Over the last 24 months we have experienced so many rapid changes in the workplace. Flexible working, pandemic, jabs, RAT testing, and social distancing have all become part of our everyday life and vocabulary. These changes have highlighted the importance of skills such as empathy, adaptability, resilience, and the newest contender – welcome Hybrid.
According to Michael Brennan, Commission Chair of the Productivity Commission, the Commission found that after lockdowns and working from home “a hybrid model is tending to emerge as the model that many workplaces are gravitating towards because it combines the best of a bit of physical interaction with some of the flexibility from working from home some of the time.”
So, what does the hybrid working model mean for our leaders and what are the new challenges they face?
Pre-pandemic, hybrid leadership was defined as a style of management that blends the best of traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ leadership styles. It focused on developing leaders’ emotional intelligence alongside their business acumen.
In response to the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the workplace, hybrid leadership has evolved to encompass an even more diverse range of attributes to help managers get the most from employees in remote, in-person, and hybrid teams. In short, hybrid leadership requires a new range of tools and skills for our leaders to effectively manage dispersed teams.
Whilst during Covid-19 lockdowns, we saw workplaces where all / most staff worked from home for the entire working week, a hybrid workplace is likely to be one where employers and employees choose when and where they work with some employees co-located in an office whilst others are working remotely from home. This can create an ‘us versus them’ attitude, creating challenges for leaders when it comes to communication, team dynamics, engagement and coordination.
Hybrid working can also impact company culture. Doug Palladini, Global Brand President at global sports lifestyle brand – Vans recently discussed the impact of hybrid working on his organisation. He said that his company has lost something by being run through videoconference and written notes. Palladini said that before Covid-19, the company’s in-person culture was palpable and effusive. Everyone could feel the energy. “When you’re on Zoom, you cannot. It is not the same thing. The feeling of separation from the company culture, has been the biggest loss.”
Our leaders in this new hybrid world will need to be able to drive performance without close monitoring and supervision – this requires clear expectations setting and trust. Communication is key and incorporates new communication tools such as Slack, Trello and Teams that can be updated at any time and encourage clear communication and collaboration in teams without having to rely on team meetings.
In a hybrid world, meetings may be considered an antiquated concept, meetings will only happen when there is a strategic reason for them and some organisations may introduce ‘no meeting days’, encouraging employees to embrace communications tools such as Teams and Slack. No meetings days prevent heads-down work from being disrupted. Recent research undertaken by MITSloan uncovered that the optimum number of meeting-free days is three days in a week, leaving two days per week available for meetings; for two important reasons only; maintaining social connections and managing weekly schedules. Data showed that by having 3 meeting-free days per week, Employees were 73% more productive and 57% less stressed – statistics which are simply too significant to ignore.
In recent research on hybrid leadership in the USA, leaders highlighted a ‘hybrid paradox’. While in-person connection is becoming less frequent in a hybrid workplace, people skills are becoming more important than ever. The best leaders listen, show empathy, allocate more leadership time to team management and coaching, enabling people versus control, and invest more in building a culture that reaches out of the traditional office and into people’s homes.
As the workplace continues to evolve in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, so must our leaders. It is important that they are equipped with the right skills and tools to provide effective leadership in this new hybrid world.
Marana has recently been working with a number of clients providing leadership skills for the Hybrid Workplace. Contact us today to discuss how we can assist you.
Over the past few years there has been a growing demand for more flexible work arrangements – and then came Covid-19. Very quickly most of us had to work from home full-time and adapt to remote working. Now with people increasingly returning to the office, it is clear flexible working has become the new “normal” and it is a huge incentive to attract talent and maintain the workforce.
At Marana we adopted flexible working practices a number of years ago and along the way we have learned how to make it work for us. We are now working with clients to make their adoption of flexible work practices a success for staff, teams and the organisation and its customers and/or clients.
To start with, it is important for organisations to meet the legal requirements. The Fair Work Ombudsman outlines these on their website https://www.fairwork.gov.au/tools-and-resources/best-practice-guides/flexible-working-arrangements.
Beyond complying with legal issues, our recent experiences with clients suggests the following approaches make flexible working positive for everyone.
1. Decide which flexible options the organisation and its work can support and then develop a Flexible Working Policy and communicate it to staff. For many organisations, it may not be possible to have everyone work from home all the time and it’s unlikely you cannot have some of your staff work flexibly. It is important the Policy outlines who can apply for flexible work and what arrangements can be adopted, how to apply, what the decision-making process for an application will be and how it will be monitored and reviewed. The Policy helps managers and staff understand the process and the reasoning behind decisions made and assists in achieving a consistent approach.
2. Have a transparent flexible work assessment system that can review which parts of the job can be performed remotely and which in the office or workplace. It will be important to consider the deliverables or outputs of people’s work and the customer’s or client’s needs in this. It is essential for you to have coverage for client-facing work.
