Is hybrid working the real challenge for 2021?

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Written by Paul Brady on 4 March 2021 in Opinion
Opinion

New ways of working create inequity between employees; here, Paul Brady suggests some ways to ensure fairness and success in the hybrid workplace.

The coronavirus pandemic brought huge changes to the workplace, with lockdowns and advice to work from home (WFH) forcing us to adapt to a new normal. But what happens next, as vaccines enable us to pick up the threads of everyday life? It is unlikely things will simply go back to how they were, with everyone resuming the daily commute to central offices? 

Hybrid or blended ways of working are likely to become the norm. So, what are the skills and tools we need to adapt to this new hybrid workplace?

Although many of us have adapted well to the WFH challenge, it's worth casting an eye back on the period between lockdowns – the hybrid or blended interregnum – before casting an eye forward to what will happen in 2021. Will we be just as agile in re-adapting to hybrid working?

The argument goes that we haven’t spent very much time working in hybrid teams – some colleagues in the office and some working from home – so we haven’t really finessed the best approaches.

What is clear is that there is real potential for a lack of inclusion, with colleagues in offices having a quite different experience from those WFH or remotely. Is there favouritism and privilege for those in the office? Are the watercooler conversations innocent enough or are they an opportunity to pre-align at the expense of those who aren’t in on the corridor chat?

Remote working has dialled up our sensitivities to how people perceive us. Be aware that your inner thoughts and feelings may be 'leaking'.

Are the best opportunities being given to those who are more visible? You wouldn’t have to be too paranoid to imagine that the folk in the office are talking about you when you’re not there. At the very least there is a lack of transparency that needs to be addressed.

Here are some suggestions to increase your chances of success when it comes to hybrid working.

  • Equal participation in team meetings – in hybrid times it’s tempting to have colleagues in the office around a table (where social distancing permits) and have WFH colleagues dialling in. But remote colleagues get a second-class seat at the table. It’s good practice to have everybody call in from their own workspace and laptop – even if they don’t have to.
  • Have a Yoda – the Star Wars character is wise, kind and observant, even if his grammar is a little unconventional. Many hybrid teams use a 'Yoda' (or guru) to monitor and check for inclusive behaviour on team calls, with the role rotating among team members.
  • One of the positive steps taken by many teams during lockdown was to have morning stand-ups – short (10-15 minute) team meetings for colleagues to check in and kick-start the day. Stand-ups identify gaps and opportunities for collaboration – and are a great barometer. Whether you call them stand-ups, scrums or huddles, the result is the same – an agile way of working.
  • As human beings we cannot not communicate. Be super-aware of micro-behaviours and even micro-aggressions in virtual meetings. Microphones are sensitive and cameras can give a real close-up on people’s expressions – and therefore their underlying assumptions, beliefs and biases. Remote working has dialled up our sensitivities to how people perceive us. Be aware that your inner thoughts and feelings may be 'leaking'.
  • Virginia Woolf spoke of the cream of the morning brain – many of us are at our best and most creative earlier in the day. See if it works for you and your colleagues, and reserve creative and collaborative activities for the morning.
  • A recent HBR article highlighted the role of choice in where we work. Survey respondents who had no choice in whether they worked at home or in the office experienced a huge drop in their motivation. Be aware of opportunities to improve choice when the lockdown eases.
  • The same HBR article suggested that meaningful problem solving has wonderful potential for raising levels of motivation – even when people have no choice in where they work. More tactical and repetitive tasks tend to get allocated to those working from home. Ensure that creative and collaborative tasks are fairly distributed across the hybrid team.
  • Developmental or stretch objectives that are good for profile, brand and progression were often put on hold as we adapted to the newer ways of working. Now is the time to unlock potential and put colleagues’ development back on track. The hybrid version of work is here to stay and we can’t put off stretch and development any longer.

 

About the author

Paul Brady is a senior associate at global diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global

 

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