Work is a thing you do, not a place you go. That phrase has become more meaningful to many of us over the past couple of years, as those with location-agnostic roles (jobs that can be done from anywhere with a decent wifi connection) have moved from office-based working to home-working… and back again.
Most organisations are now taking the opportunity offered by the pandemic to allow a hybrid working approach, with employees expected to split their time between the workplace and home. Microsoft found that nine in ten leaders across Western Europe believe hybrid working is here to stay. And according to research from the CIPD, 39% of UK organisations are currently seeking to put in place additional measures or investment to enable more hybrid or home working.
But while this flexibility is great for those who are able to work from home (and it’s important to remember that a large proportion of the population can’t), there are concerns from some leaders that not having people together in a workspace can negatively impact productivity, creativity, collaboration and team dynamics. So, what does the evidence say, and how can we best tackle the challenge and create team connection and flow in a hybrid world?
First up, the evidence suggests there are many pros to allowing flexible and hybrid working, even if it can bring challenges. The CIPD research found that more than two-fifths (43%) of organisations felt employees were generally more productive when working from home or in a hybrid way. Allowing for more flexibility around where, when and how people work can lead to a host of direct and indirect business benefits, from potentially saving money on office-related costs to improving levels of employee job satisfaction and wellbeing. It also improves diversity and inclusion, by enabling those with disabilities or long-term health conditions, not to mention those with caring responsibilities, to work in a different way.
So with these benefits not in doubt, how can we leverage the positives? According to the Microsoft research, 45% of teams reported feeling less connected during COVID and it was only the teams that experienced a greater sense of community with their colleagues that thrived. When working in a hybrid way, we need to focus on creating that sense of community for everyone, no matter where they happen to be sat.
We’ve got some practical advice for building connection and flow among your teams in this new working world…
Support leaders. Leading in a hybrid context requires different skills, so managers and leaders need to be supported to succeed in this new environment. Leadership needs to be authentic, empathetic, empowering and, above all, human. Clarity of communication is critical. Consider how your leadership development offering is evolving to meet the needs of the emerging world of work. Offer leaders peer-to-peer opportunities to connect with each other, share challenges and support each other.
Create space and opportunities for connection on a personal, human level. Whether virtual or in person, offer teams regular chances to connect outside of the day job or task at hand. Consider scheduling informal or social catch-ups to show people this kind of social connection is encouraged and prioritised, and work on building psychological safety so people feel empowered to express themselves openly. If you want people to be physically present in the workplace, think about what social incentives you can provide to encourage people to come back together.
Provide clarity around expectations. If you want people back in the workplace, provide a clear framework of the kind of activities you’d prefer people to be physically present for. We are aiming for autonomy within a framework. Without clarity at work, around tasks and goals as well, people will not feel secure or comfortable enough to get into flow.
Focus on meaning and purpose. To create a clear sense of community, teams need to be clear on what they are striving for and to all be pulling in the same direction. Connecting people to purpose, and how the organisational purpose aligns with their own personal purpose and values, helps boost wellbeing and performance.
Think about strengths, feedback and praise. Taking a strengths-based approach to work has many knock-on positive impacts on performance, and encouraging teams to think about their strengths helps to build team cohesion and healthy relationships. When working in a hybrid way, feedback is perhaps more important than ever as we need to offer clarity, and create a culture where feedback is timely rather than letting things fester. Taking time to celebrate the wins is key to creating connections and strengthening relationships, as well as offering people opportunities to reflect, something which can be hard to find time for in our fast-paced world.