Hybrid or flexible work has incredible potential for workers and organizations everywhere. How it plays out, though, will be a product of the choices leaders and teams make every day. BTS’ Katy Young shares more on how to navigate this change with intentionality and adaptability.
The majority of companies will be transitioning over the coming months into a hybrid or flexible way of working, with varying degrees of freedom for employees regarding where, when, and how they work. You might think you’ve been here before if you’ve managed virtual teams or team members in the past, but this is going to be fundamentally different.
After a year and a half of working digitally, some employees can’t wait to get back to the office, while others have loved ditching their commutes and being able to work from anywhere. Some think work-life balance means setting clear boundaries between work and personal hours. For others, it means being able to work at any time as long as the job gets done.
What is certain is that employee expectations are both all over the place and higher than ever before. My team has recently run a series of assessments with leaders across a number of companies to uncover and map out the mindsets of leaders regarding where and how they think work should happen. This revealed three things:
- Mindsets around work are more diverse than ever. Leaders’ preferences for virtual versus office-based and flexible versus structured work were all over the map.
- Leaders assumed others had more similar preferences to themselves than what was actually the case.
- Curiosity and empathy are more important than ever as leaders navigate this change with others who might approach work very differently.
Many companies are already experiencing higher-than-normal attrition. Employees have made clear that if their current company can’t meet their expectations about work and life, they will look for that somewhere else.
Companies have done a lot of analysis, soul-searching, and planning to create hybrid work guidelines. After all, these frameworks need to be fair and inclusive as well as balance the needs of individuals, teams, and the company. Now, the question is this: Even with the best of intentions, how will these guidelines actually play out?
What Will Determine the Success of a Company’s Hybrid Strategy?
The easy part is done: the hybrid plans, policies, and new workspaces. For a lot of companies, however, what comes next is murkier — how leaders, teams, and employees will actually translate and apply the concepts into new ways of working. Companies’ hybrid or flexible work cultures will ultimately be determined by:
- The mindsets of the leaders and employees surrounding how they work best.
- The thousands of (often small) decisions your leaders will make in critical moments every day.
- Your teams’ ability to work through what hybrid means for them, and then how they learn and iterate to achieve high performance.
- Your organization, leaders, and employees’ readiness for ongoing change.
It’s safe to assume we won’t get it right from the start. Instead, leaders and teams need to be intentional about how they approach the return to work and adapt quickly as things play out. When the environment changes this dramatically, so too must the approach surrounding leadership and team collaboration. Companies that create a culture of humanity, empathy, and rapid learning will fare best.
Preparing for a Hybrid Future
No two companies will approach the transition to hybrid work in the exact same way, but there are some things all organizations should think about. Here are three key strategies to consider as you move forward with hybrid or flexible models:
1. Prepare your leaders for what is ahead through simulations.
Hybrid and flexible work will require elevated leadership across your company — leadership that balances competing needs and navigates new territory. So instead of throwing them in the ring without any preparation, why not give leaders a taste of the critical moments they will face by simulating those events? This will expose them to the trade-offs, implications, and unintended consequences of their choices. It will also help inform and shape their actions, attitude, and approach to these issues in the real world.
Let’s say, for example, that you have a critical project with a tight deadline that requires heavy collaboration from the team. Is this a moment to bring the team together in person? What sort of mindset would you need to engage and lead a dispersed team to success? What if there is the added complexity of a gender imbalance among those coming into the office more often versus those working remotely?
A simulation approach can prepare leaders by:
- Uncovering their mindsets and preferences toward work.
- Developing empathy for the mindsets and preferences of others.
- Understanding possible leadership risks and how to mitigate them.
- Exploring how their mindsets influence behavior in pivotal hybrid leadership moments.
- Exploring the unintended outcomes of leadership choices in hybrid work environments.
- Building capability and confidence to lead the transition to hybrid work by being intentionally adaptable.
2. Set teams up for success in hybrid work at scale.
The responsibility to set teams up for success doesn’t just sit with the leaders. Equally important is equipping teams to take ownership of how they work and drive this change forward together.
Teams need a forum to:
- Interpret hybrid work guidelines and what they mean to the team.
- Understand in detail what every individual needs, wants, and expects around where, when, and how they work.
- Discuss how to balance the needs of the individuals, the team, and the company.
- Ideate on how to foster belonging, productivity, learning, and growth across the team.
- Avoid creating hard and fast plans. Instead, agree on experiments to test how the team will work together.
The goal here isn’t just about buy-in, but also gaining alignment around how exactly the team will work together moving forward in an inclusive way. These initial discussions then set the stage for ongoing conversations to check in on your team’s progress and discuss what’s working, what needs to be changed, and what everyone has learned in the process.
Beyond the individual team level, the company needs data and insights from across the organization to learn its way forward. Using digital tools to have these conversations allows you to capture real-time data to understand what your people are looking for from work, how teams are setting themselves up, and what is working versus what’s not. Then, you can pivot quickly.
3. Examine the individual and collective relationship to change.
The pandemic created an unprecedented rate of change. With the world opening up again, more disruption is guaranteed, and the future of work will continue to evolve. Leaders, teams, and organizations will struggle to execute and could face burnout if they’re not equipped to embrace ongoing change.
Assessing how your leaders respond to change allows them to first examine the underlying mindsets that drive these responses — both at an individual level as well as common collective mindsets grounded in the company culture. By understanding these mindsets and the behavior traps people fall into, you can help them let go of the things that cause them to resist, avoid, or try to control change. You also help them adopt the change-ready mindsets and behaviors they need to lead through hybrid work.
In summary, hybrid work could be the greatest workplace innovation of our era — or a mess. To make the most of it, leaders and teams need to be intentional, empathetic, and change-ready. Those that thrive will experiment their way forward to create modern ways of working that enable people to do the best work of their lives.
Written by Katy Young.
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