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We mustn’t let the challenges of hybrid working prevent a more flexible future

Successful management of remote and hybrid teams requires a new set of skills – and they won’t just appear by magic. Leaders and HR need to invest in training to bring people up to speed, or risk the consequences.

As 2020 crawls to a close, one thing is certain; the workplace will never be the same again. It’s pretty clear that a degree of remote working is here to stay; a survey by the IOD suggested that 74% of firms are planning to maintain the increase in home working. And at the time of writing, the Prime Minister has told all workers in England to work from home if possible until April 2021.

Clearly, there are many upsides to remote working; from the time gained by skipping the commute and the related positive impact to mental health, to a general perception that it makes it easier to balance work and life. And the growing acceptability of hybrid working set-ups, where you work in the best place for the job in hand and the needs of your team, is a real step forward.

But it’s also important to recognise that the remote working we’re seeing right now isn’t normal; it’s universal, and enforced, without reference to whether it’s the best way to tackle that day’s or week’s workload. So it’s not surprising that, in our conversations with businesses, we’re hearing lots of examples of how it isn’t working as it should.

This doesn’t mean that home and hybrid working arrangements should be phased out once the pandemic is over. Employees want to keep them, and they can be a useful part of any organisation’s flexible toolkit. But simply replicating office-based practices isn’t enough. As with any flexible role, these arrangements need to be designed properly, and managers need to be skilled up to support the people who are using them.

From Zoom fatigue to lack of workspace – when homeworking is harder

The concept of Zoom fatigue – the exhaustion felt by people as a result of online meeting overload – was much discussed at the beginning of the pandemic. Some employees, particularly younger ones and those living alone, have wrestled with a lack of proper workspace, with some even reporting feeling judged by their home environments. The blurring of boundaries is also a recognised problem. And smart decision-making and creativity have both been noted as being negatively affected when whole teams work permanently from home.

Additionally, there is a growing sense that, without careful oversight, the move to a hybrid set-up, with some in the office and others at home, may lead to women and ethnic minorities being excluded from key decisions and limiting the diversity of opinions which are heard. Or that the extroverts in a team will choose to go in, and the introverts to stay at home, affecting their visibility and progression path, and encouraging groupthink.

Well-trained managers understand the challenges and how to fix them

These are tough issues to work around – but if we just roll over and accept them as the price we pay for more flex, we risk rowing back on all the progress that’s been made. Instead, we need to tackle them – and the best way to do so is by making sure line managers and other leaders are properly skilled up.

Well-trained, properly skilled managers know that they need to trust their remote employees, rather than force them to stay logged in to Zoom all day so they can keep an eye on them. They understand that having an 8.30 meeting every day to check that everyone is working can be counterproductive. They appreciate that, when physical interaction isn’t possible, other ways of connecting teams have to be found.  And they realise that, in an era of job uncertainty, employees need to be encouraged to switch off, not left to put in ever longer hours for fear of being let go.

Design and management of flexible teams are skills that need to be taught

To succeed, managers need to know how to design flexible roles – whether part-time, remote, or a combination of the two. They need to understand how to manage flexible employees, and how to ensure that hybrid-working teams are still able to work productively together. But these aren’t skills that people can just pick up. They need to be taught; and that’s where we come in.

Training managers to build and develop successful flexible teams has long been a core part of our work here at Timewise. And now, from our work with clients and other organisations during the pandemic, we have gained a unique set of insights that are specifically relevant to building these skills in the current circumstances.

We can support employers in a range of ways; from workshops and training sessions to participation in our new Flex Positive Programme. So if you, like us, believe that this is a critical time for developing the leadership skills that will make a success of flexible and hybrid working, feel free to get in touch to see how we can help.

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