Hello hybrid working!
With economies around the world navigating the balance between unlocking and weathering future waves of the pandemic, hybrid working is hitting the headlines. Whilst some in the legal industry are firmly in the “Back to the office now” camp (see Eric Grossman from Morgan Stanley on why), our clients are telling us that most of them will be adopting some form of hybrid working on an ongoing basis as the summer ends. We’ve written before about some of the benefits of remote work for legal teams. Whilst the legal profession seems to have been thinking about hybrid working as “a mixture of two very different things”, we at Obelisk believe that the other definition of hybrid is a more useful way into successful hybrid working. If we think about “two things bred together to produce the best characteristics of both”, we can feel empowered and energised to create a new, and better, way of getting legal work done.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, so we asked our clients what they thought some of the challenges were likely to be. Here are the top three, and our practical advice for finding the best of both worlds with your teams going forward.
Managing hybrid working…and team culture
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, goes the famous quote from management thinker, Peter Drucker. You can’t underestimate the importance of team culture in achieving your goals. Traditionally the office has been a powerful ingredient in work culture, providing endless opportunities to reinforce desired behaviour through the facilities provided and accompanying visual and sensory cues. So, with teams adopting a hybrid approach and work becoming more dispersed, how do you maintain and strengthen your team culture without the symbols and routines of office life?
- Reflect on what has stayed with you through the lockdowns. Is all of it good? What do you want to keep? What would you like to change?
- Ask your teams the same questions (you can set up a simple survey on Google Forms) and compare the answers with yours. How different are they?
- Of the behaviour and values you collectively want to keep, think about how you can use tools like storytelling and ritual to nurture these online as well as in the office. For example, if you used to buy cake to share on someone’s birthday, schedule an online coffee break to say happy birthday instead.
- If there are things you want to improve, think about how changes will work on- and offline. Aim for changes in systems and policies that work “digital first”, then bolster them by using time together in the office. Keep regular online “all hands” meetings in place, rather than assuming all meetings are better face-to-face.
- Working together, think about how you can get the best value out of your office spaces. If as a team you’ve missed having face-to-face time to collaborate, then find a way of structuring your time in the office so that you are together on set days and schedule work to suit.
Finally, make sure you role model the behaviours you want to see. Maintain a balance of office and remote time in your own schedule. Talk honestly about some of the challenges and the opportunities you see ahead.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Managing hybrid working…and new starters
With a bit of work upfront, welcoming new people to the team remotely can work just as well as welcoming them in person.
- Make sure they have everything they need to succeed from day one; tech, policies, login details, door pass, staff handbook and, most importantly, a buddy amongst existing team members who can help them settle in
- Send round an introductory email or Slack message to welcome them to the team personally
- Pre-book introductory and team meetings into the Calendar for the first week, and make sure it’s clear whether things are taking place in the office or virtually
- Set expectations from the start in terms of when they need to be in the office and when they can work remotely, how you like to be communicated with and how you communicate as a team. Not all organisations have been working remotely in the same way, so don’t assume that they will automatically understand your preferences
- Set milestone goals for their first month, three months and six months. Make sure you have time booked in to review progress and identify anything that’s getting in their way
Aim to extend the same remote working conditions to new joiners as you do to existing staff. You don’t want someone to feel lonely in the office on days that everyone else is at home – plus using remote working and/or flexible hours can be a great way to tap into talent you might not access otherwise.
Managing hybrid working…and team development
One of the things that managers will need to keep top of mind going into hybrid working for the longer term is making sure that those who choose to spend less time in the office, for whatever reason, are not disadvantaged in terms of development and progression opportunities. Again, some extra conscious effort is required on your part as a leader:
- Learn about proximity bias, a natural instinct to favour those we see more of, and make sure your teams are aware of it too. It’s a natural human tendency, but unmanaged, it can lead to talent being overlooked.
- Create formal opportunities for development conversations to take the place of informal ones that might be lost with less office time. Every six or 12 months, ensure that all team members reflect on their goals with their line manager and define at least one action they are going to take forward to help them get ready for their next step.
- Invest some time in ensuring everyone understands the GROW coaching model. Using this to structure coaching over Zoom or a phone call helps to make remote coaching more productive, as it depends less on an existing bond between individuals.
- Ensure that all opportunities are publicised across the whole team, with a clear application process that’s easy to access online. Don’t just rely on them being published online, talk about them in team meetings and encourage people to apply. Include special projects or new clients in this, as well as new roles.
- Include networking time and training activities in offsites and away days so that everyone can participate equally. To help colleagues who are spending less time in the office to mix, structure icebreaker activities or use the placement on the first meal together to mix office-based and remote workers.
Make sure you reward colleagues, especially line managers, who encourage the development of others in the team. Look for innovative ways that they have created learning or coaching opportunities, or shout-out line managers at the same time as you celebrate a round of promotions or internal moves.
Get the best of both worlds
With some conscious thought and preparation, hybrid working can deliver benefits for your team. Using office space and face-to-face time when it really adds value helps to bolster collaboration and a sense of community, designing your culture so that it’s “digital first” means that employees can benefit from reduced time and stress from commuting and you can increase the range of talented people that you can bring into and develop in your team.