Hybrid working represents possibly the greatest shift in work practices since the dawn of the internet. The trend towards spending part of the week at home and part in the office has been described as a “great disruption”. But this label only reflects part of the story. Research by Working Voices USA reveals an underlying mental shift that involves more than giddy HR managers trying to keep up with who’s working where.
Like an iceberg cast adrift from the past, hybrid working is currently floating in a sea of uncertainty. Most companies are still working out what it looks like. On the surface are slippery questions about balancing the needs of leaders and employees. Below, hidden from sight, lie shifting mindsets that have split away from the landscape of traditional work practices.
Jennifer Logue, Director of the Americas at Working Voices, has been working closely with clients in exploring three key themes relating to post-pandemic work practices. These are:
In looking at the broader shape of hybrid working, Jennifer and her team have identified challenges, solutions and trends that suggest this is more than a numbers game. At its heart is a shift in attitudes that points to the shape of things to come.
The onset of change
The pandemic brought sobering realisations about health and frailties. Many people were confronted by change. Teams became siloed, communication was sometimes strained, there was digital exhaustion, ‘Zoom fatigue’ entered the language. Change has hit millions of people, provoking stress and raising the risk of burnout.
Change sparked questions about working from home in the long-term, about offices, commuting and the best place to live. These thoughts were met with a corresponding shift in attitudes among employers, featuring new-found empathy, patience and understanding.
Among employees and leaders, there arose a new sense of awareness. It became accepted that pets might crash Zoom calls and that kids might be heard during virtual meetings. Employees were working in their lounge, kitchen or bedroom; work sometimes had to be juggled alongside home-schooling. Flexibility and understanding on both sides became essential. In short, work became more human.
Seeking psychological safety
Influenced by these shifting mindsets, businesses around the world are moving, perhaps permanently, towards hybrid working. For most, this is a tricky balancing act. Employees’ wishes have to be tempered by the needs of the business. Leaders might need to alter roles and realign people, and time at home may have to be co-ordinated to allow teams to meet in person.
In turn, leaders may need to accept that employees expect what Jennifer Logue refers to as “psychological safety”. Leaders can offer safety by providing both the stability that comes from decisiveness and the empathy that enables flexibility. Hybrid working solutions may evolve over time, employees will need ongoing support if they are to thrive in a business they can be proud of.
Leadership mindset: redefining productivity
The new mindsets underlying hybrid working are complex. How might they work in practice? In looking at “resetting” the future of work, a white paper from the World Economic Forum (WEF), written in collaboration with our partners at Mercer, suggests that managers may come to have “less authority due to the easing of reporting lines.” It also imagines “employees adapting in a more fluid environment with less structure or stability in their roles.”
Leaders and employees together share responsibility for productivity, though this too has been touched by the shift in thinking. In Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, an annual data-driven analysis of global working patterns, CEO Satya Nadella said: “we will need to define productivity much more broadly – inclusive of collaboration, learning, and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker…All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work.”
Broader definitions of productivity help to inform the design of ‘adaptive workplaces’ – fluid environments which take into account various factors, from physical health to management practices. According to consultants Deloitte, people are typically more efficient and effective when they are more engaged in the work they do. And Deloitte believes engagement tends to be at its highest among employees who work remotely 60–80% of the time.
By broadening definitions of productivity to include engagement, organisations can think about how to get the best from their people. For Deloitte, this might involve an adaptive workplace catering “for a workforce that is able to work from anywhere but is empowered to work from where they’re most productive.”
Employee mindset: finding new freedoms
For employees, the shift in mindset opens up new opportunities and freedoms. In looking for control of where and how they work, employees who are unable to find flexibility and empathy in their current role are ready to look elsewhere.
Changing job is easier now than before the pandemic. Employees who are able to work remotely can consider positions around the world. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index found that remote job postings on LinkedIn increased more than five times during the pandemic, and that over 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year.
Alternatively, employees can seek change closer to home. Jennifer Logue encourages clients to focus on those areas at work where they have control, in particular managing their mindset and the way they communicate.
Working Voices training packages
The WEF believes that “companies have a responsibility, and a rare opportunity, to rethink their organizational and workplace structures to invest in their workforces as core drivers of long-term resilience and future success.” In helping clients achieve these objectives, Working Voices offers Flexible Working Practices packages, deliverable at two levels: Leader/Manager and Employee.
Key skills in the Leader’s package:
- Communicating change effectively: informing, energizing, collaborating
- Developing individual leaders’ own delivery styles and methods
- Ensuring alignment with the overall goal
- Inspiring colleagues with humanity, clarity and authenticity
- Understanding different perspectives and concerns
- Teaching managers to coach teams towards success
- Underlining the importance of communicating inclusively
Key skills offered in the Employee’s package:
- Creating a culture of autonomy – based on Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- Fostering psychological safety in teams
- Building and sustaining relationships no matter the working environment
- Focusing on team cohesion first, then on achieving tasks
- Emotional Intelligence competencies
- Practical ways to take account of individual preferences in effective team working
A new landscape in employment practices has evolved over the last 18 months. Change has provoked new thoughts about work, creating a boundary between the ways of the past and the promising future ahead. These courses from Working Voices are a gateway from the old to the new, equipping participants to both navigate the transition to new workplace patterns and to manage them in an uncertain future.