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Hybrid working

Human Resources

New management methods needed as hybrid working goes mainstream 

Published 7 September 2022 in Human Resources • 5 min read

As hybrid working becomes the new norm, managers must find new ways to foster collaboration, digital competency, and employee wellbeing.

The great hybrid working experiment is complete. The result? It works. And most businesses found that employee productivity actually increased – the opposite of what some expected. 

According to our research, 70% of businesses expect hybrid working to be the main model for their offices in the next six to twelve months. But as businesses pivot from experimentation to the norm, some key questions arise. Which tasks can only be done in the office? Are new management models required? How do we ensure that the workers who spend the least time in the office are treated fairly? Is any extra training required? The CHRO must play a strong role in answering these questions and ensuring the success of the business in this new working environment. 

The collaboration conundrum  

Although workers have been more productive in a hybrid setup, other aspects of work have suffered. In particular, many people struggle to work collaboratively with their colleagues from home.  

Managers can assist here. The first step is to segment the subprocesses that comprise a collaborative project, and really think about which tasks can and cannot be done in the office. Often, only the first steps in a collaborative project, which typically involve creative thinking, free-flowing conversation, and idea exchange, need to be done in person. Virtual platforms are better suited to more structured exchanges between people but are not conducive to creativity.  

Once the direction of travel for a collaborative project has been set, it’s perfectly possible for team members to continue to collaborate remotely during execution, but only if they have the appropriate digital tools at their disposal.  

Take the example of creating a pitch deck for a customer. In-person collaboration may be needed to unpick the brief and discuss how to respond. After that, it’s perfectly possible for a team to draft a proposal remotely using collaboration tools. Likewise, the early stages of product development will be much more productive in an in-person environment, where ideas can be freely exchanged. Thereafter, teams can share new product designs virtually and exchange feedback. Of course, in-person interaction may be needed from time to time when projects reach certain milestones or creative differences need to be resolved.  

Therefore, managers must understand when in-person collaboration needs to be injected into a project and proactively organize these sessions. Without proactive management intervention, there is a risk that tasks that should be undertaken in the office may slide into being done remotely, which can lead to poor results.  

Collaboration does not only happen during defined projects. The so-called ‘water cooler moments’, where colleagues converse about work or non-work topics in an unplanned fashion, are vital for sharing ideas and building bonds between team members.  

These serendipitous moments can only happen in the office. Managers cannot, and should not, seek to artificially create these interactions. Instead, they should think about simple ways the office can be redesigned to create more spaces where these conversations can happen. They can also set an expectation that these types of conversations are encouraged and are not viewed negatively as time-wasting.  

Digital training: combine functionality with etiquette 

Working collaboratively in a remote environment is only possible if teams fully understand how to use digital communication and collaboration tools. But in my experience, 95% of employees only know the basics. As a result, people frequently get frustrated and resort to phone calls and text messages when they need to collaborate, which is a suboptimal response. A lack of understanding of the full functionality that platforms such as Teams and Zoom offer leads to shorter and cruder conversations, not the rich and immersive interactive experiences that are needed for genuine collaboration.  

Managers need to ensure that their teams understand the complete suite of functionality at their disposal. But managers themselves may not be fully versed in what these tools have to offer, so they need training too. Therefore, it is often up to the CHRO to design a formal training program and ensure that this is integrated into employee onboarding.  

Hybrid office
The so-called ‘water cooler moments’, where colleagues converse about work or non-work topics in an unplanned fashion, are vital for sharing ideas and building bonds between team members.

It’s also important that employees receive digital etiquette training. People naturally learn how to interact with colleagues and third parties in a face-to-face environment by osmosis. But when everyone has been forced to interact digitally, some refreshers may be needed to institutionalize certain behaviors in the virtual world.  

This does not only apply to short meetings but also at company away-days. For example, a colleague in Florida joined an all-hands day that we held in person in the UK. He joined virtually, and we arranged things so that we could see and hear him on a dedicated iPad. We attached the iPad to a stand so that the iPad was at head height. We were then able to carry him around, and introduce him to people he had not met, and he was able to stand among us. He was carried between groups and meetings and participated in the party later. This is the type of relatively small tactic that can go a long way in making hybrid working function well. The key is to always think creatively. 

Harmonize digital and face-to-face management moments 

Managers need to think carefully about how they engage with those employees who spend most of their time working remotely. The guiding principle should be to maintain the management activities that take place in person as much as possible in a virtual environment. For example, if one-to-one check-ins traditionally took place weekly, then this frequency should be preserved.  

Likewise, the practice and frequency of objective setting and performance monitoring should be maintained. Without this, there is a real risk that a divide will emerge between those that spend the most, and those that spend the least time in the office, with the latter potentially missing out on training and guidance. 

But it’s not enough to just preserve the frequency of meetings. Managers may also need to adopt a different approach to overseeing the work and well-being of their team. For example, signs of being overworked or stressed are much easier to spot in person than via virtual conversations. Therefore, managers may need to adopt a different approach, and ask more probing and sometimes personal questions designed to ensure that they can preserve employee well-being. 

Enter the CHRO  

Managers and team leaders may struggle to help their teams adapt to hybrid working. After all, in many businesses, it’s often the managers that take the longest to get up to speed with new technologies. Therefore, it’s vital that the CHRO steps in to advise managers about best practice in relation to facilitating collaboration, digital training, and more routine management tasks.  

Authors

David Page

Dave Page

Co-Founder & CEO Actual Experience

Dave Page is CEO of Actual Experience, a provider of digital business analytics tools that quantify the impact the digital workplace has on employees and the overall business.

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