I’ve got to admit it, last week was emotional. For the first time in over 18 months, we were able to get the whole team together, in an actual room, in person. It was months in the planning, rescheduled several times, akin to a military operation to make sure we were all vaccinated, negative tested and able to attend, but we did it! It was uplifting, energising, fun and exhausting all at the same time and I loved every minute of it (even though as an introvert I’m not normally a fan of large group activities!).
As a team, we’d never all met in person until last week, having grown, developed and taken on new people over the last year, our relationship building has pretty much been done over a video screen, so it was extra-special to meet in the flesh to cement those relationships with some real face-to-face contact (and find that yes, most of us are shorter than we imagined!). It was wonderful to discuss ideas in small groups over flip charts, have a natter over lunch and then (aah the normality!) go for a drink after work. It felt exciting, like a new beginning, and a significant milestone in both the journey of the pandemic and our journey as an organisation.
We’re individually located all over the country, so getting the whole team together will always be an event, but having not been able to do so for such a long time really brought home the importance of making time for these days. As Group People & Quality Director one of my commitments from the day was to ensure we get together as a whole team every quarter to make sure we continue to build relationships and move forwards with unity.
These team days are an exception though – we’re a true hybrid team, with some big geographical distances between team members, yet pockets where some of us are closer together, which means there’s both a danger of some people feeling isolated and cliques or silos forming in other places. Pandemic or no pandemic, arranging a quick meeting in the office to discuss a current project and thrash around ideas is never going to be possible when you’ve got team members at opposite ends of the country. So for us, working in this hybrid way – where some of us are sometimes in the office, others are working from home, meetings are mostly virtual but there’s opportunities for small group creative time in person, and we have core working hours in common but there’s significant flex around childcare (and petcare) responsibilities not to mention international time-zones with some of our transatlantic clients – is not just the new normal, it is normal.
We’ve had to consider our ways of working to make sure we’re able to get the best out of everyone. We know we need to focus on business as usual – the everyday things that always need doing, but as a hybrid team, to be successful in those bigger projects we have to think about individual needs and preferences. We spent time on our team day getting to know each other better, gaining insights on individual motivations and frustrations, and committing to ways of working that give us the understanding to support each-other to work smarter and more collaboratively, even at a distance.
It takes far more than one team day to nail this hybrid working style.
Group People & Quality Director
But it takes far more than one team day to nail this hybrid working style. It’s an ongoing, ever-evolving work in progress that we continue to focus on each and every day, which takes commitment from everyone and an aligned approach from the leadership team to make sure we’re balancing different individual preferences along with the needs of the business so that we’re working both inclusively and productively. We’re learning every day, improving our communication, challenging ourselves to think differently, seeing what works and what doesn’t. What became clear very early on, and continues to be reinforced on a regular basis, is that one size really doesn’t fit all. Some of the team desperately miss the more regular office-based contact, yet others are really quite happy to be based at home, some of us are finding we’re spending more time travelling to different locations – which has both positives and negatives for different people. We’re really lucky that what we do means we’re able to offer our team flexibility and make it work for everyone, but it still requires a level of compromise that can only be gained by considering all elements of the hybrid working model and communicating the why to everyone involved.
Despite the long-awaited arrival of freedom day and the lifting of restrictions, I think it’s unlikely we’ll see a sudden rush back to office working. The last 18 months have shown many businesses that they can operate just as successfully without having everyone in one place. But hybrid working is definitely going to be on the increase as organisations make the most of being able to return their teams to the workplace, albeit perhaps in a different format to pre-pandemic times. As we navigate our way towards autumn and the end of the furlough scheme, we’ll also need to consider how we re-onboard team members who haven’t worked, perhaps for a significant amount of time. Individual experiences of the pandemic – emotionally, physically and professionally, plus personal responses to the lifting of restrictions and vaccinations all have the potential to create divisions in teams and generate significant challenges at the exact time when organisations need everyone to pull together most.
As leaders we need to be planning for these complications now, looking ahead and talking to our people, finding out their concerns, working out what systems and support we need to put in place that will ensure our organisations can operate effectively and inclusively on the journey ahead, regardless of the bumps in the road. If you’d like some support yourself on how to steer your people and business through the months ahead as you embrace these new ways of working, talk to ted Learning about our Leading Your Hybrid Team course, which we can, of course deliver both in person and via our virtual classroom.
Roxy is the Group People Director for Squaricle Group & the Learning Director at ted Learning. She is a fundamental part of our team ensuring that our people are looked after and that our delivery is tailored to the clients needs and is ‘on-brand’.