Tag Archives: covid

Leading in the New Hybrid World

20 Sep

It’s tough out there.  We’ve made it through our first global exposure to Covid, and new experiences of quarantining and working from home.  Now the next new challenge is emerging.  We’re not moving “back to the office.” Instead we’re now learning how to “embrace hybrid.” We are seeking that balance between “in person” (and it’s social, creative, technological and team building merits) and “remote” (and the associated benefits we’ve exposed around flexibility and productivity).  

There are many great examples of companies doing great things and experimenting with new ideas.  To me, it all boils down to 6 anchors that underpin actions: 

  1. Lead with PURPOSE.  First off, HAVE a Purpose.  For your company, your team, yourself.  Set all strategies, plans and actions in the context of this Purpose.  
  • FOSTER your environment.  Nurture a culture that’s open, psychologically safe, and endorses vulnerability.  Be engaged and be responsive.  Surface the unspoken and invite discussion.  Let people be heard and valued.
  • Value DIVERSITY … really value it.  I don’t mean visible differences like gender or race.  I’m talking about differences in thought and approach.  Organizations and teams get better results with differences, even though it can take more initial effort to do so, and it can be frustrating.
  • Appreciate CIRCUMSTANCES.  We are all at different stages in our lives (and those stages create different work-life balance needs). We are also a multi-generational workforce (with different expectations and outlooks).  Add on to that that we all have personal preferences and desires.  Understand these and work together to find mutually beneficial solutions for affinity groups.  Be flexible. 
  • Embody LEADERSHIP.  Particularly in rapidly changing, uncertain times.  Leadership takes self-awareness, curiosity, vulnerability, and empathy.  And most importantly, courage.  Examine yourself and your motives.
  • Keep LEARNING.  Adapting to something new takes practice and challenges old models.  Failed experiments are part of the process.  Don’t bury them, own them.  And do something about it.

Curious to know what you think …

Anna Minto

Founder & CEO, Transformational Change

AMinto@trchange.com

LinkedIn.com/in/annaminto

http://www.annaminto.com

The Great Office Debate (Part 2 of 2)

15 May

The Great Office Debate (Part 2 of 2)

So, what do we do now?

Following up on last week’s post highlighting the arguments for “work from home” and “work from office,” it’s clear that neither model will suit most organizations in their entirety all the time (though there are arguments that can support either model for functions or departments within the organization).  

The question not “should we continue “at home” work?”, but rather “what does the new remote work model look like?”  Getting to a new hybrid model is no small task, and here’s an approach to help you get there:

(1) CALL IT LIKE IT IS.       

If some overarching reason (perhaps Vision/Mission or Culture?), truly dictates that the entire organization can only operate in one model or the other, then call it like it is and don’t waste your time thinking about this.  Be very thoughtful and honest though that this is really so … and beware of the ripple effects of your decision on attraction, retention, culture, efficiency, customer service, etc.  Communicate the decision, and why it is so … and move on to something else.  If that’s not the case, read on.

(2) DEFINE AND UNDERSTAND the distinct pieces of “work” from the top-down.  

Identify, prioritize and break down key work processes.  Be clear on what purpose they serve, what they deliver, what parts actually need to be done (or eliminated) to get there, and who they interact with.   Get specific about each role within it.  Understand what’s a collaborative project and what’s an individualized project.  Identify which value-adding activities are done more efficiently and effectively, where and why.  Articulate, and get in words, the rationale for being in the office (or not) for specific work activities.  This is a herculean task that results in a true diagnosis by looking in the mirror. Carefully facilitated and coordinated sub-group think-tanks are an efficient way of getting there.

(3) IN PARALLEL, LISTEN… really listen and learn. 

Ask your people what they want and why.  Only your employees can tell you how they have changed as a result of the pandemic, and what they want moving forward. Deaverage input not only by function or department but also for example by young, mostly city-dwelling people who may have differing views from older, suburban-living people.  Learn with an open mind:

  • Foster honesty – make it safe to know the WHOLE truth.
  • Be collective – hear from the cross-section of employees across the organization.
  • Be internally public – so people know you care enough to ask and want the unvarnished truth.

