Hybrid working: what leaders really think about

Leaders are focusing on strategy right now and a key question they are asking is, “how are we going to work in the future?”

It's a topic that seems to be coming up again and again at the moment because leaders are really struggling to figure out how we are going to get people “back to work” and what that even means.

  • What is it going to look like?
  • When do we do it?
  • How will we maintain the social distancing?
  • What are we going to do about our lease?
  • Do we sell our properties?

So many questions that are going around leaders heads

I remember when lean and six sigma were the buzzwords. Then it went to agile and Scrum and flexible benefits. All of those approaches are completely relevant today, but new buzzwords have taken over. 2020 was the year when remote working, furlough, R-rates and zoom fatigue came into our common language. Our focus shifted and now, in 2021, hybrid working is the phrase on everyone's lips and occupying everyone's minds.

Now, hybrid isn't just being seen as the Saviour of the 21st century workplace. It is changing the way that people think about what they do, and what makes them happy. And these are really some quite deep questions, not just for leaders, but for everybody. They are having those thoughts which turn into conversations with their friends, partners, parents, and colleagues. Recruiters are already finding it really hard to place talent in roles that are either 100%, remote, or 100% On site. We have all done both, and neither is the perfect solution for everyone.

So, is hybrid really the answer?

Well, it could be, yet it is actually not that simple. Hybrid is a mix of working from anywhere (not just home) and from the office. It feels like freedom. It feels like empowerment. It feels like choice. Yet some people just don't want to be away from the office and their colleagues. Some people do not want to be in a place of work or do that daily commute or be stuck for eight hours a day under some kind of contract. Some people don't want to have a choice either and prefer to be instructed. People are all different. What suits you now might not suit you in a year from now. I was happy to commute until I had a family. When the kids were home schooling, I wish I had somewhere to go and hide. Some people don’t have a choice because the work they do cannot be done from the local coffee shop or their garden. Let’s face it, sometimes having choice is actually really tough. Look how many options you have on your TV right now, yet you can’t find anything to watch. Choice can be overwhelming and makes the decision making even harder and can lead to more stress.

How do you policy freedom?

If hybrid working is going to be the thing that you do in your organisation, you are going to need a policy around it, some kind of rules and some boundaries. Do you get everyone in on the same day? If you have given people freedom to choose where they work, can you mandate it when you want people to come in? Do you have to give notice? Can you force people in on certain days and, and for how long they've got to be there, which desks they're going to use? The decision about who can work remotely and what proportion of their time needs some structure.  Too much structure and rules and people will feel a sense of empowerment and freedom, too little and it is chaos. You have also got to remember to be fair and consistent. If you have given people choice and not others, is it going to cause some resentment? What if one manager wants everybody in all the time another manager is really laissez faire about it?

The answer is you need to engage others in the conversation. You need to find out how they want to work, what suits them what is going on in their personal lives. Find out what their fears are together co create an approach that feels fair for all. It might differ workplace to workplace industries, industry leader to leader, no one company is the same.

And that is why I don't want to give you a list of things that you must do. All I will say is that you must listen to what your people want and consider it.  Get clear on what you want as a leader, and as an individual, the kind of work that you actually do, the culture that you want the work done in and find a way to make it work. Make sure that all of your managers are on board, then understand what is right for your organisation.

Know that you are not going to get it right straightaway. You may need to trial it first, adapt and change.

You might think three days in the office two days out works, but then find individuals prefer to pick and choose when they are in. You might choose to keep working zones, only to find they are unoccupied, so flexible spaces are the answer. Office redesign might be your priority, more working hubs, more collaborative spaces. It could be really, really powerful in knocking down all those departmental silos. One day you could be working with Jodie from marketing, and next day, you are sat next to Max from finance. It is a really great way to work collaboratively. Those informal formal networks grow, and you learn more about others, their work and functions. You might decide that one day per month might be the solution where everyone in your team comes together for a team day. It might be a meeting or just an idea creation session or social time where you all go for lunch together or go for a walk together.

You might form co working spaces in key locations are the answer. Therefore, buying credits for flexible desks might be the answer.

