Adapting to Hybrid Working: A Positive Management Perspective

 

In my first blog in this series, I applied a positive leadership lens to the world of hybrid working. As we emerge from the pandemic, organisations everywhere are taking the opportunity to consider whether the future of work might be hybrid, and what that might look like in reality. Managers will be at the heart of any such transformation. It’s the classic ‘jam sandwich’: boots on the ground, executives at the top, and in the middle of it all, the managers, with directors to satisfy, teams to nurture, operations to drive – and now, it seems, yet more changes on the horizon.

So, for all the managers out there who have already given so much to guide their teams through pandemic working, this blog offers a view on:

  • How to lead your team in designing hybrid work strategies with a Positive Working perspective.
  • The role of team charters and team health in building a successful hybrid working model.
  • How to set sustainable conditions for success.
  • Why your own self-care matters, now more than ever

The homeworking ‘experiment’ has been a fascinating experience – but not an easy one. Blurred boundaries, home schooling, social isolation, pets muscling in on conference calls…have all now become common points of cultural reference. Often, they are a collective source of support and humour, celebrating our human capability to see the positive in even the most challenging situations.

Yet, as we start to recover, organisations across the globe are exploring the scope for benefits that may lie in hybrid working. A blended model has the potential to reap rich rewards if properly aligned to the culture, values, and strategy of the organisation.

For hybrid working to work, though, clarity and purpose need to drive the change. The duty largely falls to managers to guide front-line troops as they realise the organisational vision. It is no small task! But, by applying a Positive Working perspective to the job in hand, we can design a meaningful roadmap. Here are some of the points you need to consider when you’re setting out on this journey with your team.

It's time to rethink our time

In my view, one of the biggest opportunities of hybrid working is a re-work of how our working time is meaningfully spent (and measured). Positive Working is, after all, about creating the optimal conditions for people, systems, and culture to thrive together.

Of course, the difference between 2021 and 2020 is the changing circumstances. Then, it was  crisis migration, with necessity driving some delightfully inventive solutions to the ‘safety, space, people, technology’ conundrum. Now, the concept has had time and space to mature, and that has generated new strategic opportunities.

I’m talking about the notion that how we spend our working time is intrinsically connected to where we locate that time.

It is notoriously difficult to make space for deep thinking and reflection during a normal office day. And we’re all familiar with how easily time gets swallowed up by operational tasks. Plus, for years now, business specialists have been discussing the notion of serendipity – those ‘water cooler’ moments where hearts, minds and imagination come together and find new inspiration from incidental interactions.

Hybrid working gives us the chance to think afresh about how we use our time, to ‘do’, to reflect, to benefit from privacy, or to come together. This can’t be dictated - it has to be a collaborative process for people to genuinely buy in to. Which, from the Positive Working perspective, leads me on to…

Developing a healthy team charter

To bring hybrid working to life, design, collaboration, and clear parameters really do matter. Why? Because, if the model is strategically planned, effectively communicated, and backed by the right tools, we create the Positive Working conditions for team health to thrive. For some managers, a strong leadership charter will be forthcoming from above. I have seen some fabulous examples from my clients, articulating exactly what the business needs to excel in hybrid working, and what people need to thrive in that environment. If your leadership is not providing that…well, there may be a case for challenging up and across to encourage that strategic focus, as well as leadership sponsorship and role-modelling of desired behaviours. Regardless, though, you as manager are the voice of this direction at the coalface.

That means acting as the conduit and driver for a clear organisational vision and mission: starting with what the business needs, mapping that to what your teams need to deliver in their roles, and thinking honestly about potential barriers to Positive Working.

Here’s an example:

Manager X agrees with the team that hybrid working will mean three days a week at home, one day in the office, and one weekly meeting on-site. Great! That’s nice and clear.

Now, let’s consider that meeting. Say, you have 10 people. Eight are in the room but two have to attend remotely because they are isolating or have childcare issues.

Here’s the question: How, as a manager, do you ensure that everyone in that space is psychologically safe? How do the two people on Teams know whether, when the meeting has finished, a conversation in the room will continue without them? Will they feel on the periphery because they can’t engage or read the body language in the same way? This is an important area, because psychological safety fosters an environment where people have the confidence and trust to innovate, often the cornerstone of commercial success.

Designing a hybrid working team charter is not so much about the practicalities of which hours we spend where – although that matters. It is about creating a safe, harmonious environment so that teams can collaborate meaningfully and have agreed the tools and rituals they will rely on to do so. 

This is just one example of the many complex questions you need to address in a hybrid working team charter. Inclusivity is key, as is courage, flexibility and an open, coaching listening style. And, just like leaders, it is vital that managers role model the change to their teams. If you are operating with a suspicious mindset, your staff can’t really be expected to do anything else, can they? If, though, you have designed a transparent, practical strategy for how teams engage – one that is embedded in the values and culture of your organisation and led by example - then you are...

...setting the conditions for success!

Let’s revisit a Positive Working analogy – the elite athlete. Expecting an athlete to perform at their peak every day is not only unrealistic but potentially damaging. As a manager, it’s important to recognise that hybrid working is yet another transition for your staff, especially after so much rapid change already. For many, there is a huge amount of anxiety around returning to any form of ‘normal’ – from a safety perspective, a social perspective and so much more. As we travel this new path, there will be bumps in the road.

So, rather than focusing on relentless success, day after day, it is resilience that should form the headline of the conversation. Tools such as the Insight Model for Transition Resilience (Palmer & Panchal, 2011) or the PERMA-V model (Martin Seligman, 2001) can really help here, as can before nine’s own Team Development strategies. What is also important is to accept your own – and your team’s - fallibility. We have all been on an emotional journey. Allowing people to safely reflect and regroup in an authentic way is going to create the psychological safety that drives a Positive Working environment.

That raises the final point – one that I’ll bet sits way down on your ‘to do’ list…

Your own wellbeing

Look, we all know that the last eighteen months have been the most extraordinary collective experience. You, as a manager, have led the sharp end. Supporting your teams, supporting your leaders…not to mention attending to the needs of your own loved ones. So, who looks after the manager who is looking after everyone else?

Now, more than ever, you need to prioritise your own self-care and emotional resilience. It is easier said than done. It is OK (in fact, very wise) to ask for help. To get you thinking about this, you might want to read my blogs on essential self-care tips and lessons learned from COVID-19 for inspiration.

And, if you need support, please talk to us about our people and leadership development toolkits. Because, make no mistake, you are a leader too - and your leadership will be a defining factor in whether your team’s hybrid working experiment thrives, delivering on the needs of your people, your team and the business.