We recently hosted a virtual roundtable in partnership with OpenBlend on ‘Creating and maintaining a high-performing hybrid workforce’. The conversation was varied with attendees from different sectors, with different stories and pandemic impacts, but all shared the same issue – creating a productive and high-performing hybrid working model. The attendees discussed a variety of aspects around the challenges faced in the pursuit of a hybrid workforce, focusing on how to drive performance and maintain an organisational culture at a distance.
The pandemic is said to have resulted in ‘the largest work-from-home experiment’, which has resulted in an additional experiment revolving around hybrid working. Most, if not all, organisations are going through this not knowing what to expect, how to navigate it or what the results will be, but it has demonstrated that many are more open-minded than initially thought. There is a lot going on in the business world at the moment and trying to understand and build a hybrid workforce is one of the key problems everyone is facing. It’s a prosaic concern for everyone, but the cost of missing this opportunity and not establishing successful hybrid working models in an operationalised capacity will lead to everyone drifting back to the office and ‘old ways’ of working. So, how can organisations do this successfully?
The key takeaways from the conversation appear below.
Culture in a hybrid environment is about purpose
It was agreed that many attendees were aware that not only themselves but their wider organisations, were missing having a tangible, physical culture, in which people could communicate. Although most organisations are finding that their people want a hybrid working environment, the in-person culture has been difficult to imitate remotely, with many attempting different engagement methods, from vlogs, to open leadership conversations, but nothing seems to have the desired effect.
As people were unified through a shared adversity in the current situation, people needed more than this and will need an even more common goal when working in a hybrid environment. Many attendees found that what continued to drive their organisation, even remotely, was a shared purpose and a clearly defined strategy that upholds the organisation and people’s values, but finding the mechanism to join them successfully is integral. In addition to this, making a difference at work and being part of an effective team have become motivators for many employees, which brings purpose into the foreground, but also may require a shift in the way people and their performance are managed.
Recognition: a pillar of performance management
As a result of the current situation, performance needs to be recorded, and considered differently in a hybrid environment, and we all need to move away from the previous tick-box method of performance management to be successful. People’s understanding of how they’re performing and whether or not they’re adding value is very different in a remote environment, changing the nature of feedback and recognition. Although developmental feedback has been a common form of performance management, there is rarely regular and formal recognition of what people have done well. Recognition needs to become a pillar of performance management, demonstrating that people’s work isn’t going unnoticed, which in turn can increase productivity.
We don’t all have to be in the same place…
Over the past year, there has been an intriguing shift in dynamics. Pre-pandemic office space was used as a tool for collaboration, but throughout the uncertain circumstance of the past year, people have defaulted to needing clarity in structure, guidance and direction from leadership. This could see a major shift in people wanting to return to an office space as quickly as possible.
It is important to recognise that there can be inequality to remote working, which means going fully remote is rarely an option at this current time. Attendees agreed that there is a fine balance to strike between the ‘fully remote’ and the ‘fully onsite’ argument, as both choices incorporate a vast amount of generalisation when what people really need is personalisation.
Personalisation will be so important in a hybrid model
As all employees are individuals, you have to build a vast amount of flexibility into the hybrid model to provide an agile and personalised working experience for everyone. Attendees agreed that to do this, people needed to understand their own work/life drivers and be provided with the tools to best understand what would work for them.
The pandemic has demonstrated more humanity in the workforce and we need to manage people in a responsible way, whilst responding to their needs. Attendees agreed that as leaders it is integral you know what your people need and how they are motivated and can manage them in more human and personalised ways.
Create space for people to talk and share
Attendees recognised that the pandemic has set apart bad and good managers, by identifying those managers that don’t communicate or check on their team members regularly. There was an important recognition around how traditional performance management is about the output, but people centric approach is about enabling those people to perform, and without that you would be lost. This conversation developed to consider the importance of skills development around metrics management and how to include people both onsite and remote. It was recognised that many managers are not comfortable in a hybrid working model as they struggle to manage and check on not only the staff next to them at a desk, but those working from home too.
It was recognised that as everyone is individual, people managers need to work in a micro-individualised manner, focusing on output, not perceived productivity. Creating the space in which your employees feel they can talk, almost acting as a nudge, to create open and honest opportunities to communicate is integral to understanding your people, their needs, motivation and values. In a hybrid working model, communications need to be incredibly open and honest. To do this management will need training on how to have these conversations and some guide topics to get them started. In addition to this, senior leaders (particularly in HR) have to encourage people management in the same way at the top as they do at other levels. You have to practice what you preach, otherwise, nothing will change.
Taking the above into account, it is integral that when organisations are building out a hybrid working model that they are agile and personalise the working experience in a way that allows each individual to thrive in whichever environment they chose to work in. It was agreed that everyone has the right intentions to make things work and we need to learn from this. It’ll follow a change curve and is fundamental to understand that what worked then (at the beginning of the pandemic) won’t work now, and may be different still in the future. In conclusion, we are learning and changing on the job and for successful collaboration and sharing will be vital to helping each other through this transition to hybrid working.