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Can you force your team to come back to the office? The Hybrid Workplace

One thing the Covid pandemic has highlighted is that uncertainty, across a multitude of areas in both our personal and professional lives, is here to stay for the foreseeable future. What is certain, is that in the workplace, how things were done previously has changed forever.

The hybrid work environment has emerged from the fog of 2020 as a workplace reality. However, it is a reality that must be managed and structured with intentionality and clear purpose. The culture of any organisation is directly correlated to performance levels. Indeed, recent research from the US has highlighted that organisations who score strongly on culture are 32% more likely to have highly engaged staff and 97% more likely to experience high organisational performance. Culture is critical.

At Performance By Design (PBD), our overarching message is ‘Don’t Leave Your Culture to Chance.’ Organisations need to be intentional about creating and maintaining a culture and environment where there is a clear set of values and agreed behaviours by which team members are held accountable. The question many organisations are now facing is how to build and maintain a high-performing and effective culture within the context of the hybrid work model.

According to Gallup research, pointing to ‘job requirements’ as a reason to bring people back to work, won’t work. Organisations need to highlight the personal, cultural and teamwork benefits of a return to the office. One of our clients from the media industry noted that the office is empty on Monday’s and Fridays, showing that people are choosing to work from home on these days similar to a long weekend.

This situation raises many questions such as:

  1. Are we maintaining levels of productivity within the workplace?
  2. Do we have the required levels of trust and clear expectations with our employees to know they are still delivering on their objectives?
  3. Have we maintained team connection points to continue our relationships and culture?

An organisation’s culture is a reflection of ‘how we do things around here.’ Culture creates a shared experience for employees that is reflected in their collective values and behaviours. In essence, culture comprises the behaviours and attitudes that are recognised, rewarded and challenged on a daily basis. By bringing people back into the office under one banner, employees can more intimately experience the environment, touchpoints, messaging, values and rituals that signal who you are as an organisation.

Another client has instilled a policy of 100% flexibility for 100% of the workforce. This allows each team to decide what connection points are needed across the week and when these will be in person as a team. Our view, is that there is no right answer to the system for each individual team. What is important, is that the team come together and work through the requirements and agree on how the team will operate moving forward as a group. Is it a morning virtual stand-up to start each day? Is it fortnightly half day in person check-ins? Is it mandatory cameras on for all zoom calls? Whatever the case, the team sets the expectations and then each person needs to be held accountable to the agreed process and associated behaviour.

As we have seen with hybrid work, the huge upside is that it enhances flexibility and autonomy. However, the inherent challenge is these benefits can also breed unclear expectations, co-ordination challenges and inequality. Physical proximity and uniting in a shared space bring teams a sense of deepened belonging and connectedness that is missing when working remotely. When working together on-site, it’s easier to see how contributions and collaboration impact the organisation and, ultimately, the customer. It is why a critical feature of maximising both the performance and cultural implications of hybrid work is that leaders must intentionally create safe, authentic and high-performing remote AND in-person workplaces.

The importance of maintaining REAL TALK within the business is critical to maintaining its success. Honest and direct feedback is imperative to developing a high performing team and to reinforcing the business culture. The ratio of positive feedback to constructive feedback of 4:1 allows us to encourage people for displaying expected behaviours, but equally to challenge people when they are not aligning with the business behaviours. REAL TALK is a practiced skill that can’t always wait for a face-to-face encounter. The realities of a hybrid work environment are that virtual conversations have considerably increased, so if someone’s behaviour isn’t in line with the team behaviours the REAL TALK needs to happen in response to that behaviour, either in person or virtually.

When undertaking a PBD workshops, we take teams through the key elements required to design and implement a high performing team, using the 4C’s approach as outlined below:

CLARITY

Who’s doing what and when?

One feature the research has exposed with remote work, is that employees feel individual role clarity and the clear articulation of key organisational goals and objectives has been muddied and even lost.

An effective way to work through the clarity element is to ask the team, what’s working? And what could be improved? These simple questions give everyone in the team a voice and allow the team to start brainstorming ways to work through the potential issues and in doing so, gain role clarity.

COLLABORATION

How are we bringing the team back together?

Collaboration can positively compound innovation and performance productivity. It didn’t stop but inherently changed with the increase in remote work. Remote work makes the co-ordination of highly interdependent tasks more difficult.

As mentioned earlier, the decision of what “hybrid” looks like for each team should be a group decision. Depending on the required output, connection needs to be built into the team’s weekly cadence. Culture moves slowly but must be continually fuelled to ensure that it moves in the right direction and collaboration will aide a positive impact on culture.

COMPASSION

Are we showing genuine care for our teammates?

The PBD process is heavily reliant on intentionally creating an environment where team members feel safe and confident enough to provide opinion, suggestions and feedback without fear of retribution. Feedback, both positive and constructive, should come from a place of care and concern for your teammates’ development and growth.

Our workshops spend strengthening relationships between team members to  develop a deeper understanding of each other, their backgrounds and drivers. This magnifies trust and builds genuine connection and compassion between the team.  Covid has highlighted the importance of compassion, putting yourself in other people’s shoes and asking, ‘how are you going?’.

COMMUNICATION

What’s going on and why?

One of the key downsides, highlighted by research in both the US and Australia, was that workers felt communication lines and cadence was adversely affected by remote work. Many employees felt the casual interactions and meetings that occur naturally when people are in and around the office, made a huge impact in negatively associating remote work with a lack of required communication.

This is where the systems put in place via the PBD program and so important to maintain communication, connection and a high-performance culture.

Leaders bring the workplace value proposition to life by talking with their team members about what returning to work will look like for each individual and the team as a whole. These conversations aren’t easy, they require good cultural foundations of instilled values and behaviours, deep relationships between team members, strong systems and processes in place with clear expectations and outcomes mapped out.

Culture is something that we “do”, and leaders are the people who need to step out in front and show the team what that looks like.