Written by Kate Pritchard
Overnight the pandemic and lockdowns transformed how – and where – the majority of us work. After a year of working from home we’re now seeing an easing of restrictions, leading to many offices re-opening for the first time.
However, the new world of work will be radically different to that of the past – there will not be a return to everyone being in the office 9-5, Monday to Friday. 86% of the UK’s biggest employers said they expected staff to split their time between the office and working from home, and other research found that 29% of employees would quit if they were told to return full-time to the office.
This brings new management challenges. Given the manager’s impact on employee engagement there’s a real need for leadership and management development to create engaging managers across the organisation. In the first of a series of blogs on managing successfully in the new, hybrid world I’ll look at some of the biggest issues that need to be overcome and the development areas for managers to look at.
One of the key ways that companies kept morale high and staff informed during lockdowns was regular, focused communication using technology to help meet the need for contact and reassurance. For example CEOs sent regular emails and shared video messages, while managers held formal and informal catch-ups and meetings with their teams. The result was strong engagement and understanding amongst staff about what was happening in a turbulent, worrying time. 70% of businesses we surveyed during the pandemic said they put in place regular business updates, with 62% running team-based meetings.
Given the time-consuming nature of this increased communication, there’s a temptation for managers today to reduce the regularity of it as conditions improve. That would be a mistake. Firstly, staff have come to expect and appreciate being kept in the loop – dropping this support risks impacting their wellbeing, morale and productivity. Secondly, in a hybrid world with teams split between the office and home, good communication from supportive managers is vital. Even if staff are in the office for a few days every week, the likelihood of them all being in the same place at the same time is slight.
Managers therefore need to be very intentional about their communication – ensuring that everyone hears important information at the same time, and organising meetings at times when all team members can attend, either physically or virtually. They also need to ensure that the meeting experience is positive for everyone, and that no-one feels they are missing out because they are not in the room, for example. Great managers understand the importance of time management and factor in time for informal catch-ups and social interactions too to keep morale high.
Supporting the wellbeing of your employees has always been a vital part of running a successful business. However, the stresses and anxieties of the pandemic and the potential isolation caused by remote working renewed the focus on wellbeing, breaking down barriers and taboos, particularly around mental health.
These worries – such as around jobs, money and family – have not gone away. Employees are also grappling with the lack of certainty about the future, particularly as many organisations are still not sure what the future of work looks like and so are unable to communicate clear messages. Many employees feel comfortable working remotely, while others feel the opposite. That means that for some staff, the thought of potentially going back to an office is causing them to feel worried, for others the isolation of continuing to work at home is causing anxiety.
Anxiety reduces work performance. McKinsey recently suggested that this could amount to a global loss of productivity of $1 trillion per year. This means that managers need to make time to connect with their team one-on-one to understand their concerns, collect constructive feedback, and support them through this challenging time. They need to use open, effective manager/employee communication. Otherwise managers face staff who are anxious or fearful, which translates into potential performance problems within their team.
Staff want the ability to work flexibly, and take control over when and where they work. However, this shouldn’t prevent their work and contribution being understood and recognised, whether through praise, promotions, bonuses or pay rises. Selection processes must be fair. After all, it is very easy for managers to unthinkingly reward those that they see and chat with every day in the office and inadvertently neglect those working remotely, even if they are contributing equally to achieving the team and company’s goals.
Statistics from the Office for National Statistics highlight the issue. It found that between 2012-17 people who mainly worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted compared to other workers. They were 38% less likely to have received a bonus than those who never worked from home between 2013-20.
It is vital to motivating and retaining staff that the reopening of offices shouldn’t lead to the return of presenteeism, where being in the office is seen as a sign of dedication and commitment. Star employees can both be in the office or working remotely. Managers therefore need to be trained and educated by upper management to ensure they are managing performance and rewards based on an individual’s contribution, outcomes and results, rather than unconsciously favouring those who they see most regularly.
The new business world brings new concerns for businesses in general, and common challenges facing managers in particular when it comes to ensuring optimal team performance. Our next blog will therefore explore how organisations can focus on developing managers and equip them with the skills to overcome today’s biggest challenges and build successful teams in the hybrid workplace.