How can organisations thrive instead of simply survive in the new hybrid work environment?
Claire Gallagher explains why you should forget about return to the office mandates and instead focus on thriving in the new hybrid working environment.
The shift to hybrid working brought on by the pandemic is one of the boldest changes to the way employees, teams and businesses function.
There’s good that comes from working from home. Many people find they are more productive. There can be a reduction in commuting time allowing for a greater life/work balance. Some have even reported that the increased level of remote work often sees office politics fall away.
But then there’s the bad: without the distractions of the office, workloads are increasing burnout, workplace relationships are forgotten and people become more connected to the task at hand than those they work with.
When you connect to the work first and foremost, there’s little to stop you from doing that work for someone else entirely. And given the current talent shortage many industries are facing – and the ridiculous amounts of money being thrown at people in some industries to change companies – that creates a glaring retention issue.
For the past two years, many organisations have scrambled through this change with the aim of survival. But surviving is no longer going to cut it.
How can we thrive in this new normal?
In my role as an employer brand director, I have never been busier. Employee brand, experience and wellbeing are all on the agenda and every company wants an employee value proposition. It took a pandemic to get here. I can’t help but wonder if we would have moved the dial on how we treat people without it.
At the core of the issue is people who are seeking a sense of purpose, meaning and connection in their work. We want to feel proud of where we work and the work we do. And the people we work with are a massive part of that.
Whenever I go into businesses to assess their employer brand, the answer to the question, “What makes you stay?” is almost always the people. When I ask, “Why do you work so hard?” it’s because no one wants to let the team down. When your team members become little more than a tiny face on a computer screen, you lose a major motivation in helping your business succeed.
The other challenge comes for people that have onboarded during Covid. You need to trust the people you work with but if you don’t know them, how can you trust them?
The answer is to invest more time in connecting with people even when they are working remotely. This is a skill few leaders had prior to the pandemic, and it pains me to say few have developed it over this time.
To genuinely connect, forget about directing tasks for a minute. Instead, spend time listening, coaching and reassuring your people. Think differently about how to connect and engage. The reality is, that costs money and so it feels counter-intuitive since business is all about the bottom line. Make time in your workday to do this. This will breed organisations where teamwork is stronger, teams are more creative, and people are better problem solvers. And that can only have a positive impact on the bottom line.
When it comes to hybrid working, there isn’t one answer. You need to be respectful of people’s lives outside of work. While one member of your team may need to pick the kids up from school on a Tuesday, another may prefer to go to the gym each morning to support their mental health.
In light of recent statistics on the high levels of employee burnout, the last thing you want to do is mandate a return to the office. I recently overheard a leader saying how excited they were to “tell” everyone they would be back in the office. As any manager knows, people don’t love being told what to do. Instead, ask them. How would they feel about coming back to the office? What are they comfortable with and what do they need to make it work for them? Many people have changed their living situation in the past two years, expectations have changed and priorities have shifted, so you need to take this into account before mandating a blanket back to the office policy.
Covid has presented us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to boldly change the way we do business. Let’s not squander it.
Claire Gallagher is the employer brand director at branding agency Principals.