Is the post pandemic new normal an opportunity to kick-start a healthier business culture?

Last month, Tribe Consultants Kate Morris and Clare Solomon featured in an article on SHP Online. Here we share the article for those of you who may have missed it…

Flexible, agile, hybrid, blended… all these words have been used to describe the future of co-location working but how can we harness this opportunity to improve our workplace culture? SHP speaks to Kate Morris and Clare Solomon, Consultants at Tribe Culture Change.

In Tribe’s most recent Crisis Culture report, published earlier this year, they explored the impact on the workforce caused by so many people moving from office-based to home-based working.

They found that on the one hand, many people enjoyed greater productivity, flexibility, as well as the time and sanity reclaimed from long, stressful commutes. But many felt isolated and couldn’t wait to get back to the office, to talk face-to-face with people and work collaboratively in a single co-located space.

It was clear to see that the pandemic would change the trajectory of approaches to office working. And as lockdown measures have eased, this is certainly the case with the CIPD’s Embedding new ways of working post-pandemic report, showing that around 40% of employers were expecting more than half their workforce to regularly work from home post-pandemic.

Kate Morris has worked for Tribe as a Change Consultant for five years, and with previous roles in HR, she is well versed on how people react to change. She says: “After 18 months people have settled into a norm of home working with all its pros and cons. Even those who are site-based have got used to liaising with colleagues remotely so it’s no wonder there is an air of reticence to change back again.”

“As humans we resist change with many of us finding it deeply uncomfortable,” she says. “That’s why it’s vital to make sure that the change back is handled carefully.”

But there is good news: periods of change are a great opportunity to re-set working culture. Kate continues: “We’ve got a chance to find a sweet spot for individuals as we learn from the best of working from home, and the best of working together to create better work-life balance to support a happier, healthier workplace.”

Determining the new normal

Despite a body of research pointing people towards a future hybrid model, Tribe’s Consultants have noticed a lack of clarity from businesses about their plans to move to a hybrid working model. “There’s currently a lack of focus,” says Kate. “Everyone’s talking about going back to the office, but it seems that business and employees are putting it off as they’re waiting for more clarity on the ‘right’ way to do hybrid. There’s hesitancy and a concern about getting it wrong.”

Kate continues: “The research I’ve seen is saying thirds: a third want to be back in office, a third want to be home, and the final third want some sort of hybrid. There are no right answers at the moment.”

However organisations approach hybrid working, people are expecting flexibility and getting it wrong may have a real impact on your organisational culture. “If companies insist on everyone back in the office full time, they’ll likely lose people,” says Kate. “It’s therefore worth spending time considering how hybrid working can support your culture and even be used a spring board to improve it.”

Have we forgotten the simple joys and unwritten benefits of working in a co-located space?

The March Tribe Crisis Culture report found that one of the main reasons why people wanted to return to the office was to rebuild relationships. “When we share space with people, we learn about them as individuals,” says Clare Solomon, Tribe’s Creative Director and Co-Founder. “If we’re only ever in task-based virtual meetings, you don’t get the richness of the relationship.”

Clare says: “When I asked my team what they miss most about working together every day at Tribe HQ, top of the list was the banter and having a chat. It’s also the conversations with people who aren’t in a team with you – as well as the person on reception, the security guard, and the staff in your favourite lunch spot.”

“It may feel like we are more productive sitting quietly at home with our heads down, but how much value do we put on team members feeling happy, supported and valued by their colleagues?” She continues: “It is well known that happy employees are more creative and productive. They’re also less likely to hand in their notice.”

Home working requires different skills from managers and they’ve needed to adapt how they manage people. Kate says: “Trust and communication become very important when people are working remotely. Leaders need to trust that someone is delivering and often they need to communicate differently too.”

“It becomes more about measuring the person’s outputs when you’re not in the same space,” she says. “These management skills have definitely moved forward during lockdown but they need further development in a long-term hybrid model.”

Clare says: “When you are all together in one location – even for just a couple of days a week – team members are much more likely to share concerns with you. Asking to grab a quick coffee and have a chat is much better than having to book a 30-minute virtual meeting into your manager’s busy diary.”

And in terms of learning, there are generational issues to consider. Kate says: “I worry about people who have been in their first few years of work. You learn from others, such as by overhearing conversation going on around you. By being able to ask a question without having to call someone or arrange a meeting. You don’t get those visual or verbal clues if you’re working at home.”

3 hybrid working cultural considerations

How do we maintain the working advantages as we move into the future? Here are some culture-focused issues to think about as you develop your hybrid working strategy.

1. Finding the right balance for each individual and team

A real positive from the last 18 months has been the spotlight on people’s wellbeing. Businesses have recognised the impact of uncertainty and isolation on individuals’ mental health. As a result, many have upskilled their people managers to feel more comfortable having ‘wellbeing’ conversations with their team members.

Managers need to feel supported and encouraged to use these new skills to have a positive discussion with individuals about the change to hybrid working. How are individuals feeling about hybrid working? What did they like the most about working from home? What did they miss about being in an office? And how can you design a way of working that includes the best of both and ensures everyone feel safe, secure and listened to?

Consider creating a ‘Team Charter’ that addresses individuals and team requirements as much as possible and get everyone can sign up to it.

2. Rethink traditional practices

Use this time to reassess how your organisation operates.

How can you plan your work so that you have set days in the office for meetings and collaboration? Can you keep home-working days for tasks requiring more concentration such as report writing?

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) believes most companies will retain physical offices – albeit maybe smaller than pre-COVID – and spending time together and team building will become more important if you have a hybrid workforce.

Virtual meetings are now an accepted business practice and show us there’s an alternative to spending time travelling.

Clare says: “Pre-pandemic we travelled around the globe delivering training and pitches. I remember travelling to Miami for a client kick-off meeting. We were only in the meeting for three hours and flew back the same day.”

“At the time it felt important to show our commitment to the project but, looking back now, it was crazy,” she continues. “It would be perfectly acceptable now to join an international meeting like that virtually – and with the obvious benefits for travel time and the environment.”

3. Treat everyone fairly

Consider strategies to ensure home workers and office workers are treated the same.

If people are working from home, companies must make sure homeworkers aren’t discriminated against, and have the same opportunities as those who spend more time in the office.

“The culture must be inclusive no matter where people are working,” Clare says. “Sometimes if leaders are considering who could work on a new project, the person who springs to mind may be the person they see around the office. This can’t be allowed to happen in a hybrid model.”

Also, if some people are at home and others are in the office for a virtual meeting, have everyone log into a virtual meeting from their desks. “Don’t mix people in a meeting room and others online,” says Clare. “It creates division and produces poor outcomes.”

To find out how we’re helping clients devise hybrid working models, get in touch… [email protected].


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