As the Government asks us all to go back to work if we can, the 65% of British workers might take offense, as they have been working throughout the pandemic, just not in the office. Key workers were working anyway, albeit in challenging conditions. In June 2020, approx 25% were on furlough. What is being asked is for us to return to the physical location of work, the site, the office or other settings. The empty cities and office blocks is certaintly having a devestating impact on the economy, as retail, hospitality and tourism industries are in real danger of collapse. So what might the future look like in a post-pandemic world?
A hybrid model maybe the new normal, not just for the short term. 75% of respondents to our linkedin survey said that they would actively look for roles in the future that would allow flexibility and choice around remote/onsite working. As an advovate of liberated teams focused on outcomes, grounded in trust, autonomy and freedom, this seems like the perfect answer. Businesses can reduce their office space, reducing operating costs and have greater access to talent, increased productivity and an increased employee experience. Everything #LeaderX wants. But is it all sunshine and roses?
While these potential benefits are huge and very appealing, the data shows us that there is generally an uplift in productivity, it's actually alot harder to lead a liberated team long term than we think. Many companies, like Yahoo and HP Inc have trialled the hybrid approach and found some major issues that need to be considered before going down this route. I believe there is always a solution, we as leaders need to find the right one for us.
I know how hard it is to manage a team where some of your team are located on site, the others either remotley or on other sites. Those whon youn interact with more frequently with will naturally have greater insights into your thinking, collaborate more or even have more influence. It is easy to let two organisational cultures emerge, those who are "in" and those who are "out". The proximity and connected relationships dominate and team cohesion erodes. In creeps mistrust, politics, and competition for influence. Remote workers can feel isolated, disengaged and exlcuded (unintentionally). So teamwork, inclusion and connection must remain a strategic and cultural priority for a hybrid model to work. The sense of belonging, common purpose, and shared identity must be held sacred, invested in and a focus for all leaders.
Developing your people
Now after 20 years of working, dai;ly interactions, shadowing and observing others, you have a lot of experience. This means you are more than capable of working autonomously at home. But take a moment to think how advanced your experience would be had you not had access to learn from others. Those people entering your business, or even entering work for the first time will not have the rich development experience of observing, listening, and being involved in day to day discussions of the open plan office or off the cuff meetings and chats.
To develop your people in a hybrid model you need to focus on quality learning. Share insights, continue with face to face workshops, create peer to peer learning calls, invest in mentorship, invite them to calls to simply observe discussions, be a coach and make inclusion a priority. Look at how you can create collaborative learning spaces, online, in person. Sharepoints, google docs, apps and good old fashined phone calls add real diversity and depth to the learning experience. You need to think differently and invest in a new way of developing talent.
Isolation is real. It impacts mental health, perfomance and can have devesating long term effects on a person, and on a culture. Continue with your daily team huddles, your weekly meetings, but encourage you team members to connect on a more human level with each member of the team. Make it part of the behaviours and culture - one team approach. As soon as you can, start your face to face sessions, whether that's a monthly meeting, a quartely offsite development day or a six monthly strategy session. It is the moments we share, virtually and in person that builds connection, trust and collaboration. Make it your leadership priority to connect. Include others in finding the solutions - ask them what they need and don't assume. You must be present, and thus role model connection as a cultural norm.
Now is the time to rethink, reinvent and create a plan to design your organisation of the future. Get clear on what you want to keep and what you want to stop. Share your vision and be clear about your purpose.
You have a great opportunity to start afresh and build the organisation you had always dreamed about. You can build your legacy and allow a new shared culture to emerge. One where your people feel connected, engaged, empowered and included. You can create the psychological saftey so people are free to do their best work, feel a sense of belonging and become loyal advocates for your brand. Whether that is onsite, remotely or a mix - as an organistion you make a strategic choice.