Healthy Hybrid Workplaces Need Wolves and Piranhas
Businesses need a balance of empathy and strategy to create a healthy, collaborative environment.
Hybrid working is staying and not because of pandemic-fueled fear but the proof of remote working success over a two year global case study. Ford Motor informed 30,000 of its global employees this year that they can continue to work from home...indefinitely. Ford's share price before the pandemic started in December 2019 was $9.30. Their share price precisely two years later in December 2021 was literally more than twice that at $20.80. Ford isn't an exception with Meta, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, Shopify, Hitachi, JP Morgan, Salesforce, British Airways, LinkedIn, HSBC, Cisco and PWC all waltzing between remote, partial and hybrid as of 2022. This is now the norm. And this model demands a handsome balance of empathy and strategy to create healthy, collaborative and creative workspaces for your employees.
Be a wolf, not a hawk
If as a team leader your natural instinct is to track your subordinates' every move during remote working, I have news for you: Either you have hired the wrong people or people have chosen the wrong company. There is no permutation in the world that makes constantly breathing down your employees' necks synonymous with a healthy working environment. There are a dozen employee monitoring softwares out there now. They track all the live tabs in real time, as well as keyboard usage and take webcam snaps every fifteen minutes to see if the person is sitting in front of the laptop throughout the day or not. It's strangely sad that even in 2022 people haven't realized invoking constant fear is an oxymoron in the pursuit of both productivity and creativity. Don't allow distrust to be the welcome note for your employees. Especially after seeing more than 38 million voluntary resignations in America last year. Protect them like a wolf protects its family instead of cornering them like a hawk.
Nobody is telling you to remove the checks and balances in place to ascertain individual appraisals. But do that with their work quality and commitment to deadlines. There is a respectful line between making people feel they are working for you and with you. The best talent in my experience always chooses the latter. A simple daily call and weekly schedule review gives them enough bandwidth to be independent, and confident enough to find novel solutions while collaborating with other departments. Stop puppeteering and watch them steal the show.
Nurture piranhas, not sharks
Inculcate the art of passing the baton and sharing accountability. When you promote excellence in silos, it's great for short term results. But the whole team will learn to pass the monkey, leading to irrevocable long-term damage. When you say, Dan's really good at making presentations, let him only handle that part. Or Susan's cold calling skills are the best, she should only do the lead calls. Two things happen: Because both Dan and Susan are working from their living room alone, no one else in the team ever gets to upgrade these crucial skills. And when either is on a vacation or resigns after a year, the other four members will become, or at least feel, completely stranded. In close-knit physical office cubicles they would have picked these skills from each other over time. But virtual bonding is a hindrance to the indirect, observatory knowledge pool.
And as attractive as sharks look, for any team to function sustainably in a structure you need your piranhas and ants. Else Portugal would have won the football World Cup thrice by now.
Plan and delegate the work equally. Once in a while shake the box completely. Have them sit on video calls and teach each other their strengths to deliver the work on deadline. You evolve together and naturally bond as one formidable unit even a thousand miles away.
Foster virtual break rooms
You have to actively build an enriching online community for your teams. Places where they can engage every now and then about art, culture and games. Something that feels like social media but doesn't invade privacy like one. The moment you stop thinking about WFH as a temporary state and accept hybrid working as a lasting future, you will realize how important the investment on a digital team building platform is. They need their own pop culture jokes to connect, games to share addictions with and playlists to feel closer on a human level.
Remember, your team isn't a set of hired robots. Humans function best as a team when their working relationships are built on shared stories and board games as much as boardrooms.
Till metaverses become normal in another decade, find ways to build these experiences through virtual events and streaming the new trending show together. Let them talk about these moments later at work while working on a project. Younger employees who have entered the industry post-pandemic otherwise won't have anything to bond over beyond strict corporate work. In any company there aren't more than five percent of such extraordinarily driven talent who only care about sales targets and their promotions. For the rest of them, the moment shared synergy is lost, it stops being fun and passion driven, and they start being okay with ordinary benchmarks. Important question to ask yourself: Do you have twenty-five individual freelancers on your team or one well-oiled department elevating each other, and by direct result, the quality of an overall project?
In a virtually connected workplace, employee loyalty and belongingness is twice as difficult to manifest. They need to feel a trusting, unified environment that is fueled from far more than a replaceable paycheck. Whenever in doubt just preserve the three S's — safety, synergy and stories.
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