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Hybrid: Beware the one-size-fits-all

There must be a fundamental understanding that no two employees can be looked upon through the same lens – even if they’re working towards the same objective, in the same job role.

It is only now – two years on from the shift to remote and hybrid work – that HR is beginning to emerge from its cycle of perpetual firefighting. The people department is finally able to take stock of all that the pandemic has thrown at it – and in doing so, HR teams are starting to define their long-term hybrid strategies. 

Research from Gallup shows that 60% of employees now prefer hybrid working to being either fully remote or entirely office-based. The opportunity to mix working from home with regular trips to the office has proven universally popular with employees, and who can blame them? The thought of commuting two to three hours a day, five days a week, now seems absurd.

Hybrid workers not only want to split their time between the office and home, though, they want to do so in a way that suits their own needs and personal commitments. But to cater to this, people managers must first understand the specific needs and wants of each of their direct reports: What’s important to them? What motivates and inspires them? What do they need to sustain high performance? 

Broadening the scope of conversation
The future of hybrid work is now relying on HR to deploy the right strategies and tools that will enable managers to understand all of these nuances through frequent and effective conversations. But these conversations can’t continue along the same track as the traditional, pre-pandemic one-to-one. They must support a much wider breadth of content that includes wellbeing, motivation, and development. It is through these broader discussions that managers can capture a more holistic view of the employee and their unique blend drivers (the things that the individual employee needs in order to stay engaged and achieve high performance at work).

All that taken into account, one thing’s for certain: the new world of work is no place for a one-size-fits-all strategy. So what should organisations be doing to support effective conversations and help hybrid workers to reach their full potential?

Inclusive performance management
Inclusivity is a major factor here. Inclusivity in the sense of belonging and helping people to feel connected and part of a team, certainly. But alongside this, there must be a fundamental understanding that no two employees can be looked upon through the same lens – even if they’re working towards the same objective, in the same job role. What we’re talking about here is inclusive performance management – and it starts with equity.

Again, this calls for managers to truly know and understand their employees at an individual level – their background, education, responsibilities, abilities, and even their social skills. Think of it this way: is it reasonable to expect that a 5’0” caretaker might need a bigger ladder than their 6’5” colleague in order to perform the same job to the same standard? Of course it is. 

The key thing to remember is that performance is all relative. We cannot compare one employee’s progression to that of another simply because they started work at the same time. There are so many differentiating factors at play – and the best managers today are those that not only recognise these differences, but those who actively cater to them through inclusivity that supports personalised employee experiences. 

The ‘human’ manager
Of course, in order to support this kind of inclusivity, managers need employees to speak openly about their needs and abilities – and for that, managers must show themselves to be approachable and human. If employees see their managers failing and learning, struggling with stress or anxiety – and being open about it, that lends a certain permission, or even encouragement, for the employee to follow suit. Far from the autocratic managers of the 80s and 90s who would do anything not to lose face or admit their mistakes, managers today can be applauded for showing employees that they’re human, that they’re flawed, and that, lo and behold, they’re just as fallible as their employees. Crucially, employees who witness this will likely feel more comfortable speaking about their own problems and concerns before they grow into major issues that harm their physical and mental health, not to mention their performance. 

The resounding message to managers is therefore this: be more human. Your people will thank you for it (and you might just take a lot of undue stress off yourself in the process). 

People change, circumstances change
But all of this comes with a key caveat: don’t set it and forget it. We’ve all been witness to monumental change over the past two years. We’re still living in an uncertain world where people’s wants and needs can quickly change. The things that a hybrid worker needed from their employer three months ago may already be redundant. Childcare circumstances change. Financial responsibilities change. Priorities change. People change. It’s therefore not only the breadth of conversation that matters (though that is vital), it’s about ensuring conversations happen frequently enough to offer fluidity in line with people’s evolving needs.  

It is this combination of broad and frequent conversations that supports the most effective outcomes: think short term objectives; regular catch-ups; no topic too taboo; and nothing set in stone. This is how HR and business leaders can build a people-centric culture that will set themselves apart from the competition – and in a market where the employee now holds most of the playing cards, it’s essential to attracting and retaining the best talent.

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