3. Check whether you have the systems and technology to support the arrangements you want, including methods for knowledge transfer and training. Staff may need additional hardware for working remotely and some may require additional strategies and support when poor internet connection impacts productivity. This is especially the case for some parts of regional NSW – staff often tell us about their “technology rage”!
4. Ensure staff have a remote workspace that is ergonomic and fit for purpose. We have heard stories of people in share accommodation working whilst perched on the end of the bed. In other cases, clients are telling us about muscle tension and hip pain as a result of sitting for extended periods of time. Develop a checklist of what is required for safe effective working and discuss with staff what set-up they have and what you are prepared to provide.
5. Ensure that you have a Work-from-Home Security Policy that clearly outlines the rules regarding the use of devices and internet security guidelines. Importantly, the Work-from-Home Security Policy should provide guidance on how to work in a home environment that may be shared with others. We have heard about clients where the nature of the work is very sensitive requiring careful consideration of what can be seen on a screen and/or overheard in terms of conversations. One client has told us when working and discussing something in a public venue, they were approached by a member of the public saying “you shouldn’t be discussing that type of thing here!”
6. Good people management skills are critical. Flexible working requires managers to have strong facilitation skills, being able to coach and delegate effectively, give feedback, communicate through multiple media, and focus on outcomes and performance measures rather than on time spent in the office. This may require some management training or coaching so that People Leaders are confident in their ability to manage and/or supervise the team working remotely.
7. Trust and empower staff to do their work without constant monitoring. If people understand the organisation’s goals and have clear performance expectations, where they work is less important. This does, however, require People Leaders to set and/or clarify expectations, facilitate regular feedback and encourage staff to perform at their best, which creates a high performance team culture.
8. Ensure you have role model leaders at all levels who work flexibly and show it can work.
9. Ensure staff don’t miss out on knowledge transfer opportunities whether it be training, coaching and job opportunities just because they are not in the office or workplace 5 days a week. Where you wish to address any performance issues, it is vital to keep in touch to build skills and confidence. Regular coaching and one-on-ones can be conducted live online using tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Miscommunication and misinterpretation are more common online and it is important to recognise the value of making the time to travel and engage in face-to-face dialogue.
10. Create opportunities for the team to all come together in one place and ensure time spent together is efficient. Some staff may have to alter their normal arrangements, say for child-care or drop off and pick-up of children, to come in for a team meeting, so ensure it is productive and their effort in changing their routine is worthwhile. Discuss and agree what type of team social activities can work for people.
11. Agree on your team methods of communication and how you will know where people are, say in case of a problem needing their input or an emergency. The use of shared calendars and/or online tools can be great for this. What are the boundaries around people being contacted – when is it too late or too early? What constitutes “time pollution” or “over-working”? Agree service standards for how quickly emails or texts might be answered to avoid frustration and misunderstandings.
Marana has been supporting clients with “Working Flexibly for People Leaders” and “Working Flexibly for Teams” workshops delivered face-to-face and Live Online. We’ve seen that when flexible arrangements are in place and work well, everyone benefits.
Other sites for reference: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/industry-information/general-industry-information/working-home
Stephen Bevan of Lancaster University did research as part of ‘Work After Lockdown’ in the UK and discusses his findings, He found among other things that 90% of people reported the same productivity in lockdown as before, however there were some mental health impacts of working remotely which will need addressing. (Remote working: why some people are less productive at home than others – new research (theconversation.com).
The past year has certainly thrown up some challenges and now that we are returning to offices and interacting more closely with each other, it has led to a few tricky situations arising when someone sneezes or coughs at work.
A client recently mentioned that her young son coughed in the supermarket (he swallowed some food too quickly!) and said she was met with glares and some mutterings about COVID from shoppers nearby. At a recent workshop, a participant commented about a team member repeatedly sneezing in the office. That team member suffers from hay fever and hadn’t taken an antihistamine drug that day. No-one in their team knew what to say or how to broach the questions on everyone’s mind at the time – “Have they had a COVID test? Should they go home? Who is monitoring this?”
A year or so ago we would have all been expecting people to take cold, flu or hay fever medications and deal with it themselves. In fact, we have sometimes been encouraged to go to work as it’s “just a cold” and in many workplaces stoicism over minor illness was viewed as a badge of honour. With the advent of COVID-19 all that has had to change and many of us now realise that in the past we have probably spread germs far and wide by working when a little unwell. Now we are being asked to stay home with even the slightest symptom and get tested.
