Leading hybrid teams – frequently asked questions
Last month our Head of Research, Amy Walters and Client Director, Mark Richardson hosted a 30-minute webinar on the topic of Leading hybrid teams: Are your managers ready? Catch up by watching the recording here.
The webinar explored how to provide managers with the mindset, skillset and toolset they need to effectively manage a hybrid workforce. Amy and Mark took a deep dive into our latest whitepaper – Hybrid working: shifting to the new normal – and offered tips on how to develop healthy hybrid habits from the start. Following a lively Q&A, we’ve answered the most frequently asked questions on leading hybrid teams below.
Done well, the shift should be a win-win-win for individuals, managers and organisations
Q. What are your thoughts on PwC’s approach for employees to decide on their own working pattern?
A. Hybrid working gives people more choice over where they would like to work. Done well, the shift should be a win-win-win for individuals, managers and organisations, reaping the ‘best of both’ benefits from remote and in-office working. PwC’s approach sends a signal of support to its people and also gives clear direction on who owns the decision: for example, at PwC it’s a decision to be owned at the individual employee level. If employees are clear on the expectations of their role, then why not give them the choice?
The risk, of course, is that people will be swayed by others, like their line managers, about what they think a ‘good employee should do rather than ‘where’s best for me to be today?’. To minimise these second guesses, leaders should be clear on what they do, and don’t, expect from employees in hybrid working. The approach organisations take will be unique to their business, so we would advocate that all changes to how and where people work should be kept under regular review with measures in place to gauge the impact hybrid working is having.
Q. Is hybrid working really here to stay or will Goldman Sachs’ view that office-based staff are more effective prevail?
A. We believe that hybrid working is here to stay and, according to our research, so do 89% of business executives1. The pandemic proved that many jobs can be done remotely and the performance benefits of both remote and in-office working have been well documented.
Whilst every organisation’s context is different, Goldman Sachs has taken a particularly rigid view which could signal a lack of trust to employees and risks taking away benefits that they have come to value, such as increased autonomy and resources such as sleep and time. Unfortunately, this loss of benefits could have a strong impact on people’s motivation. Goldman Sachs runs the risk of losing talent to companies who are managing hybrid working well or failing to attract the best talent because of their inflexible stance.
Q. How do you know if a hybrid model is working?
A. Hybrid working policies or guidelines shouldn’t be decided on and then set in stone. If new ways of working are being implemented in your organisation, work out what indicators will be useful to track, how feedback will be gathered, and over what time period. It’s likely that normal behaviour patterns won’t emerge for some time and we would suggest you leave 6-12 months for new ways of working to become established.
Don’t forget to tell your people about this review process too – it’s important that they don’t view the agreement as a long-term entitlement. Hybrid working needs to work for all parties: the individual, the manager, the team and the organisation.
Q. What are the best practice measures for hybrid team meetings, where you have some people physically in the office and others dialling in, to ensure the meeting is interactive and every voice is heard?
A. First and foremost you should co-create a new, common understanding of your team principles including etiquette around processes such as meetings. From a practical point of view, keeping everyone on laptops, irrespective of whether they’re in the office or remote, can create a more equitable, joint experience. Designate someone to monitor the chat function and any ‘hands up’ to make sure every voice is heard. To include and engage team members, start off by asking a question to all attendees, such as ‘what’s one challenge each person has come up against this week?’. Most importantly, experiment and see what works for you whilst regularly reviewing as a team.
Q.What percentage of time is it realistic to mandate for being in the office going forwards? We have a two day per week ‘work from home’ policy but most of our employees are pushing for three days at home. It’s difficult to push back on this when we have worked effectively from home over the last 12 months…
A. From our perspective,you’re missing the point if you fixate on the number of days that people are ‘allowed’ to work from home. Hybrid working is about supporting people to attain their work goals by giving them more autonomy to decide how, when and where they work best. It can create unnecessary tension between employers and employees who may feel they’re not being treated like adults.
However, if you do decide to go down the road of mandated days, we suggest clearly communicating the decision criteria of why this is and giving people the chance to co-create rules around it. Also, find out what people really value about the office and purposefully emphasize those factors to incentivise employees. A positive environment and collaborative spaces will likely be a place that people naturally gravitate towards.
Q. How do you think our talent processes (performance management, talent identification) will have to shift to accommodate hybrid working?
A. Rather than the processes themselves changing, which will be very contextual for each organisation, we believe the crucial shift should be in your approach to talent processes. Primarily, this is about consciously countering in-office biases by noticing what assumptions you’re making about others and reflecting on what facts those judgements are based on. From a talent identification perspective, for example, researchers have found that ‘passive face time’ such as just being seen about the office is enough for people to create inferences about what you’re doing and how well you’re doing it, even if they have no prior knowledge of your work performance.
To counter this, make sure your remote workers have equal opportunities to take on challenging projects and receive credit for a job well done. Everyone should receive suitable development opportunities and recognition for their hard work, regardless of where they choose to spend their time.
Q. How can you maintain a healthy flow of feedback in a hybrid model?
A. Good feedback is timely and specific and should remain so in a hybrid model. In fact, we believe that managers need to be even more intentional about giving feedback when their team is dispersed. Most importantly, make sure everyone is given the same treatment: there shouldn’t be a second-class feedback service for your remote workers.
Q. How do you bring up the subject of hybrid work during an interview, when it wasn’t mentioned in the role description?
A. With hybrid working patterns becoming increasingly established we believe it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask, and especially when you have a job offer on the table. If an organisation judges you negatively for being curious about its ways of working then perhaps it’s not the company for you.
Q. How would you respond to a comment recently from one of my clients: “The more ambitious people will want to be in the office”?
A. Historically, research suggests that leaders and colleagues may have commonly perceived those who choose to work more remotely as having ‘opted out’ of a career, regardless of their actual career choices2. To create an inclusive workforce where all talent can thrive, it’s essential that working remotely doesn’t put a false limit on people’s career options or ambitions. Ambitious people want to do good work, irrespective of where they do it.
Q. What is your advice for organisations where some will have the option of hybrid working, but others will always have to be in the office?
A. This ‘all or nothing’ approach could restrict people’s performance and feel out of touch, especially if hybrid norms are embedding elsewhere in the organisation. In this instance, pay particular attention to those not selected for hybrid working: face into the difficult conversation, reiterate the common criteria and ensure people are clear about how certain decisions were made and what factors were considered. And, if possible, give your office or site-based people some autonomy to do aspects of their role in a more flexible way.
Q. Managers will interpret guidelines differently and may introduce a way of working in their team that is different to peer managers. Any guidance on supporting the potential ‘unfair’ challenges?
A. Making sure that managers co-create and clearly communicate their decision criteria is key. People are more likely to consider things to be unfair if they haven’t been given the rationale. As an individual, it’s important to remember that you never have full sight of another person’s situation or how they are being managed. Bottom line is that people need to trust that managers are doing their job and remember that successful hybrid working is doing what’s best for the individual, team and the organisation.
Q. What advice would you offer to leaders who are dealing with the negative backlash to a hybrid working decision that has challenged autonomy? Perhaps they didn’t make the decision but are forced to handle the reaction.
A. This is a challenge facing managers all the time, especially during times of change, and is not exclusive to hybrid working. As a manager, make sure you understand why the particular decision was made and then authentically back it. If you’ve engaged with the information yourself then hopefully you can handle the reaction better. Also, take time to understand what the person has heard and what they’re thinking so that you can help them work through any crooked thinking or catastrophising.
Making sure that managers co-create and clearly communicate their decision criteria is key.