Remember the good old days when you could get the headlines on a new project’s progress in the morning team meeting? Get to grips with how a new team member is settling in over coffee? Share new ideas in creative brainstorming meetings? Celebrate successes with an early Friday finish rounded off with pizza at the local Italian restaurant?
The challenging circumstances we’ve all experienced over the last few months as a result of the pandemic do have a tendency to make us view ‘pre-lockdown’ with rose-tinted glasses – but there’s two sides to every coin. Remember how difficult it was trying to book a meeting room for all your 121s? How annoying it was trying to find a clean teaspoon in the communal kitchen? How you often needed to put your headphones in to concentrate over the constant phone patter from the Sales team?
Instead of looking backwards, and thinking about what we miss, how about we focus on looking forwards instead, and welcome the changes that are being ushered in as an opportunity to try out new ways of working?
For many of us pre-lockdown, team management was not without its challenges, but we were able to build relationships, keep track of work and develop our people all in a predominantly physical, real world. Fast-forward to summer 2020, and we find ourselves managers of the Hybrid Team ….. It’s still a team, but not as we know it.
It’s no longer a group of people all working together in the same place. Some of them are based in the office every day, some are in the office but on different days and times, some are working from home or another remote location.
Job roles and responsibilities, targets and KPIs have shifted as a result of changing business priorities in the new normal. Employee’s reactions to and concerns about all these changes are daunting to deal with. We can’t rely on how we used to manage our people before, because nothing is the same as it was before. Now that the scale of impact on our working lives becomes clearer, as managers we must role model new ways of working and lead our teams through this difficult period.
The challenging circumstances we’ve all experienced over the last few months as a result of the pandemic do have a tendency to make us view ‘pre-lockdown’ with rose-tinted glasses – but there’s two sides to every coin.
But how do I know my team are really working if they’re not in the office with me?
This reminds me of a situation from years ago where a colleague was told by our then manager that she simply ‘didn’t look busy enough because she was so calm’ and that this was creating the wrong impression to the senior leadership team…. Could she act a bit more stressed please? It’s this misplaced focus on activity, rather than on results that can mislead us – there’s a knee-jerk impulse to think about monitoring and checking up when we can’t see a person ‘at work’, but actually this is the opposite approach to what’s needed. We should be thinking about how we can build trust with our team members as individuals, supporting with what’s difficult for them in their unique situations, learning more about how we can motivate, engage and inspire them to do exceptional work.
So I can just do everything on video calls, right?
Building these relationships with our team members when we can’t physically work alongside them calls for a renewed focus on our communication skills. Video conferencing software has been, and will continue to be, a godsend for those of us with dispersed teams, but increased attention needs to be paid to our verbal and non-verbal cues to ensure we’re using it effectively and supportively – else it will become a barrier to team-working. We also need to pay attention to what methods of communication we’re using in which circumstance, and agree what works for our people. Some organisations remain firmly locked into a reliance on email, irrelevant of where and how their people may be working, citing firewalls and system restrictions as a reason not to explore video calling platforms. Others have fully embraced the Zoom revolution and fill calendars with virtual video meeting after virtual video meeting, emphasising its importance as a replacement for getting together in person. But what if neither is really working for your team, and a combination of approaches could be better? Leaders should be taking their cues from their people, asking them what they prefer: it will be different for each individual and not everyone will always be able to have their preferences catered for, but an awareness of who prefers email over a phone call, or daily check-ins over a weekly catch up will help you communicate with everyone more effectively.
There’s not much we can be certain about for the coming months. However, flexing our approach to accommodate the nuances of leading a hybrid team of people, working with different environments, preferences and concerns is certainly the only way to support our businesses to move forwards effectively.