What is required from organisations in this pandemic is for people leaders to agree and promote protocols for physically working together. This includes regularly reminding everyone of the importance of keeping themselves and their colleagues healthy through keeping safe distances, regular hand sanitising, temperature checks (as appropriate) and in particular stressing the need for any employee who feels sick to stay home and, if necessary, get tested for COVID-19. If this hasn’t happened in your workplace, you could ask your people leader to discuss it at a team meeting.
“I’m not currently aware of the protocols in terms of office sickness. It’s a bit unsettling and I’d like to discuss and agree on the team’s approach to illness. My suggestion is that if we have any symptoms, even if someone thinks it’s just hay fever or a cold, we get tested for COVID and then be supported to stay home until we are better no matter the result? Can we discuss this at the next team meeting?”
However, what if your colleagues haven’t been following these guidelines or you are worried about their coughs and sneezes in the office. If you know them well and generally have a good relationship with them, you could constructively observe they don’t seem well and provide some suggestions on what they could do.
“Jay it seems you have been sneezing a lot today. I know it’s a sensitive time right now sickness wise, are you feeling OK? Perhaps speak to Gisella (People Leader) about working from home until you feel better.”
“Chris I am worried about that cough of yours. Do you feel OK? How about you head off home and get yourself better? It’s important to be safe and follow health guidelines.”
If you don’t feel comfortable raising it with your colleague yourself then you can take your concerns to your Team Leader/Supervisor/Manager or Human Resources and ask them to intervene.
“Kerry has been working really hard since we returned to working in the office and seems unwell, sneezing and coughing. It’s worrying me he could be infecting others in the team. Please can Kerry be asked to work from home until he is no longer coughing and sniffling?
These can feel like awkward conversations, however it is important to raise and resolve these issues to ensure bad feelings and misunderstandings do not arise among team members. COVID-19 has taken our personal and professional lives into new and unchartered territories, however when navigating these situations, it is important to implement the fundamentals of tough conversations and approach all situations with empathy.
And if you have any doubts about yourself, colleagues or your team follow the government guidelines and inform your colleagues of your actions, this will help build a good COVID-Safe work culture.
Over the past few days we have received an influx of promotional marketing material – one reads “Massive changes have come to the workplace. In the past weeks, these times of uncertainty require your workforce to be flexible and resilient, and to reskill for the changes ahead.” It went on to say; “The most successful organisations are the ones that can navigate uncertainty, tackle challenges and pull together to drive innovation.”
Well I think we can all say we are currently facing uncertainty and challenges that we have never personally imagined or experienced before. Every day people are having to change ways of living and working. There is a lot of fear, concern, confusion and sorrow out there about how lives are being affected and changed and the impact this pandemic is having on all of us, right round the world. For those lucky enough to generate an income, it is hard to focus when we don’t know what the next moment will bring and we hear so much negative news.
During this time it is heartening to hear from clients, their stories of adaptation; learning about remote working set-ups; what it’s like to work along-side or opposite a partner (pets included) and what can be accomplished through on-line platforms such as Zoom, Skype etc. Interestingly for a number of our clients, especially in Local and State Government, internal discussions are taking place around a key question; “What is an essential service?”
For Team Leaders, Supervisors, Managers and Directors discussing tougher questions such as, ‘Is our role essential and what is our purpose?’ can evoke a lot of fear for already anxious staff. People have heightened levels of emotions related to remote working, the challenges of home schooling, what to do over the up-coming holiday period and how to care for the vulnerable, including elderly parents. We also have a generation of people in management and supervisory positions with family members at home who are facing their first experience of a recession / major economic downturn. It is an incredibly difficult time for everyone right now and for many, the discomfort that people now feel is similar to grief. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We trust this is temporary, but we don’t know how long for, it doesn’t feel that way and we realise things will be different in the future.
This is a challenging time for people leaders with emotions for everyone running high and very close to the surface. It is important that Team Leaders, Supervisors, Managers and Directors let people constructively vent their feelings and be heard more than ever. Displaying empathy now is critical for staff to feel they are supported, understood and truly listened to, which means listening carefully and acknowledging feelings and not judging or dismissing emotions.
So what can people leaders do or say to support and assist staff:
- Let people constructively vent their feelings without interrupting and validate feelings.
- Focus on single-tasking as opposed to multi-tasking. There can be many distractions for staff whilst working remotely so when on the phone or online system the focus has to be on the other person and what they are saying. This can be a challenge when others may also be at home working, schooling and/or there are distractions in the background. Using headphones, minimising other applications, turning off other mobile devices and “ping” notifications, shutting doors and thoughtful workspace arrangements may help here.
- We often say take a deep breath when things are overwhelming and this is a great thing to do to calm the mind, support physical health and aid regaining focus. We would encourage you and others to BREATHE maybe use a meditation app that might work for you and/or your staff. Ask people “What can we both do to help support you focus and to feel OK this week?” and commit to making this part of a weekly check-in.