Tell the truth about what the company needs to have done and engage people in the hard work of creating solutions together.  Dream big.  And, btw, all this means that just a “survey” is far too superficial alone.  Excellence requires structured think-tank input and 1-on-1 conversations as well.

(4) DRAFT the policies – for the overall organization and for specific groups.  

There are many (many) options to consider.  It’s a complex task, with interrelated parts and it’s unique to your organization.  Get your senior team together for a work-a-thon to tackle it.  It may take a day or two.

  • Clearly articulate and prioritize the “next new” question(s) you are going to answer, for which types of “work” and why.
  • Note that “Away” works best for relatively independent tasks, codified and shared at a distance.
  • Note that “In Person” matters for relatively dependent tasks, coordinating tacit knowledge in fluid ways, and coordinating in unpredictable ways.
  • Get in the details.  Conceptual simplicity still gives rise to operational complexity.
  • Incorporate flexibility as much as you can.
  • Consider hybrid policies that can increase both retention and recruiting pools.  
  • Remember that structure is important.  An unstructured hybrid approach does not work if left to individual choice to come in when people feel like it.
  • Make sure that performance systems are based on output and value delivered.
  • Beware that there are motivation and compensation impact to everything.
  • Look at both effectiveness and “fairness” across groups.
  • Be creative and learn from others.
  • Group like-policies by department together for simplicity where possible.
  • Ensure there is a cohesive plan.

Once done, share it with the Leadership team.  Adjust.  Align.  Proceed.

(5) CRAFT the message.  

There has been a subtle but significant shift in the employer-employee relationship.  In the “pre (covid)” world, employers set standard rules of employment and the worker acquiesced.  Now, employees expect their employers to consider their individual circumstances when designing their specific roles and evaluating their performance.  Come from a “what’s in it for me?” perspective.  Get specific and be prepared to answer questions (e.g., who works remotely?  On what days? Etc.).  Also, be aware that employees’ relationship with employers has shifted, putting more focus on individual employees’ health, well-being and personal needs.

(6) REMODEL your walls.  

Real estate holdings often need to be reevaluated for what kind of physical space best enables a fluid workforce in the next new.  The shape and feel of the office experience must suit the purpose.  Structure the place to ensure that time in the office is optimized for face-to-face time. Many yearn for meaningful connection, social community, flexibility, and safety.  Consider the:

  • Reality of casual conversations that come before or after a meeting.
  • Importance of “water cooler” talk, walking in the halls and bumping into people.
  • Need for larger interactive, properly equipped “collaborative innovation spaces” for group brainstorming, hackathons, demo hours, etc.
  • Insight that trust and working relationships are often nurtured over coffees and lunches.   
  • Expectations that people who are on-site are not just there for in-person meetings or closed doors.
  • Need for time and place for people to just sit together and work.

(7) OVERCOMMUNICATE the next new … loudly and often

In the absence of communication, we all connect the dots in very imaginative and often delusionary ways.  Get specific.  Enlist those with “megaphones,” and address those who are “wrench-throwers”.

(8) CORRECT.  

None of us are geniuses, and we don’t have crystal balls.  Take solid action, then figure out what’s working and what’s not.  Gather data and feedback; gauge the productivity of people and of teams and their connection to your organization.  Make yourself and your senior team accountable to the organization and its people.  Then repeat the process periodically.  It’s unlikely that we’ll nail any model perfectly on the first try.  And if you don’t get it right, someone else will.

Bottom line:  we’re not returning to the “old” and we need to define the “new” in a thoughtful and methodical way. 

I welcome your thoughts and am happy to discuss your particular journey to the “next hybrid new.”

Anna Minto

Founder & CEO, Transformational Change

AMinto@trchange.com

LinkedIn.com/in/annaminto

The Great Office Debate (Part 1 of 2). Home vs. Office Arguments

8 May

The Great Office Debate (Part 1 of 2)

Home vs. Office Arguments

It seems the world is divided.  Well, around most things.  But here, I am talking about whether “to be, or not to be” (at the office).  This first part explores what’s driving the debate.

