Just when you thought you were getting the hang of leading in the virtual world, now organizations are asking you to lead in a hybrid world. Whether that is three days in the office, two days at home, four days in the office, and one day at home, or even a much more flexible version where it is up to the individual. How the hell are we supposed to find the right way forward?
It is now that we need to practice stop, pause, reflect, engage.
We know our working landscape has shifted unimaginably during COVID-19. We also know, that despite the terrible things that have happened and are happening with the Pandemic, great things have emerged out of the crisis. More time with our families, no commute (not many people I talk to have missed the commute), being able to balance global calls throughout the day whilst still taking the kids to school or getting a workout in. There has been a new rhythm to our work and lives.
But, there have been enormous impacts on wellbeing, mental health, and stress levels too. Certain groups have missed the social connection and the buzz of overheard conversations or snatched conversations in the office. As a hugger, I have missed seeing close colleagues and that daily, weekly hug.
We have all made enormous adjustments to our systems and habits to keep the ship sailing. We are learning something new nearly every day and learning fast!
We have energized our teams from afar, communicated effectively online, found a way to replace water-cooler conversations (to a certain extent), and in many cases been more successful than before in our work as a team.
We have grappled with broadband failure, new technology, Zoom fatigue, the joys of Microsoft Teams, and home life distractions.
We have encouraged personal interaction, working friendships, navigated through the issues of reduced trust, and dealt with what former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy describes as the “loneliness epidemic”.
And all this has been achieved from a distant, in some cases, makeshift offices set up at home. We have been resourceful and resilient. And just when we thought we have made it, along comes hybrid working and a new set of challenges.
Hybrid working (also known as blended working) allows employees to split their time between attending the workplace and working remotely (typically from home).
Hybrid working will take some getting used to, according to the experts at Harvard Business Review: “Sorting out future work arrangements, and attending to employees’ inevitable anxieties about those arrangements, will require managers to rethink and expand one of strongest proven predictors of team effectiveness: psychological safety…the belief that one can speak up without the risk of punishment or humiliation…working from home and hybrid working makes psychological safety anything but straightforward.”
A VP of sales at a Fortune 100 company described her experience during this time, “The craziest thing happened. I had a matrix of skills for what made a great salesperson in my organization — able to control a room, a lot of energy and charisma, confidence, blah, blah, blah. And it completely flipped during the pandemic. The best salespeople were the ones I had been literally about to fire — these were the quiet ones who would just get on a call with a client and listen.”
Now take your findings of WFH and consider bedding in a hybrid working culture going forward.
Martine Haas, Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania takes up the story: “Managers have to navigate a new normal in the hybrid workplace. They must recognize that each employee will differ in hybrid competence and need different support from the boss. Managers also have to be vigilant about worker visibility. They shouldn’t rely on — or reward — only the employees who are with them in the office. Be conscious that they don’t evaluate people using criteria that are based on unfair standards, like whether or not they’re highly visible to you all the time. It’s very easy for us to say that somebody we see all the time must be working harder than somebody who we don’t see.”
Many companies are embracing remote working but are not losing sight of the importance of returning to an office. Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, recently announced a hybrid model, with staff spending about three days in the office “and two days wherever they work best”, similar to the approach adopted by Amazon. However, he added that once the pandemic is over “we will be able to come back together in our offices to see all the people we have missed”.
Haas concludes that the hybrid workplace will be standard for some time, especially because the pandemic accelerated an existing trend toward remote work. But whether the hybrid model becomes permanent is the “million-dollar question.”
The jury may be out on the future of hybrid working but for now, you should plan for a form of blended working for some time to come.
Don’t know where to start, here are 10 steps to help you as a leader, navigate the new hybrid environments.
Want to future-proof your team. Speak to the P2 team about our Hybrid Working Leadership Workouts.