Through all the conversations I’ve had this week, in various settings and across a mix of my connections and clients, there has been one constant question – are you back to the office yet?
No matter what your choice of news source, you’ll no doubt have come across articles, polls, predictions, and views on what happens next in the journey post-lockdown when it comes to our working environment. If we’re honest, hybrid working has been a topic of conversation for years but of course the enforced necessity of working from home throughout Covid escalated this in a way that was unforeseen.
Now, as we enter Autumn and the traditional ‘back to school and back to work’ reality kicks in, what is really happening and what does it mean for individuals and organisations?
Employers are saying…
On the one hand employers are seeing cost benefits to hybrid working, such as reduction in the financial burden of office space, enhanced productivity from engaged team members working at home, and a greater opportunity to recruit talent without geographical restrictions. Large UK employers have started to commit to a new way of working and are paving the way for this to continue. HSBC has recently confirmed they are fully on board with a hybrid approach for their UK employees, with their CEO Noel Quinn reportedly saying:
“I won’t be in the office five days a week. I think it’s unnecessary. . . It’s the new reality of life”.
However, there is also a conflict with many organisations seemingly asking employees for a return to the office on a larger scale than anticipated. Some businesses are focusing on the challenges with junior team members not being exposed to the everyday learning that takes place in and around an office environment, and others are stating that the company culture and values are diluted without employees being in the office on a regular basis.
But what do employees want?
Depending on the data coming through, the figures are sitting at around 30-40% of employees expecting a level of hybrid working in the future, wanting to work from the office for no more than 3 days a week. Some are happy to remain at home indefinitely and have even relocated during the past 18 months as they explore the new ways of working, experiencing a vastly changed work-life balance. In what’s now being called ‘The Great Resignation’, 41% of the worldwide workforce is reportedly considering quitting their jobs this year, due to an ‘unreasonable’ change to the ways they have become used to working.
Mind the gap…
Whilst this definitive data is there for us all to see, there is clearly some conflict and ambiguity around what is likely to happen in the coming months, with the added challenge of differing opinions (and in some cases bias) being seen across all levels within organisations.
Until an organisation clearly outlines its own policy and starts living that hybrid reality, what can individuals and leaders do to help manage their sometimes-frazzled employees to navigate this next step aloáng the way to normality?
1) Communicate – build relationships
You’ve probably got used to meeting your team virtually over the past months, but have you taken the time to really build a relationship where you start to understand people’s personality, what motivates them, their communication style, and their drivers? Taking the time to learn about your team’s personal life (within boundaries) and asking how they’re doing would be natural in a face to face environment, but will need to be part of a proactive approach when meeting virtually. Using some of the great psychometric tools such as MBTI, Insights or Strengths can really help individuals, and once individuals understand their own behaviour it can help everyone function better as a team.
2) Communicate – lead by example
Set your intentions and live by them. If you’re happy as a leader to empower your team to work remotely then show them your trust, and lead by example. Don’t show up in the office every day at 8.30 or they will question whether it’s really ok for them to be at home or working in the local coffee shop. Be clear about expectations and outcomes and manage performance in the same way you would in the office. But…
3) Communicate – have those difficult conversations
Be prepared that you still must have difficult conversations, and that you can’t use technology as an excuse for conducting them poorly or not at all. Performance issues and constructive feedback should be structured, well balanced, and might be best placed to deliver face to face if that’s an option.
It’s safe to say that the trend towards hybrid working appears mainly to be evolving in a positive light, there isn’t a right or wrong way to approach this. What I can confidently say is that open, honest communication, engaging your teams and being mindful of all the variables will help ease the way, whatever that turns out to be.