Hybrid working will be the norm going forwards but at a cost.
It will be the norm because it has proved more effective, and popular with employees, than anyone expected and because of intermittent work from home government directives.
In many organizations productivity is higher, whilst costs have been reduced. Individuals report the benefits of increased flexibility and autonomy to manage their lives at home, whilst avoiding the trudge and cost of the commute.
However, hybrid and remote working has reduced face to face contact, which in turn has eroded the informal bonds between people. The tribal sense of belonging, of being amongst people engaged in a common endeavour, has been compromised.
This has shown itself in two ways.
1. Resolving Challenges and Conflict
Whilst functional and frequently reinforced relationships work well remotely, when conflict arises, remote working makes it harder to overcome. And this is where the face-to-face contact matters; it’s an opportunity to reconnect at a human level and re-confirm that this person may have a different perspective or view, but fundamentally we’re working together on the same thing.
In a recent (face to face) keynote, we asked participants how many teams they were a member of. 3-5 was typical, and some had more than 10. Many organizations work in a matrix of project teams, where contact can be fleeting. In this setting, with teams other than your most immediate team(s), it can be harder to build high performance relationships remotely, especially relationships resilient enough to deal with mistakes, problems, and setbacks (without defensiveness and blame creeping in).
2. Stretched Boundaries, Stressed People
At the same time, hybrid working has created expectations of faster response times, and the tricky challenge to maintain effective boundaries between ‘home time’, switched off from work, and ‘work time’ where one can fully focus away from domestic demands.
This blurring has increased the load and stress levels, especially for those with more domestic childcare responsibilities.
Add to this the waters we are all swimming in now, of greater uncertainty of personal health and freedom to move around, let alone the uncertainties of climate and unstable geopolitics. Increased background stress levels decrease the psychological flexibility needed to engage productively with conflict and difference.
Impact on teams
What does this mean for teams? Individual and smaller teams are often working as well if not better in hybrid form, but larger teams and sub-teams are often struggling to maintain the level of psychological safety and trust that continues to build high performance.
Similarly, in teams needing to work with other teams across the organization, this capability has been eroded, and relationships can be more fragile.
So What Should You Do?
We believe leaders need to fully embrace their role as team coaches, leaders of the culture, navigators of uncertainty, clearly building pictures of success in the short and medium term and creating a strong and safe high-performance environment.
For some this is a small tweak. For others it’s a larger move, away from leading solely as a functional expert, or as an overly laissez-faire leader who lets people get on with things.
Doing as you have always done, or doing nothing, in response to the new hybrid landscape, risks teams becoming, at best, high performing within only their own silo.
You won’t have time to do everything. Make a plan, and make sure it includes 3 and 4 in the checklist below. Every hybrid team has to know what success looks like and their key relationships to invest in, to be fully charged and deliver the goods.
Quick Team Leader Checklist – Do you have:
- Clarity about individual team members motivation and wellbeing. Their individual ‘Why’s’. Leaders need to consciously dial this up amongst their priorities.
- Clarity about the team’s purpose and reason for existing within the organisation.
- Clarity about what success looks like for the team in the short and medium term.
- Clarity about key relationships that must perform well within the team, but importantly beyond the team, and between this team and others.
- A thoughtful approach to how to use time together in the office as productively as possible.
- Proactive and continued exploration, experimentation and learning (no-one has taught leaders how to lead in a hybrid model).
- A willingness to enhance your credibility and trust by sharing your view with their teams without claiming to know all the answers.