A year on from the first major impact of the coronavirus and the mad scramble to get office workers working from home, leaders and organisations around Australia – and the world – are grappling with the challenge of understanding the workplace of the future. Broadly, employees love the flexibility of working from home a few days a week, but managers and leaders don’t. That’s a generalisation, of course, but it reflects what’s happening in many organisations.
In the short term, many leaders are considering the “hybrid workplace”, with a mix of people working in the office and away from the office at any time. Companies like Microsoft have offered this for years, and Siemens announced this model last July for all their staff globally. Other companies like Google, Facebook, and HSBC have followed suit.
Leading a hybrid team brings its own challenges.
When leading a hybrid team, don’t try to treat your in-office people and at-home people the same way. If you do, you will be forced to find the “lowest common denominator” that works for everybody, and that’s the worst of both worlds.
Think equal, not same. Treat everybody equally, but find the best way to leverage the unique strengths of each workplace.
For example, if you have a mentoring program, you probably match in-office team members with mentors in the office. For those who are mostly based at home, instead of forcing them to do online mentoring, help them find external mentors, who don’t have the same in-depth experience of the organisation but provide broader outside experience instead.
This takes more thought and creativity than settling for the lowest common denominator – or, even worse, only doing what works for the in-office team. But put in this effort if you’re committed to the hybrid team as a long-term work style.
You’ll find opportunities everywhere.
When you start looking through the “equal, not same” lens, you’ll notice everything could be changed and improved. Some items are obviously worth changing immediately, so make them a priority.
Some items are obviously worth changing immediately, so tackle them first. Then make a list of your organisation’s values and invite each team member to choose items from the list and explain what that means for them in practice.
For example, if “learning” is a key value, one person might want that through mentoring, another by gaining a formal qualification, and another by doing a three-month stint shadowing somebody else. Do your best to give each person what they want (within reason).
This approach not only helps people individually, it also creates new opportunities for others. For example, if you offer external mentors to your at-home team members, there’s no reason you can’t make the same offer to those working in the office. Applying the “equal, not same” filter improves the workplace for everybody.