earn their trust. If you give your employees a voice, people will be more open to compromise on their individual preferences if the organisation needs it down the line. When it comes to hybrid it’s not just the action you take that matters, but the way in which you involve and empower your people that will ensure smooth transitions going forward.
3. Acknowledge that the office now has a different purpose
We have seen a shift towards work being an activity that can be done anywhere, with performance measured by impact and outcomes, rather than presenteeism and hours worked. This changes the purpose of the office from ‘A place where work gets done’ to ‘A place where people connect’. And this demands a different space, layout and facilities. It’s harder to build trust, rapport and work friendships virtually, so it’s still important to provide the creative physical spaces where people can have those water cooler chats and shared experiences. Give up some of those long banks of desks that assume 80-100% occupancy and offer more meeting rooms, engaging social spaces, hot-desks and co-creation areas. Tech, furniture and even the lighting are important to get right, so people feel they can innovate and create in the time they are physically together.
4. Equip leaders and their teams with the skills to lead virtually
Don’t expect a new way of working just to evolve, organically. Instead, be deliberate about it. Make sure you’re giving people the best virtual tools to connect, collaborate and create together and show them how to use them. When teams are split between the office and their homes, building a shared sense of purpose calls for leaders to have new skills. You will need to support, coach and develop them as they learn to lead hybrid teams effectively. As they won’t be around to look over people’s shoulders whilst they work, they’ll have to get much clearer and smarter about setting performance expectations too; regularly checking in with people and rewarding and recognising great work based on performance outcomes.
5. Make employee wellbeing a priority
Unsurprisingly, the last year has taken a severe toll on employee resilience and wellbeing. Younger members of the team, who often thrive on social interaction, will have missed out on the buzz of the office, not to mention the valuable learning that in-person shadowing provides. Home working also risks an ‘always on’ dynamic, with work and home boundaries blurring and some demanding managers expecting people to be available beyond the usual working hours. Managers will need to lead by example and create the psychological safety for employees to set their own limits and practice self-care behaviours. Expect more people to need mental health support as they process the onslaught of stress from the past year. Boost your wellbeing programme to proactively spot those who are struggling, whether that’s CBT, coaching or simply a friendly ear to listen.
6. Dial-up your communications
When you are in the office it’s easy to feel in tune with what’s going on. Even exclusive home working created a level playing field with regards to knowledge sharing. With a hybrid model, impromptu meetings and corridor conversations will restart for those coming into work, so you will need to work even harder to strengthen channels of communication between the home and office. Get on the front foot with this with a communication plan and be proactive about the drumbeat of conversations you’re going to establish with your team. Write out to them regularly, with updates on progress, highlights and achievements and recognising their successes. Set up weekly virtual team meetings and make sure everyone has 1:1’s with their manager in place so they feel supported.
7. Make room for the moments that matter
Research shows that home working can increase productivity as many are able to manage their time better and deliver focused work, with fewer distractions at home. But, for some this has come at the expense of critical conversations that do not centre around day-to-day work. It’s a moment that matters. Like the brilliant onboarding session I had recently with our founders. They shared stories of what it meant to be Wondrous and encouraged us to get to know each other as a team – what really makes us tick. As we continue to work virtually, don’t be tempted to short-cut these critical moments in your employees’ experience of work. To love their work, people need laughter, fun, friendship and good old-fashioned frivolity. Whilst it can feel a bit weird at first, it is possible to do this virtually. Map out these moments that matter and make time for people to come together, virtually or physically, to feel that human connection.
8. Adapt, learn, evolve
Who knows what is around the corner? Things have been very fluid and are likely to be that way for a while to come. So, expect to keep reviewing how you and your team are working, be ready to adapt and change as the circumstances change and most importantly of all let your people guide you in what works for them. They will tell you what they need to work most effectively and succeed – if you take the time to ask them – listen to what they have to say and involve them in changing things for the better.
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The Wondrous team call upon individuals and organisations to challenge the workplace biases continually faced by women and exacerbated by COVID-19.
With over 20 years in senior strategic roles at RGP, KPMG, Hedra and Hitachi Vantara, Mark brings a wealth of experience to the Wondrous table.