Trust, responsibility and mindset: the 3 musketeers of hybrid work
How are companies embarking on hybrid working during the pandemic now ensuring it works well for a diverse workforce with an ever-changing culture? Here are some science-based recommendations for leaders looking to navigate the world of hybrid work.
Hybrid work is not a fad. Nor is it a futuristic move or something that only suits tech companies. It’s the way people expect to work now, and organizations must embrace it if they are to succeed in 2022 and beyond.
Hybrid working offers a world of opportunity filled with more diverse and flexible workplaces. But it also creates new problems for leaders as they strive to create high-performing teams. Leaders and teammates must have the confidence to trust and hold each other accountable in a positive way and with a new mindset.
What business wants versus what individuals want
One of the biggest challenges is that some companies want a return to the office. It helps with collaboration, culture, speed of change, learning and integration of newcomers. The occasional collision in the office kitchen also brings value to employees and the company.
But companies recognize that there are benefits such as reduced office space, environmental impact with reduced travel and productivity gains. Individuals are in favor of reduced commuting (reduced time and fuel costs) and increased flexibility. Many also believe they concentrate better at home and have a better work-life balance.
But it’s a slightly mixed picture with 55 percent say they are more or less productive at home. Some want to return to the office to get away from distractions. We’ve also seen stories of reduced wellbeing linked to dulled motivation and focus from people working from home over the past 18 months. In the office, relationships are cultivated. It’s easier to spot someone in distress and in need of care and more reliable than online.
The CEO of Washingtonian magazine wrote an op-ed claiming that up to 20% of employees’ time in the office is spent building a sense of inclusion by helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people and celebrating someone’s birthday ‘a.
The big resignation
The big thorn in the side of hybrid working is the significant percentage gap between employees’ desire to work from home and the intended organizational policy. When these key factors don’t line up, we end up with huge fallouts like the Great Quit, where 41% of the global workforce plan to leave their employers in the next year. Coupled with the 42% of employees who say it would probably be a question of resignation if asked to return to the office full timea thoughtful approach to hybrid working becomes essential to retain and engage talent.
If we don’t manage the change of hybrid working, the impact is likely to be lasting. Poor change management increases cynicism and reduces job satisfaction and organizational trust, so the stakes are pretty high.
The Psychology of Change – Being Human
To understand the root of hybrid working challenges, we need to understand the psychology behind how people work effectively and respond to change and uncertainty.
When people encounter change, it is natural to feel threatened and insecure. People exhibit one of two behaviors in response to a threat: fight or flight. This is not new at the individual level. When you react to change, you are either fight or flight – and this is even more accentuated for those who are socially stigmatized.
When we feel threatened at the organizational level, there can be a shattered reality where everything seems more difficult to put together. Communication takes place, but you constantly feel misunderstood. You work harder, hold more meetings, and work longer to ensure clarity is achieved, but the minute you move on to the next meeting, you know something is confusing again and the ball is dropped. The work seems disjointed and you doubt your effectiveness, or if your team is, then your confidence plummets.
A shared reality
But it doesn’t have to be in a fragmented and painful way if we have a shared reality. Simply put: the commonalities we have together. Shared reality appears in our language, our tone and our ways of working – the social fabric of how we work together. Moments of shared joy, like being able to stop by someone’s desk to check in, hold conversations in the hallways to get an idea of how your teammate is doing, or having coffee together.
We’ve had years of establishing routines for how we work and communicate. Whether or not our own situation (being remote/in the office) has changed, those work routines and rhythms have now been disrupted. Creating a new shared reality will take time, but there are ways to speed up the timeline and help work feel easier and more productive.
Rebellion or apathy
Organizations approach the creation and development of shared reality in different ways. One way to emphasize good rules and policies that are structured and regulated is to provide clarity. In some cases, there are specific rules regarding the number of days you must be present and how penalties will be applied for breaking this rule.
The risk here is psychological reactance from the employees. When people feel their autonomy is threatened, they will react in opposite ways (eg rebellion) to regain their sense of control. On the other end, some organizations say “the culture is not your building,” so employees are free to do whatever they want in the name of empowerment. The risk is a loss of long-term social capital – will people enjoy working here if there isn’t a sense of collective connection?
These approaches fail to emphasize the need to re-contract. We can achieve a shared reality by recontracting the way we work from the start. Contracting does not always mean anything to do with formal, written contracts. The term psychological contract means the formation of mutual expectations and understanding between an employer and an employee. So when we talk about re-contracting the way we work, we simply mean revisiting those expectations and, if necessary, redefining them.
The 3 musketeers of hybrid work
Recontracting to achieve a shared reality requires:
1) have the right mindset
2) balancing trust
3) balance accountability within the organization.
Studies show when companies go through great metamorphosis, assessing employee mindset to identify underlying issues and put solutions in place were explicitly part of the conversation (either entirely, 25%, or very, 70%) and more successful in transformation. However, when the transformations weren’t successful, few remember hearing conversations about mindset. We need to have explicit conversations about mindset when retraining and re-establishing shared reality.
Balancing trust and responsibility
Trust is the firm belief in someone’s reliability. Trust creates psychological safety that reinforces belonging and inclusion. Accountability is the assurance that someone will be evaluated on their performance. Accountability sets clear expectations that facilitate effective work and better performance.
Striking that right balance is critical because when trust and accountability are not in the right proportion, it poses risks to the business.
With high trust and low responsibility, you get social looseness. Do you remember being given group projects and dreading them because you felt like you were carrying your full weight and the team was benefiting from your hard work? As a result, you felt resentment towards your team for indulging in social laziness. Social loafing occurs when people use the reduced risk of assessment as an opportunity to unload.
With low trust and high responsibility, you benefit from micromanagement. For example, structured policies on how many days you should be in the office can be construed as having a lot of responsibility and less trust. But approaches with fluid policies that say “culture is not your building” are in the zone of low accountability and high trust, which can cause social slack.
The winning formula
Preventing an unbalanced approach and responding to shared reality needs both great trust and great responsibility. There are benefits to balancing trust and accountability at all levels of the business. Team members feel more empowered and engaged than chaotic and unclear about roles. Managers and leaders have better team performance and less time wasted dealing with poor performance. And the company benefits from greater innovation and better results. Add the right mindset and you have the three musketeers of hybrid work.