The combination of a global pandemic and the wide accessibility of technology that enables remote working has created a perfect storm. Working conditions have shifted to allow many employees the ability to work from home over the past 18 months and, as pandemic measures such as lockdowns begin to ease around the world, organisations are now asking themselves how to set up their workforce for success.
The biggest issue is balancing the desire for in-person collaboration while continuing to offer the flexibility that many team members are hoping to retain.
How to get the hybrid work model to work for your team
The case for collaboration
In many industries, the effectiveness of a team is heightened when the members are meeting in person. In particular, collaboration is at the heart of creative industries – it’s where great ideas can come together to thrive and develop. When working separately, these visions can be siloed, and it becomes harder to nurture skills within a team.
Coming from a creative agency, the Bastion Brands team members feel they do their best work when together in a room. Although it’s possible to replicate this setup via Zoom and other types of meeting platforms, nothing beats being in a group of people and having a whiteboard to brainstorm and collaborate on ideas. It’s more enjoyable, the dynamic is easier to read and plug into, and it’s possible for many simultaneous sparks to create something in a manner that digital platforms have yet to replicate.
While working from home didn’t kill team collaboration, it was certainly made more difficult by distance. On the flip side, team members have become closer. Not only have they ridden out the pandemic together, a bonding experience, the intimacy that comes from working from home – often seeing glimpses of the private lives of our colleagues – has also strengthened connections.
Finding flexibility for your team
In recent years, roles that offered flexibility were considered a point of attraction for talent; today, flexibility is becoming a given. It’s good for work/life balance and it enables people who have a long commute to save time, money and the frustration that comes from traffic or travelling on public transport.
Because our agency hasn’t been able to meet in a team environment in months, staff are keen to get back together, but we are aware that maintaining the offer of flexibility will go a long way with people who have grown used to doing ‘life admin’ – from childcare and household chores to going to yoga or waiting for a plumber – in between periods of work.
We intend to offer flexibility going forward but need to ensure that the new hybrid workforce works for all stakeholders: individual staff, the team, the business and, importantly, our clients.
Hybridising the workforce
My prediction is that we will never go back to 100% of the team coming in five days a week, so here are my tips for creating a hybrid workforce.
The first consideration is to match the style of work to the individual. For example, there may be client-facing roles that were temporarily conducted via a digital platform or phone, but the client may request a return to in-person meetings once it is safe to do so. It is then up to organisations to find the staff member who is willing and able to accommodate that style of work.
Have this conversation as early as possible with your team so you are clear on the needs and rhythms of the group. Make sure team members feel psychologically safe to voice a preference for onsite or remote working, as suited to their output and best focus environment. From there, managers can prepare to schedule flexible days that match each staff member’s best output and arrange for an optimum time for the group to collaborate.
We’ve all learnt a lot since the start of the pandemic, and now’s the time to identify the tools and practices that worked and jettison the things that didn’t. For example, once ‘Zoom fatigue’ became apparent, many teams found that there were meetings that could have been an email (or a thread on a team communications board), so it’s good practice to rid your team’s workday of unnecessary meetings.
It may be the case that team members get the most out of a combination of onsite and virtual work, where the variety helps them to become more productive, switching between the team energy when at work together and benefiting from flexibility when working from home. Also, consider structuring at-home days for deep work where there are no scheduled meetings.
There’s no going back to pre-covid working conditions. The organisations that try to roll back to 2019 are going to meet resistance from talent that now knows what’s possible and has a better understanding of their own working style. Hybridisation is inevitable, so look to align your clients, your business and employees and the balance between collaboration and flexibility will assert itself to help you plan the workforce of the future.
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