What’s the role of the manager in a hybrid working world?

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Written by Paul Jewitt-Harris on 17 December 2020 in Opinion
Opinion

Paul Jewitt-Harris warns that motivation and trust maybe lost if managers are not supported as organisations continue a remote working culture.

For most people, 2020 will have been the most challenging year of their career. Even in those few industries that have thrived throughout the pandemic, professionals have experienced immense change.

Not least among these changes is the enormous rise in remote working. Despite variation in the quality of workspaces at home, it is perhaps unsurprising that most office workers like this state of affairs: research by Future Forum suggests that only 12% of workers want to go back to working in the office full-time after COVID-19.

We are, therefore, staring down the barrel of a long-term, structural change in the way work is conducted. It is a shift that will throw managers into the spotlight as the lynchpin keeping teams and individuals performing from any location. 

So far, many managers have done a great job of figuring out how to manage their teams remotely, but decisions and behaviours formed in the crucible of a crisis may not prove sustainable in the longer term.

As we head towards a truly hybrid working world, the challenge will remain high and, in order to balance this, organisations will need to put support in place in order to help managers effectively adapt. Over the years, the role of manager has changed from being quite directive and outcome-driven to something much more pastoral and collaborative. 

Decisions and behaviours formed in the crucible of a crisis may not prove sustainable in the longer term

Putting it simply: balancing support and challenge. Since the pandemic this shift has become even more important. Motivation and trust lie at the heart of this new relationship between manager and managed.

Motivating the team

Recent research revealed that 44% of employees under 35 years old believe a lack of motivation has been hindering their performance at work since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Personally, I subscribe to the view that you can’t really ‘motivate’ someone else; all you can do is create an environment around them in which they can motivate themselves. 

This data, therefore, suggests that something about working during the pandemic has compromised that environment. It’s up to managers to resolve that.

Motivation is complex and different for every individual, but it has huge impact on how employees feel and perform at work. A framework based on psychology can be used to map out the determinants of intrinsic motivation (i.e. not material rewards or fear of punishment). There are four key components:

  • Autonomy – a sense of being in control so that behaviour is self-determined
  • Belonging – a sense of fitting in and security
  • Competence – a feeling of mastery and accomplishment
  • Meaning – a sense of understanding and purpose.

The past year has threatened all of these factors in different ways. Belonging has taken the most obvious hit: work has become a far less social experience with a small pool of colleagues seen through a screen each day. 

 

Competence will have been affected by the switch to new and unfamiliar working practices, as well as the pressure that comes with responding to a crisis situation. Our ability to connect the meaning of our work to our personal values is also limited by our separation from colleagues and customers.

Even autonomy, which for many people will have increased as they just get on with tasks, may have gone down for some. Without a trusting relationship with managers, the pressure to be constantly available and responsive – even late into the evening – may be forcing employees to forgo the main benefit of working from home – flexibility. 

Managers need to be able to tune into the unique circumstances of their people in order to understand what factors might be affecting their intrinsic motivation.

Businesses should recognise and support the crucial role that managers play in shaping a motivational environment for their direct reports. This could involve workshops on vital remote managerial skills (like emotional intelligence or wellbeing coaching skills), one-to-one advice sessions, and role modelling good management from the top. 

Remember that managers are not immune to the challenges outlined above either – they need the same support from their leaders.

Building trust

86% of employees agree that there is a positive impact on their performance if their manager trusts them. In the hybrid working world, trust is going to be the foundation of performance on an individual and an organisational level. Businesses won’t necessarily be able to rely on personal relationships oiling the wheels on intra-team projects; they need to inculcate trust, and managers are the key to this.


When we think about trust, it is vital that we think about the context of 2020. Many organisations will have had to make difficult decisions and make people redundant, undermining the sense of security among the ‘survivors’. 

Managers have a challenging role as a conduit between the business and the front-line employees, but if they get it right then they can start to heal the hurt that comes with business restructuring.

Like intrinsic motivation, trust has four psychological components: credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-interest. The first three improve trust as they increase, but the latter damages it; someone could be great at what they do but if everyone knows it’s just a front to further their own agenda, trust will be low.

To help to build trust, managers should create a culture of disclosure and feedback within their teams. When working with struggling teams, one of the biggest barriers to trust is the suspicion that members aren’t honest with one another. Get your people used to talking about what is affecting their mood and performance. 

This will make people feel comfortable giving motivational and developmental feedback more regularly by creating a more open and intimate atmosphere. Managers may need to role model this at first, but it will eventually pay dividends.

Conclusion

In every business, employees have faced a variety of barriers to performance during the pandemic, not least a lack of motivation and trust within the business. In order to navigate employees into the new working norms, managers must be more emotionally available than ever before, something that won’t come naturally to many of them. 

As such, organisations must support their managers to adapt to the hybrid working environment through training and communication. Failure to do so risks leaving motivation and trust behind as relics of the pre-pandemic world.

 

About the author

Paul Jewitt-Harris is consulting delivery director at Lane4

 

 

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