- Maintain team rituals. Consider what can still be done to celebrate monthly birthdays to accommodate social distancing or Friday social drinks via on-line platforms. A number of clients are encouraging staff within teams to share a happy picture each day and/or week. I’ve even heard of a remote team wearing the same colour top on a particular day. The team are based in Orange, NSW. I’m not sure the colour was orange!
- Help people with paradigms of control. What are staff concerned about but cannot control? What can be influenced and what can be controlled? Coach people on actions that can be controlled to build their sphere of influence. Support people to focus on what can be achieved in the week and/or a day. Celebrate daily completion of a will-do list as opposed to focusing on the never ending to-do list.
- If appropriate now could be time to work on those jobs or tasks the team always means to do but doesn’t have time for. Try asking “What work or jobs have we often wanted to do, systems to improve or cheat sheets to develop but lacked the time, that we could start on now?”
- If you decide your team may not be seen as an essential service you can focus staff on seeing how they can help others and feel useful. Try finding this out by asking “What can we do this week to make ourselves useful and supportive to the organisation and our other colleagues?”
- This is a time for us to be kind to ourselves and others, to praise and appreciate our colleagues and our amazing front-line workers. Patience while we all work it out is important. Recognise people and provide sincere positive feedback “I know it has been a really tough couple of weeks with the transition to this way of working. Thanks for quickly adapting and having things up and running.”
Reaching out for help is a sign of strength. Please feel free to reach out to us at any time if you need assistance. Look after yourself, your teams and your colleagues in the coming weeks and/or months. Our thoughts are with you. Keep safe and socially conscious – Sarah and Patricia
The following Harvard Business Review articles below have some great suggestions to help:
Last November Patricia travelled to Ethiopia with Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia as part of a major fundraising campaign. She saw firsthand what has been achieved through the dedication and leadership of Dr Catherine Hamlin and her husband Dr Reg Hamlin.
The Hamlin’s life and work is one of the truly inspiring stories of the modern age. In 1959 as Australian obstetricians and gynaecologists, Drs Catherine and Reg Hamlin travelled to Ethiopia at the behest of the then Royal Family to set up a college for midwifery training.
In the early years of their stay, they noticed the wretched plight of obstetric fistula sufferers, a terrible childbirth injury almost unheard of in the first world, who at that time were treated as incurable cases. No -one anywhere in the world was doing anything to treat this catastrophic, life altering condition. These seemingly incurable patients so touched their hearts that they resolved to do something to help. Together they perfected the modern technique for obstetric fistula surgery. They negotiated with governments, survived through very difficult times politically in Ethiopia, raised funds to set up a number of hospitals, clinics and a midwifery school and have trained people to run the enterprise.
Catherine herself has been recognised for her amazing work. She is a Companion of the Order of Australia, a national living treasure of Australia and a two time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Reg Hamlin passed away nearly 20 years ago, and Catherine now in her 90s, continues to inspire a team of surgeons and her loyal Ethiopian staff, some of whom have been with her since 1959.
To date their team has treated more than 40,000 women and radically changed their lives for the better.
Travelling around all the facilities in some fare flung corners of the country, it was interesting to ponder on what made them such effective leaders and change agents. A number of characteristics were clear:
- They were passionate about the cause. Catherine, now 92, says she wants to see obstetric fistula eradicated, if not in her lifetime then in in ours. They dreamed big and with this clear vision they could enthuse others and set plans in place to achieve them.
- They developed the skills necessary to achieve their goal. It took them a few years to research, study, develop and refine the skills required. They became the leading experts in this field and then set about training as many others as they could. They recognise they made mistakes but learned form them and never gave up.
- They were able to recognise talent in people and took the time to develop and nurture people. One of their major successes was training a cured patient to become one of the leading fistula surgeons in the world, a wonderful woman called Mamitu. They have ensured their work continues by developing a well trained staff and recruiting effectively.
- Humility and kindness is a large part of Dr Catherine’s charm. She downplays the praise she receives from many quarters and deflects it onto her team. Those who work with her directly adore her and quite literally will do anything for her.
- They never gave up, persistence being a key part of their success. When there was political turmoil in Ethiopia they stayed and found a diplomatic way through it. Key skills for any good leader.
- One more endearing characteristic is that they didn’t seek personal gain. As specialised doctors they could have had the choice of roles in any prestigious hospital. Instead they chose to work with some of the most marginalised women in the world. This has been a role model for the doctors they have trained and employed and many said it was Dr Catherine’s example that inspired them. One of their surgeons commented that he had high paying work offers from all over the world but he could not take them as it would be letting Dr Hamlin down.
Patricia often presents on behalf of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. Her trip was both educational and inspirational on so many levels. To find out more about these amazing Australians go to www.hamlin.org.au