When lockdowns began in early 2020, organizations around the world quickly pivoted to ensure that business continued from employees’ homes. Balancing work, childcare, homeschooling, and the stress of the pandemic itself continues to be a challenge for many. However, as time passes, some people are finding they thrive working from home, while others miss office life.
Nearly three-quarters of approximately 5,000 employees polled around the globe by McKinsey & Co. said they would like to work from home for two or more days per week, and more than half want at least three days of remote work.
A hybrid work environment suggests the best of both worlds with the combination of in-person and remote work. It is also new to most of us and, in many ways, we are learning as we go. For leaders, a hybrid environment means new considerations about how they lead.
Lead with empathy
We have all been through a lot over the last few years. The ongoing challenges of the pandemic and its blurring of personal and professional lives are an invitation to meet people human to human, rather than boss to employee or colleague to colleague. There may be times when your employees can’t come to the office on their designated days or don’t want to turn on their cameras during video calls. Leading with empathy shows you understand the needs of others, even in their personal lives, and be aware of their feelings and thoughts.
Role model balance
When your office doubles as a living room, it can be tough to know when the workday ends. The saying “actions speak louder than words” holds especially true as a leader. Your behaviors have a profound impact on your employees. So, if you don’t want them to feel like they need to be “always-on,” you shouldn’t either. By not sending emails after hours or when you are on vacation, you send a much stronger message than simply encouraging your employees to have balance.
The saying “actions speak louder than words” holds especially true as a leader. Your behaviors have a profound impact on your employees.
Create space for connection
By not being physically together, we can miss the “spaces in between” - those watercooler moments that happen naturally when people encounter each other. These are the conversations when someone you wouldn’t have even considered asking has a great idea for your project or where you learn about a shared hobby. Consider creating space for regular, agenda-less check-ins, starting off meetings with time for personal connection, and finding other ways you can create connections with individual employees and your team as a whole.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Another potential drawback from everyone not being in the same space at the same time is the impact on communication. It’s simply not always possible to pop into someone’s office or easily call the team together for an impromptu meeting. When people are dispersed, it’s important to consider the message and what channels (instant messaging, email, call, or meeting) best serve what you need to convey. In fact, err on the side of over-communicating to ensure that people not only hear but fully understand what is happening and why.
As you prioritize connection and communication, make sure all of your employees feel valued and heard, no matter where they are.
Watch out for proximity bias
Proximity bias is the idea that employees who have the closest physical proximity to their company leaders will be perceived as better workers. “Once a matter of location within the office, the lines of what define proximity are now evolving, leaving workers and leaders in search of new ways of tackling the issue to guarantee that those who choose to work from home remain both an included part of the workforce and on track for promotions,” explains Mark Johnson in his BBC article. As you prioritize connection and communication, make sure all of your employees feel valued and heard, no matter where they are.
Some other considerations are:
- Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to hybrid working. What works for one employee might not work for another.
- Make sure the employees who are working from home continue to feel included. Keep them engaged via regularly-scheduled video meetings, and invite them to take part in work-related events, virtually or even in person.
- Encourage employees to keep the connections with colleagues as well.
- Check with them regularly to make you really know how they are feeling and coping. Ask if there’s anything they need help with.
- Make sure your employees understand that they continue to be an important part of the larger picture.
The hybrid workplace is new for many of us, and all signs point to a continuation of this version of the new normal. However, not everyone has the opportunity to work from home or in a hybrid situation. It’s important to recognize these employees and be available to them and their individual needs and concerns, as well.
Still unsure where to begin? Start by asking your team (and yourself) what they want going forward. They will be more than happy to talk it out.