One can argue the robustness and subtleties of the many (many) “back to the office” studies out there … but one thing is clear:  we’re headed on a collision course between many employees’ desire to continue working from home (at least partially) and many employers’ desire to get back to the office (at least partially).  The tension is broad and heated.  A Stanford University study shows 42% of the US workforce has been working from home full-time during the pandemic, and several studies suggest around two-thirds wanting some kind of hybrid model as we emerge from the pandemic.   

Remote work is now a table-stake.  Virtualization of work and careers (working anywhere, anytime) is now possible and more familiar, and it’s here to stay.  We used to talk about “going to the office” and leave “away from the office” messages on email.  Now, “being in the office” just means being in a state of working (wherever or whenever that might be).  The idea that you must be physically present to be productive is just not valid anymore. And there is no going back.  There is only going forward to the “next normal” with thoughtful design and action.

Let’s take a look at the end of the spectrum from each point of view. 

The WFH (Working From Home) Arguments:

It’s not actually about working from home, but about “working from anywhere.”  The theme here is “flexibility” and “convenience” from the employee’s perspective.   There are two fundamental drivers:

  • We don’t NEED to be in the office anyway 
  • We have adapted to building an office environment at home.  Creating a quiet space in the first place, and outfitting it with stronger home wi-fi, getting ergonomic chairs, standing desks, multiple large monitors and great zoom cameras.  
  • We’ve become expert Zoom and Teams users.  
  • … and to top it off, we’re saving the company money.  (Companies paid over $900B in rent last year).
  • We don’t WANT to be in the office
  • We like the flexibility that comes with virtual work and the at-home work lifestyle.
  • We’ve learned to inter-task (like multitasking, but in small sequential dispersed activities). We pop in laundry and other home chores, juggle passing children, squeeze in a walk and on-line fitness class.
  • We’re saving our money (on commuting, clothing and away-from-home food).
  • We’ve eliminated hours of commuting and the expectation to get dressed up (who hasn’t taken a video looking presentable from the top up and sporting athletic shorts below the desk?!).
  • We’ve often moved to more remote locations, further from offices and airports which are now inconvenient to get to.
  • We’re out of the “face-time” and “ office hours” businesses and are adult enough to be trusted to manage our own time.
  • There is talk of the imminent arrival of “Zoom doors” and other casual pop-in technologies that will make up for the missing social interaction pieces anyway.
  • We’re definitely safe in relative isolation at home, but who knows about the office.
  • … and, for many, we’ve even welcomed in a puppy who wants our attention.  

Bottom line, we’ve made ourselves as efficient (or close to as efficient) as before, and we’ve made ourselves a very comfy nest.  About 30% of we working professionals say we would quit if we had to return to the office, according to LiveCareer.  And over 40% of us would not even consider a new job if it did not include some flexibility to work remotely.  This is our new reality and expectation.

The RTW (Return To Office) Arguments:

The number one driver for employers seems to be “effectiveness.”  Not just “efficient” (flying the plane fast), but “effective” (flying the plane fast in the right direction).  

  • Community.  We humans are social beings wanting social connections and we are arguably better off interacting face to face.  Particularly when relationships are new (e.g., onboarding, mergers, reorgs), and where cultures are rich and distinct (e.g., rituals, social interactions).   
  • Collaborating on new ideas.  It’s hard to beat a group of people with a white board and sticky notes.
  • Connecting and engaging with managers.  Particularly the informal “drop by” access and communicating sensitive messages (e.g., performance reviews, feedback).  
  • Leading a disparate team is a new art-form for many; we’re used to working with people who are centrally located and we’re not quite sure how best to do it now.
  • Monitoring productivity.  It allows us to “see” if people are really working, and to grab colleagues quickly when we need them.  
  • Reading subtle cues, which can be more difficult to discern over zoom.
  • Use of legacy infrastructure investments (secure networks, phones, computers, meeting rooms).
  • Reducing burnout from “living at work”
  • Loneliness.  The covid pandemic has led to a loneliness pandemic with potentially huge costs from disengagement and burnout … and better technology does not build a sense of connectedness.  Without broad return to work, there will be a workforce health crisis, and a resulting HR nightmare. 

Bottom line:  The “return to the office” may not be as simple as we imagined at the beginning of Covid.

I welcome your thoughts on what drives the tensions between “work from home” and “work from the office”… and next week I will share my thoughts about where we go from here.