The pandemic has transformed workplaces and the definition of an office has never been more flexible in human history. The ‘workplace’ has extended to living rooms and kitchens and managers are required to be more sensitive and take measured steps while the situation is ever evolving.
As the new work normal approaches, several organisations, including ours are moving to a hybrid model where the ‘workplace’ will not be the same for all employees, every day. However, employees will be at the centre, much more than ever before. This requires companies to approach the challenge from different perspectives as we move to our new reality of hybridity. Agile practices will no longer be the domain of technologists alone, other managers too will have to use these skills when managing their teams. Although there is still some familiarity amidst the new, we cannot only rely on tried and tested methods to motivate and nurture our workforce.
So, what can managers do to address different perspectives?
Create Awareness: Managers must educate employees and themselves on how to avoid bias and establish a culture of trust. Managers may consider conducting certain health awareness sessions in regional languages to include family members as well.
Communicate: Managers should create an accurate map of the team to know who is working from where and when and have open conversations to identify challenges and find solutions. Individual circumstances may differ, so managers may need to account for those as well. However, communication should not only be about scheduling work but encourage sharing ideas and acknowledging contributions.
Create an inclusive and respectful work environment: It may be natural for managers to get the staff in office into a huddle for an impromptu discussion. However, they must be mindful of team members working remotely and include them as well. As employees’ health and personal circumstances have become very dynamic, managers need to be agile in intervening to redistribute work and resources. Managers should not make the office the power base and policies procedures should be revisited regularly to ensure they don’t provide an unfair advantage to some. Sensitivity training on these topics are very essential for people managers.
Interrupt unconscious bias: Managers need to be aware of unconscious biases, keep them in check and then equalise opportunities accordingly. One reality of unconscious bias is that we cannot prevent them, but we can interrupt them. The first step is to become aware of them and then consciously look for ways to interrupt them by re-thinking decision-making processes. Some of the most significant areas where unconscious bias could creep in are:
- Onboarding – Managers should consciously manage hybridity-based sources of power to create a level playing field for their team. It is important to have more frequent conversations with new employees who work from home and give them opportunities to network within the organisation. In our experience, virtual office tours and early opportunities to interact with senior leaders have worked really well in helping assimilate new joiners into the organisation.
- Performance assessments and Talent Management – Managers should be cognisant about not only relying on timesheets and login hours but on the outcome. Assessments also present an opportunity for managers to discuss imbalances and how to address them going forward. They should be conscious of the possibility of side-lining talent because of flexible or remote working or because of challenges they may be facing at home.
- Team dynamics – Hybrid working is bound to have an impact on team dynamics as some employees are better at forming bonds than others. Managers should aid team bonding by providing ample avenues for new team members to learn about the nuances of organisation culture from peers and leaders.
- Work-Life Balance– Although working from home provides flexibility, finding work-life balance may be altogether different. Staff are juggling between work, healthcare, domestic chores, home schooling and much more. Managers should consciously avoid expecting team members to work outside pre-agreed hours, unless absolutely necessary. There should also be sufficient opportunities for on-premises and remote staff to equally engage in team and relaxation activities.
One thing that the pandemic has taught us is that nothing is certain and we need to be more agile in our approach. Through these times, we can count on the human ability to be resilient, adapt and learn from shared experiences. I am cautiously optimistic that organisations will embrace this uncertainty and respond to build hybrid work cultures which combine business imperatives with people needs.