During a recent coaching session, a client of mine described the ideal work environment.
My client wasn’t just describing her ideal - she was describing a hybrid work environment. However, her bosses wouldn’t necessarily agree. Many of the executives at her company would prefer to have everyone back in the office. She calls it the “butts in seats” opinion, referring to an executive’s ability to actually see people in the office at a certain time.
This perspective is quickly becoming outdated.
Despite predictions of remote work being permanent and even recommendations to remain remote, employees like my client want the best of both worlds. And though the desire for remote work varies with who you ask (and from what sector), surveys are finding that employees do want remote work to at least be a part of their schedule moving forward. This survey found that 75% of its working adult respondents want to continue to work remotely 1-5 days/week. There are plenty more surveys like it, too.
Provided that returning to the office is safe, organizations and leaders can’t deny the desire, even demand, employees now have for the hybrid work environment - the option to both work on-site and remotely. Full-time “butts-in-seats” is now outdated.
There’s no doubt that many organizations are already preparing operationally by considering technology needs, performance management updates, safety protocols and real estate changes. What’s often missed is the direct impact these changes have on their people.
Hybrid models can be trickier than an “all remote” or an “all on-site” structure. Managing who’s in the office when, keeping the team engaged and making sure everyone has equal opportunity are the biggest challenges to this approach.
Often, remote workers lose out on exposure to leaders and new projects. it makes perfect sense to appoint an on-site worker first for a new initiative if you just chatted with them in the hallway. Conversely, onsite workers can feel “dumped on”. Because they’re physically present, they’re delegated to more often.
To prevent a downgrade in productivity and engagement, treat the transition to a hybrid structure like any other organizational change that’s been planned over time. Create a plan, form a team and apply change leadership principles.
Create a people-centered plan
Adapting to an organizational change means to ensure as little disruption as possible to operations and performance while the change is underway. This means two plans are needed:
- Operations management: This identifies processes and systems that need to change. It focuses on how the work is done and results in a defined scope, schedule and budget to execute the change.
- People management: This recognizes the impact the changed processes and systems have on the people. It identifies resistance and skill-gaps, creates buy-in and ensures everyone is appropriately informed and trained.
Some organizations weave the two together and that can be effective. Many organizations only focus on operations. Sole focus on operations is happening now with planning for a hybrid work model, yet when I ask organizations and leaders what their plan is for their people to adapt to hybrid, I’m often met with “Their bosses will take care it. They know what their team needs”.
The result of this approach is inconsistency. Certainly, some bosses will take care of it, but others won’t. This creates discrepancies and oversights which produces stress and frustration. Teams in this state aren’t productive, which means there’s a disruption to performance - exactly what leadership is trying to avoid.
Creating a plan for both operations and people will pave the way for consistent execution and performance.
Form a transition team
The hybrid workplace is an organizational change oozing its way into day-to-day operations. For many industries and organizations, this change wasn’t intended nor planned, but it’s here regardless. Applying strategies for planned changed is the right thing to do here, like the use of a transition team.
Let’s look at an example of what using a transition team can look like:
Sharon is a middle manager in the billing department of a large insurance company. She’s been there for 10 years and is known for her high performance and cynicism for all things “jargony”. She’s well-respected amongst her peers. When asked to join the “transition team” for the upcoming roll-out, she was uncertain it would be a productive use of her time, but she agreed.
At the first meeting, Sharon was joined by six others representing different positions. There were two senior directors, two payment processors, a team lead and one of the executive assistants in attendance. Over six months, the team was tasked to advise the technology team on the impact the new software would have on staff and recommend the best approaches to implement the system.
At the end of the six months, Sharon had this to say:
Transition teams are an effective approach to addressing the impact a change has on a team. Adopting a hybrid work environment is a significant change and employing a transition team is an effective way to prepare. Here are a few best practices:
- Identify a cross-functional team - it ensures diverse perspectives are represented
- Appoint someone to facilitate discussions and decision-making to make meetings productive
- Select people who are helpful skeptics, not the greatest supporters or worst critics. Helpful skeptics tend to be effective influencers because they aren’t overly positive or negative
- Take one thing off everyone’s plate to free up time to participate. This increases engagement and signals to the team the importance of the work
- Set the expectation that participants are to advise and communicate. They’re a liaison between those directly impacted by the change the those initiating it
Sharon shared another secret to the success of the transition team: the facilitator. A leader from another department, he taught the team about the principles of how to effectively implement change and if the concepts were applied, the department was more likely to have a successful roll-out.
Apply change leadership principles
Possessing the ability to lead change is one of the most important competencies for today’s leaders. The shift to a hybrid environment is yet another change on a manager’s plate and employing basic principles of change leadership will pave the way for a successful transition.
There are hundreds of books and millions of articles on the topic. The internet isn’t short on advice which means it can also be overwhelming to read and absorb. I advise clients to consider the following.
- Vision of the future: What does success look like? How will we know the transition was a success? What is different? What will people think and how will people feel in the future state?
- Definition of current state: What’s working now and what isn’t? What concerns you about the change? How different is the work of today to what we want it to look like in the future?
- Knowledge and skills needed: What’s needed to bridge the gap between current state and future state? What information do people need? How will everyone perform in the future state? What training do leaders and staff need to be effective?
- Communication approach: What vehicles of information sharing are most effective? What frequency is needed and who will do it? Where will information about the change be saved or housed and how will staff know where to find it?
These four topics of discussion encompass many of the concepts within any change leadership model, theory or recommendation. A transition team can be tasked to answer these questions for an entire department or institution, or this discussion and planning can happen at a local team level.
The hybrid work environment is here - full-time “butts-in-seats” is a thing of the past. Embracing the hybrid model is the path forward for many organizations. Avoid letting this change slip by and absorb into day-to-day work without giving full attention to the impact it will have on people. The organization’s performance will depend