A Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise article, “The Future of Hybrid Work: Overcoming Challenges, Capitalizing on Opportunities,” notes that, “To meet employees’ desire for flexibility, companies will need to bridge gaps in culture, work process, socialization, and personal needs to enhance both remote work as well as in-office arrangements.” As others have opined about the new way of working, a hybrid model can be more challenging than either remote or in person.
Yes, that model may be more difficult, but employees do have that desire for flexibility, and employers can benefit too (for example, with a wider talent pool and potential cost savings in office space and supplies) as well as retain top talent. So, how does an organization deal with the challenges and bridge those gaps the Kenan Institute article discussed?
In “A Guide to Supporting Hybrid Team Leaders,” Chris Coladonato offers guidance on how talent development professionals can help people managers maneuver three critical areas of work:
· Clarity of work and purpose
· Communication and collaboration
· Connection and cohesion
While there are challenges in all these areas in in-office and remote settings, the challenges are somewhat different in a hybrid environment.
Clarity of Work and PurposeWhen colleagues or managers and direct reports aren’t co-located, communication via body language can be missed. For example, a manager may miss the look of confusion or frustration on a direct report’s face. Another example is colleagues may not hear the kitchen conversation about a work project and know its level of prioritization, which may lead to employees working on lower-level priority work projects or multiple people working on the same task, unaware that others are also spending time on it.
What can alleviate these issues?
- A people leader should have regular check-ins with their direct reports during which time they’ll check on projects, priorities, and any challenges the employee may be encountering.
- A manager should spell out team goals and metrics to measure performance and results.
- A people leader should share feedback from external and internal customers.
Communication and CollaborationMany of us struggle with which tools and technology to use when given the many devices we have at our fingertips. Whether chatting, participating in Zoom calls, or sharing via the intranet, the solution is “one where everyone can fully participate, engage, and be heard—whether that’s in a meeting, workshop, or brainstorming session. To ensure inclusivity and effective leadership, people leaders need to be intentional in how and where communications and collaboration take place,” writes Coladonato.
What this looks like in practice:
- The people leader, in consult and agreement with their team, establishes practices regarding communication channels and expectations about responsiveness. Will regular updates be conducted asynchronously via a Teams channel so that everyone knows what others are working on yet not have another meeting added to their calendar that week? Are co-workers asked to get back to each other within two working days?
- The manager should be cognizant of their own biases—proximity or recency, for example—and lead by example. Are they prone to communicate and collaborate with a select few out of habit? That’s likely, but they can catch themselves and expand their collaborative circle.
Connection and CohesionAh, yes, the proverbial watercooler and the many connections it allegedly has made. How can teammates continue to feel a sense of connection with each other even if they don’t see each other and meet up in the office kitchen? Beyond that, how can employees work across departments when they don’t necessarily know what another team is doing?
Coladonato offers a few tips to get members of a hybrid team thinking:
- Remember to recognize and celebrate milestones and victories, however small. “Managers can incorporate a regular agenda item to the weekly team meeting where a different team member shares an anecdote about someone they want to recognize for their help or a job well done.”
- It can feel that career opportunities are unequal in a hybrid work environment. A people manager can facilitate connections by hosting leadership coffee chats or ask a direct report to participate in a special interest group with a leader the employee might otherwise not interact with.
- The team can collaborate to feel a sense of purpose by volunteering. If team members are all within proximity, they might do this in person; otherwise, it could mean employees volunteer separately but on a shared cause then connect to talk about their experience.
The Tie That BindsAn Inc. article, “ 3 in 5 Employees Would Consider Quitting Because of This Reason, Research Says,” states that “The Connection Gap study conducted by Blueboard found that nearly three in five employees would consider leaving their job if they didn't feel connected at work.”
People managers can aid their direct reports in feeling a connection with work, the organization’s mission, and each other through regular touchpoints, using tools effectively, and being intentional.