After 18 months of widespread homeworking, leaders face the complex challenge of balancing employee needs and preferences alongside organisational and team priorities. With two thirds of organisations looking to implement hybrid strategies (CIPD, 2021), it is vital that we turn our attentions to finding that ‘hybrid’ sweet spot, blending the best of both home and office-based worlds, and promoting ongoing flexibility.
Every team will have its own quirks and nuances; however, our research has identified five common essential ingredients that support effective hybrid working and could offer a focus for those looking to navigate their organisations successfully through this transition: Building a climate of trust, showing compassion, cultivating connection, providing clarity and communicating effectively.
Building a CLIMATE OF TRUST
Trust is critical to effective teamwork, and its role is amplified in hybrid teams where co-workers need to rely on one another with less visibility. Without a climate of trust there is also a heightened risk that it is less safe for people to speak up, raise a new idea, ask for help, and admit a mistake without fear of judgment or negative consequences. Cultivating psychological safety within the team therefore becomes of paramount importance, not only for wellbeing but for performance. Every individual needs to feel that they are trusted to work autonomously, that their performance is being judged on outcomes versus hours or working patterns. They also need to feel confident to raise their head above the parapet, ask for help when needed and find ways to ensure that their own needs are met. A climate of trust is more likely when leaders prioritise the remaining four C’s of compassion, connection, clarity and communication.
Showing COMPASSION towards yourself and others
With all the flexibility benefits that homeworking brings, it is a double-edged sword and for many, the blurred boundaries between work and personal life, and the tendency to be ‘always on’ has taken a heavy toll on employee wellbeing. In the hybrid world, many personal burdens and anxieties go unseen. More than ever before it is imperative to lead with compassion, directed both inwards and outwards. How do we judge ourselves when we make a mistake? Do we show others kindness and understanding when they get things wrong? Increasingly research shows compassion has a role in the workplace: protecting mental health through buffering the impact of the stressors around us.
Cultivating CONNECTION and a sense of belonging for all
Despite a myriad of tools and technologies set up to ensure consistent (or even excessive) connection to our colleagues, many feel a sense of isolation and miss the serendipity of watercooler conversations, which previously acted as a natural backdrop to our office existence. Having missed these opportunities for an extended period of time, many people report feeling disconnected; impacting not only working relationships but also mental health and wellbeing.
In the hybrid world, there is the additional risk of an ‘us and them’ mentality – albeit often unintentional – between office-based versus homeworking colleagues. The shared context and sense of tribe between collocated staff, who do get to enjoy regular opportunities for ad hoc chit chat and side conversations, can amplify feelings of exclusion and disconnection from those who are dispersed. As we bring people together at different times in different ways, we need to have a dual lens on social connection: maximising opportunities for informal conversations when people are in the office but at the same time continuing to create space in the virtual space for social connection.
Providing CLARITY and direction
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Our external world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and this is challenge is amplified within remote or hybrid teams where co-workers are often dispersed and lack the implicit information, cues, and feedback that a collocated team environment provides. Having increased freedom to work independently from home can be hugely motivating, but if you are unclear on your goals or how to access information or resources, and do not have someone to tap on the shoulder and ask – this freedom can be debilitating and lead to mistakes, duplication, and heightened anxiety. When people are depleted and struggling with their mental health, clarity over tasks and expectations can help to build their self-confidence and keep them on track. Leaders can use this transition to a new way of working as an opportunity to revisit goals and expectations to make sure that everyone is clear on their role and responsibilities.
Driving effective COMMUNICATION
There is no shortage of tools for communicating in the hybrid world, however, our chosen mode in the moment can sometimes be haphazard, intrusive, biased towards our own preference, and/or out of keeping with the content or intention of the message. Transitioning to hybrid working, even if team members are continuing in the same jobs, requires a fresh look at the way they communicate – with one another and with wider stakeholders. Blindly relying on old ways or defaulting to individual styles and preferences can become a huge source of conflict within a hybrid team. Reviewing how you communicate together as a team to consider whether you have the right balance of email, phone, instant chat, video calls, in-person meets etc. and identifying common communication challenges and their root cause(s) is likely to improve effectiveness and wellbeing.
Taking time to agree a common set of ground rules as a team, which can be reviewed periodically, will set teams up for success.
The road ahead will present twists and turns for every organisation, with many trialling hybrid working approaches for the first time. Organisations that adopt a test-and-learn approach, where leaders experiment and listen to employee feedback, will be well positioned to thrive in the long run. With continued unpredictability ahead, considering how the 5C’s can be embedded in every day working practices will help to make sure every individual feels safe and supported to do their best work in a hybrid world.
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Jo Yarker will be facilitating a roundtable at the fourth annualMAD World Summit on Thursday 21st October, in-person at 133 Houndsditch in Central London. The Summit is the go-to event for employers who want to Make A Difference to workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing. For more information visit the event agenda or to book visit the booking page.