July is upon us and that means Shark Week is just around the corner – hence the Jaws rip-off in the title. It may be corny, but I think being a manager today can sometimes feel like swimming in shark-infested waters. They’re constantly on the look out for something bad to happen. And who can blame them? We’ve had so much turmoil over the last 18 months, and it may seem to managers there is no safe place for them in the corporate sea.
They’re not the only ones. The employees who report to them also have concerns, angst, anxiety, and reluctance over going back to the workplace. This goes beyond concerns about COVID-19. Employees largely don’t want to head back to the office because they like having flexibility, fewer caregiving concerns, and, of course, no commute.
Before the pandemic, most companies were somewhat bearish over the idea of remote work. In spite of their concerns, what they found is work-from-home has turned out pretty well for them, making the idea of permanent work location flexibility a viable option. Knowing this, employers should think carefully about demanding employees come back to the office. According to a survey done by FlexJobs, 58% of workers say they would “absolutely” look for a new job if they can’t continue to work remotely, while a further 31% aren’t sure what they’d do. That’s 89% of workers thinking strongly about their options around remote work.
Remote work is no longer a perk. It’s now an important business strategy. And it’s one that managers are going to have to figure out how to work with.
"Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life."
- Benjamin Franklin
Remote work isn’t exactly new. There are many companies who have had people working remotely for years. Typically, these people were in sales and had territories to manage that were away from headquarters, but not always. Some companies and their leaders have found that remote employees are a vital part of their workplaces.
They’ve managed to build a culture of trust and productivity and have found engagement as high or higher—and that was pre-pandemic. Clearly, they were ahead of the curve.
“As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I always gave my team the freedom to work from home when they needed to and this was long before COVID. I never felt the need to control their time. As long as our clients were taken care of, the work got done and they supported the team and culture, where they physically worked was unimportant to me. I’ve always felt any reluctance around WFH was about control.”
- Glorie Averbach, CEO of myCEO
So, remote work has been around for a while, but the concept of hybrid work is kind of new. In this case, everything becomes more complex. Leaders will have to make decisions around what work should be done remotely, how people are brought back to the workplace safely, and how we can ensure everyone thrives whether they work in the office, at home, or a combination. HR leaders are considering things like tax implications and health and safety measures. It’s complex, but well worth sorting through in order to keep great talent.
I love the approach taken by Microsoft regarding the transition to hybrid work.
Microsoft empowers its managers to adapt global company policy to fit the needs of their teams. They know managers are crucial for hybrid work to be a success. Their policies especially focus on giving managers decision-making authority, tools, and the skills they need to lead the transition. This includes authorizing new home-office equipment purchases. According to research, we know this is a problem, as 46% of employees report not having the support they need with remote work expenses, and 42% say they lack the tools to do their work well at home.
Other ways Microsoft empowers managers are:
Encouraging managers to have regular conversations with their teams
Encouraging them to work with their teams to develop team-specific norms like “no-meeting” Fridays
Encouraging managers to care and to coach their teams in order to create a culture that helps everyone thrive.
Encouraging listening as a business priority
Once again, managers are the lynchpin holding all of this together. They are the link between senior leadership and workers, and their roles have never been more crucial. Hybrid work will require strong management skills—people management skills.
These skills will involve:
Setting clear goals. According to Gallup, nearly half of the US workforce starts their day unclear of what they should accomplish. But when employee work is tied to organizational priorities, employees are 6.2 times more likely to have high engagement and 8.2 times more likely to adapt well to change.
Coaching and feedback. Coaching was identified as a crucial management skill in Microsoft’s research, and it holds true for all organizations. Regular feedback is vital for employee development, and managers would benefit from training to help them deliver it.
Appreciation and recognition. Appreciation for performance is critical for engagement and morale and managers are in the best place to recognize great work when it happens.
Managers played a pivotal role in the move to remote work, and our real-life pandemic experience has given us an indication of how important they’ll be for companies pivoting (again) to hybrid work. They will need development and support in the way of training, resources, and coaching, as well as programs that support the mindset shift they’ll need to manage workers in a hybrid corporate world.
As organizations step into hybrid work, they must seize the opportunity to design and develop an entirely new type of workplace that rethinks the way it supports its people and customers. The managers are the key. Help them move forward instead of falling back. Help them to swim strongly past the shark-like obstacles and make their way into calm seas.
photo by David Clode on Unsplash