What is more likely is that you will have some people online, some people in the room. Honestly, facilitating that kind of meetings is hard. It is a skill that you're going to have to learn. There is no one way to do hybrid. Every company and every culture will be different. It is going to cause you to rethink how jobs are actually done and how work is structured, how to lead those projects, how you get the day-to-day routine jobs done. You might even find some tasks become redundant in the new world replaced by AI. The way in which you communicate, collaborate and share will need updating to accommodate the changes. It is all about being flexible.

And this is what LeaderX does really well. They value autonomy, and relationships and the experience of work and trying to make it fun and meaningful. They build their organisations around those values, and hire based on those qualities. Their organisations play with different scenarios and find the best way to move forward. You might need to craft roles and responsibilities to best meet the needs of the customer, yourself and your people. Nothing is static, not even job descriptions. Focus on outcomes, values and behaviours. Some parts of the job might be done at home, some you might be able to let them be in the park, others you might need to be in a workshop or on a production line physically in the place. Look at what work can be done, by whom and where.

So, plan all those activities, allow for the flow and create environments where everybody can show up and be at their best. Online planning tools, collaboration tools, like Trello, or Slack, Google Docs, Mondays need to be considered. Test your tech stack and your communication stack and see if it is fit for purpose in a hybrid world.

How you will you manage performance? Move away from this presenteeism and micromanagement mindset and shift to being a servant leader. Your shift needs to be more around daily performance or that weekly conversations focusing on deliverables. That means you need to be clear on deliverables in your delegation. Be clear about who is doing what by when, and what does good look like. If you are not being clear about those, then don't be surprised if people are doing different tasks, or it doesn't look what like what you imagined it to be. You need to monitor the outputs, the behaviours, keep a record and assess performance. Deal with the issues in real time, not until you next see them back in the office. If something is not working, choose the right channel of communication and act on it. When things go well, praise them. Make it meaningful, with context and make it timely. Your performance management becomes more about coaching and mentoring and supporting colleagues and peers to deliver.

And then there's wellbeing. It has got to be a big focus in your mind. How do you know how somebody is really doing when you do not see them every day? Let us face it, many managers didn't even know that their employees were doing well if they were sat in front of them anyway. But hybrid working means that you need to be aware of how your people are doing both mentally, physically and emotionally.

  • Are they happy?
  • Are they fulfilled?
  • Are they engaged?
  • Do they wake up motivated to achieve their goals?
  • Are they completely backing the team's mission?
  • Are they aligned?
  • Are they stressed, anxious, disengaged in chaos?
  • Are they not delivering the work?
  • Are they not responding to your emails?
  • Are they missing deadlines?

These are all good indicators that you really need to focus on. Build welfare calls into your work, the more like informal check ins where work is not on the agenda. The purpose is to connect with the person. Ask, “How are you doing?”, “What's on your mind?”, “What do you need from me?” Focus on the human and create the environment where they feel safe to share. You, as a leader, really need to grow your emotional intelligence muscles to notice what is being said and not being said and to have those coaching style conversations.

Onboarding and training

One of the areas that I really struggled with is onboarding new staff, training existing ones, in new ways of working and developing talent. Honestly, if you are excelling in these areas in the old world, then Hybrid won’t be a challenge for you. You just need to rethink how it was delivered. I had to record myself doing all my key tasks on zoom, which meant me narrating over the top of the slides or whatever I was doing. I had to really think about why am I doing this step, what comes next. Back in the day, I'd probably sat with them at their desks, going through the tasks with them really just explaining and asking questions, check back understanding. Now I give them the training and then virtually sit with them when they need me. Find a way that works for your people.

My workshops are a blend of the online portal so leaners can do the modules when they want and need to. There are face to face sessions, phone calls, zoom, WhatsApp chat. The training is hybrid now and will continue to be. The client and I create a process that works for both.

Hybrid is an evolution and revolution. It was thrust upon us and changed the way we work but evolves as we learn more about how we like to work. You need to adapt as a leader, and you need to help others adapt and develop in this new way of working.

Tool Tip

  • Consult your people, peers, customers and suppliers.
  • Collaborate to solve problems.
  • Co-create new solutions together.
  • Get curious about what might work.
  • Be flexible. Things will change. People change.
  • Continually improve. Embed, review, reflect and improve together.

If you need help with any of this, we act as consultants, coaches and team development specialists ton help you get the best results for you and your teams.