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How to navigate the cultural challenges of hybrid working

It’s a challenging time for business leaders, but these tips should help you navigate the challenges that have arisen with hybrid/remote working in a post-pandemic world, improve relationships at all levels and achieve sought after business outcomes.

Over the last few years, we’ve come to truly appreciate hybrid/remote working. During the pandemic, when people everywhere were forced to stay at home, hybrid/remote working enabled us to stay connected and keep working. As we transitioned into the new normal, it enabled us to retain certain benefits and freedoms. In the new world of work, it’s often part of the employee proposition and a way for companies to attract and retain talent in a competitive marketplace.

But, as many people are now experiencing, hybrid/remote working isn’t without its challenges. Employees who have only ever experienced hybrid/remote working are missing out on numerous workplace benefits. Organisations are struggling to balance the workplace/homeworking dichotomy, resulting in low levels of trust and poor workplace culture. And the impact is high employee turnover, low productivity, and reduced profitability.

It’s something I see all too often at Netley Consulting. For example, an organisational has recruited new employees during the pandemic and agreed hybrid/remote working arrangements. Now that life is returning to normal, however, not all employees want to return to the office. And where there are exceptions and inconsistencies, resentment can build, resulting in poor relationships, low trust, and a challenging workplace culture.

With this in mind, I’ve outlined some tips that could help you manage this situation, improve relationships and achieve identified business outcomes.

Build community
Community and culture and inextricably intertwined. If the people who make up your community connect regularly, enjoy interacting and partnering together, feel safe to speak up and have challenging or ‘needed’ conversations, then chances are you have a solid workplace culture. Naturally, therefore, one of the best ways to build community is to come together regularly as a team – whether that’s for ideation purposes, collaborative working, or for team building. Regular connection lets your people get to know each other, share different perspectives and experiences, and create a more tolerant and inclusive working environment.

My top tip here is to try ‘reframing’ a return to the office. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, people worked from home to stay safe and avoid getting sick – so it might be that they’re anxious about returning to a populated office environment. Support your people through the ‘breakthrough’ period by taking things at their pace and creating a safe space for them to share any concerns or anxieties.

Where possible, consider incentivising travel costs to get people back to the office. It might be that people have gotten used to spending less money on commuting and that this money is helping stretched budgets during the cost-of-living crisis. Try to make time to understand individual concerns and mitigate wherever possible.

Elsewhere, consider creating non-financial value points about coming to the office. This could be drawing people back through team training sessions, group ideation or strategy sessions, or social events.

If employees are reluctant to engage with these efforts, it’s worth exploring why.

Use considerate communication
One of the best ways to build relationships is to communicate with people the way they want to be communicated with. During my almost two-decades in learning and development, I’ve seen (and used) a lot of different development models, with varying levels of success. However, the Insights Discovery model is one of the best at creating a simple-to-use, easy-to-remember language that helps diffuse conflict and increase understanding.

In this model, for example, people with strong Red (extraverted thinking) energy are usually strong-willed and purposeful; so, get to the point quickly and focus on outcomes. Yellow (extraverted feeling) is sociable, dynamic, and persuasive; so, engage early, share the vision, and ask for their contribution. Green (introverted feeling) energy seeks harmony; so, consider the people impact and create sufficient time for care and connection. Finally, Blue (introverted thinking) is precise, deliberate and questioning; so, stick to the data, share the process and create time for considered reflection.

The language you use is also essential; where possible, share communication preferences and depersonalise language. By taking a 5% step towards the preference of each other, we are 10% more aligned – and that makes a huge difference. That’s 10% more effective communications, 10% more trust, 10% more harmony in a team, 10% more productivity, and 10% better collaboration. This will help to foster an inclusive and considerate workplace culture.

The power of proximity
In this fast-paced world, decisions are often made on behalf of others. While this is almost always done with the best of intentions, failing to engage, consult and collaborate can spell disaster. Consider it from the employee’s perspective – why was that decision made for me? Why wasn’t I consulted? I’m not happy and I don’t know what to do.

Now consider it again in the context of a post-pandemic world where hybrid/remote employees have had more freedom and autonomy than ever before. Also consider that, because of the pandemic, most people have made carefully considered decisions about their working arrangements, so failure to collaborate on any changes that directly impact them could leave them feeling anxious, stressed or demotivated.

Consider this scenario, someone narrowly avoids walking into you, what do you do? Do you yell at them? Probably not. More likely, you’ll calmly reassure them, “No harm, no foul!” Now, consider the same scenario – but without the proximity. Someone narrowly avoids hitting colliding with your car, what do you do? Do you shout and gesticulate? Possibly. Now, I appreciate that the two situations are not entirely the same – but my point is that proximity can have a big role in achieving a successful outcome – so get close and collaborate often.

Invariably, anxiety will find an outlet – so my top tip here is to take sufficient time to work with your people, understand and acknowledge the issue, and work together constructively to resolve it.

Invest in awareness
Last, but certainly not least, create a solid foundation by investing in yourself and building awareness. Awareness of self helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses; where and how you can add most value; how to challenge appropriately; and how to turn your ideas into new realities. Taking the time to understand others – their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes – helps you become more understanding and accepting of others, able to adapt and connect, and collaborate more effectively to achieve better business outcomes.

It’s a challenging time for business leaders, but these tips should help you navigate the challenges that have arisen with hybrid/remote working in a post-pandemic world, improve relationships at all levels and achieve sought after business outcomes.

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