What leaders need to consider when working in a hybrid world

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Kiddy & Partners

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While hybrid working remains a somewhat ambiguous concept, it looks as though it will be the way of the future but there are certainly some ‘watch outs’ to be aware of when operating in this new normal. 

Hybrid working, much like flexible working, can offer employees better work-life balance leading to greater well-being and therefore productivity. As organisations look to prepare for a less office-centric way of operating, there are some important considerations to be made.

Support your managers to get the best out of hybrid working

Those who are responsible for managing people will need a lot of support to do their jobs successfully and, in turn, to provide their direct reports and teams with the clarity to grow in their roles while continuing to deliver commercial results. According to research conducted by McKinsey & Company, 57% of organisations leading in the field of virtual and hybrid working have clear expectations on how their managers should lead differently in this context and have provided the training to help those expectations be met. 

This type of development intervention gives managers the opportunity to consider how to manage time and priorities, how change can be driven and how best to communicate and influence effectively in a hybrid setting. We’ve been working with our clients to set their managers up for success in these areas through the delivery of bitesize workshops that can be added to once organisations’ policies on hybrid working continue to emerge.

Keep asynchronous vs. synchronous time in mind

To help your leaders make the most of the hybrid landscape, where certain days may be allocated to home working and others to office working, give them the ability to manage their own time and that of their teams. The best way to approach this is to think about what tasks need to be done at the same time and which don’t and to use this as a guide to when it may be best to work with others at the same time (synchronous) or when deciding which days or blocks of time can be kept meeting free for independent activities (asynchronous).

Asynchronous time - What are the activities that can be completed independently, but may need input from others that isn’t time bound? These are the times when individuals could have more flexibility around when and where they work e.g., some people may prefer to work from the office even if they don’t need to work with others, some may want to work from home as they have been doing since early 2020. 

Synchronous time, same place - What are the activities where collaboration is required which would be most effective when people are in the same place? Humans are social beings and there are many benefits of being together face to face. Verbal and non-verbal behaviours are vital to successful understanding and collaboration among team members or participants at a meeting and some of this can be lost when working over zoom or video conferencing. Synchronous in-person meetings could be the best option when there is a particular challenging scenario that needs to be addressed or a difficult conversation to be had. Of course, this time can also be used to build team relationships and morale on more of a social front 

Synchronous time, different place - What are the activities where collaboration on a task is necessary, but which can be completed effectively through an online meeting? Perhaps these are less critical conversations, more informal regular check ins where, with the added challenge of things like commuting times, it doesn’t seem necessary to be in the same place for the only thirty-minute meeting in the day. This can take the form of zoom or teams calls, where you will get some of those verbal and non-verbal cues, email which will provide the verbal but not the non-verbal cues and online chat which will provide a communication channel, but no verbal or non-verbal cues. 

Above all – think inclusively

No matter how HR and leaders decide to approach hybrid working, the most important thing to remember is: how can this be done in the most inclusive manner? This will require consultation with team members to create hybrid working plans that aim to be consistent, fair and manageable. 

There are clear benefits to being inclusive, not only for individuals, but also for businesses. For example, businesses being led by inclusive leaders are 70% more likely to have captured a new market in the past 12 months. 

There are many ways to cultivate an environment of inclusivity; creating psychological safety in the workplace and especially within teams is a foundational approach designed to foster trust and honesty. This means that team members are able to voice any concerns they may have in relation to work-life pressures, work-style preferences or to have the ability to experiment in their approach to tasks which can lead to greater innovation. 

Questions to consider when conducting a psychological safety audit:

  • If you make a mistake in this team, will it be held against you?
  • Are the members of this team able to bring up problems and tough issues?
  • Do people on this team sometimes reject others for being different?
  • Is it safe to take a risk in this team?
  • Is it difficult to ask other members of this team for help?
  • Would anyone on the team deliberately act in a way that undermines efforts?
  • Working with members of this team, are unique skills and talents valued and utilised?

Concerns to address when we think about inclusivity in a hybrid context 

There are many other concerns to address when we think about inclusivity in a hybrid context and a lot of them are also linked to resilience and wellbeing:

  • Communicate regularly, not just when things go wrong
  • Check your biases, just because some people might choose to come into the office more than others does not mean the former is performing better than the latter 
  • Listen closely and read between the lines
  • Ask more explicitly than you would in the past 
  • Tailor your feedback and communications
  • Make time for social conversations
  • Recognise and respect a team member’s choice to use audio only on video calls
  • Encourage participation from everyone in the ‘room’, especially those you can’t see
  • Connect the team with other departments / networks
  • Help your reports thrive in their roles by investing in their development plans
  • Create space for creativity and experimentation by declaring Fridays as meeting free

Inclusive leadership is not a tick box exercise; it needs constant and deliberate attention. Regularly seeking feedback, providing the space for openness, and encouraging ideas are key to promoting an inclusive work environment, whether in-person, virtual or a mix of the two. 

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