Leading in the new hybrid workplace
We are in the middle of global pandemic where leaders are challenged and tested in a way never seen in our lifetime. How leaders respond, how they inspire hope and engage in collaborative dialogue or not, will become their legacy. Leadership matters more than ever. That’s a fact.
Through the summer, following lockdowns and recommendations all around the world to work from home, business and political leaders have been trying to figure out how to make the ‘new normal’ of being back at work will look like.
What we know for sure is that autumn 2020 brings a new way of working, a ‘new normal’ where some people are not expecting to be back in an office until 2021 or even later, while some people are slowly starting to go back now.
This brings a number of challenges for leaders to consider:
- Some people worry about going back, because of the contagion risk
- Some people wish they could go back, as they are finding it challenging (e.g. poor work environment) or lonely to work at home, or both
- Some people have concerns about losing their jobs as a result of the economic downturn
- The pandemic, in some instances, has caused mental health issues for people.
- Having onsite team members and offsite team members, can create two disparate groups, where those offsite can feel particularly left outside the perceived ‘main circle’.
- Keeping team trust high and not causing a divide and sub-groups or cliques
- Keeping team energy and engagement high, while not assuming those in the room are engaged and those who are not are not
- Moving from online to in person – does it feel different now?
Here are some things to think about, solutions to deploy to make the return to the ‘new normal’ a success
Think about people first. Everything else can take second place.
Look to yourself. How you behave, how you show up will impact people around you. Take the time to center yourself, putting yourself in a good state of mind. Leadership is contagious so lead yourself first.
Focus on physical safety, including ensuring that people can work while still keeping the social distancing that is needed to reduce the risk of infection. Be very clear what those arrangements are, that everyone understands them and why they are important and need to be followed.
Make inclusivity your top focus during this time in particular. Include everyone equally, regardless of where they are based or any other differentiator. This is the time to show through actions and behaviours that you are serious about having an inclusive workplace, an inclusive culture where people connect and engage with each other and be creative together.
In a recent global poll, we asked leaders what their biggest leadership challenges during the pandemic is and the second biggest challenge came out as: Missing being with people and interpersonal aspects of that. Yes, people are social beings, so put extra effort into those interpersonal moments, especially for those who are still working remotely.
Involve your team in creating the practicalities of hybrid working; discuss and agree how to work together and how to support each other. Be proactive about it. Focus on output, not input. When you have people working remotely, you must trust them to deliver without micro-managing.
Create an environment of psychological safety. It’s always been important, but even more so now. The challenges are not over and everyone will need to be able to communicate and collaborate with each other, respectfully challenge each other in dialogue to identify issues and create solutions. And for people to want to do that, they need to feel safe to speak up, to share their thoughts, to try, fail and learn (fast) and move on. How you respond when people have the courage to speak their mind makes all the difference.
This can be a time for contention and potential conflict – Allow, encourage people to talk about their concerns, recognising that these disruptive times can be very stressful and that not everyone will react the same way. Just talking about a problem or concern, expressing how someone feels helps to ease said concern, it’s a good first step. And you can then support them in building strength and resilience to find the solutions they need. You need to make time and space for this in a virtual and office mixed world. So, ensure you have regular informal check in points.
Build and work on Team Trust. The team dinners, chats and water cooler conversations are harder in this mixed virtual/office world, so recreate that by doing things like having stand up meetings with people in the office together (safely socially distanced) and include those working virtually by linking them in using a form of technology. Get the office and virtual world mixed. Have some meetings that are ‘just’ social check-ins. As most of us have been working in the virtual world we are much more aware of the impact we have when on line so when we go back into a work space we now have a new perspective on it so people are likely more respectful and perceptive of those in the room and those on line than before.
Make sure you all have the digital tools that will allow you to collaborate and communicate across the hybrid (remote and office) workplace.
When working from home, the work and home life gets blurred. Help people overcome that by not sending emails around the clock. Be a role model for a healthy work/life integration.
To pick up on the office/work ‘vibe’ you will need to carry out and put into the calendar more informal 1 to 1 time to fill in the gaps and the void that the virtual /office mixed environment creates. Use the informal check-ins to pick up on how people feel, what they think and what they need.
Like with everything else, this ‘new normal’ will not just be plain sailing. And that’s OK. Be intentional in your leadership of it, allow enough time in your busy schedule to manage the ‘new normal’. It’s inevitable that you and your team will try things out (how to work) and realise that it didn’t turn out exactly the way you wanted it to. And keep in mind that the ‘new normal’ will keep changing. We don’t know what it will look like in a year’s time and beyond. The power lies in exploring that together and learning together. Your role is to lead your team through that.