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Safe Space #11 How can I connect my hybrid-working team?

Here at =mc we encourage every participant we meet on our programmes to get in touch if they have specific issues they want to follow up on. From this we hear some common problems, issues, challenges, and worries. In this regular feature we share some of those challenges, and our advice, for dealing with them.

This time, the issue comes from a manager with a very common challenge: hybrid working and team cohesion

What is the issue?

Hello Management Centre. I am an HR Manager working in a care organisation, employing around 500 people across multiple sites. As you can imagine, it’s been a tough couple of years for us and the HR team has certainly been kept very busy as we dealt with all the changes and staff issues caused by the pandemic. We work in our Head Office, and so I haven’t had to deal with the difficulties of our front line teams. As an organisation, we have done really well to look after our people. In our team, we have been muddling along, trying to be supportive of our colleagues. My team shifted to homeworking straight off and have been doing OK. There are four of us in total. We’re now moving to a hybrid working pattern – whereby we are expected to be in the office a couple of days a week. One team member is going in everyday, as they have found the office is better than working in their shared home. Another team member is only going in once a week, and is already complaining about commuting again. I thought my team had coped really well with everything, but seeing them in the office again has shown me how fractured we’ve become. There’s no chatting, lots of silence, and a bit of complaining. We seem disconnected from each other. What can I do to bring them together when I can’t force them to come into the office all of the time?

What our consultants say:

Yvette

This is becoming quite a common problem at the moment, and I completely understand this is a challenging time for managers and their teams. As a former HR Manager, I imagine in a team of your size each person has a specialist set of responsibilities – Business Partnering, ER Policies and Admin, Pay & Rewards, Learning & Development etc. A good starting point would be to analyse the kind of activities you expect your team to work on as a group and what they can work alone on. In our team, we often work ‘alone’ as we are with our customers rather than each other. When we come together, we use that time to share knowledge, get creative, move projects forward, and to support each other. Can you organise things so that when people are in the office they do some of their ‘together’ work, and when at home they can be more autonomous? Working together or working alone doesn’t have to be the full team or for the full working day. You can mix things up, but do so in a planned way. Can people pair up to share ideas and knowledge for a few hours? Can they use the together-time to problem solve and be creative?  Try planning ahead – are there points in the month (or even year) when more together-time is needed? Giving people clear tasks to work on together should get the conversation flowing again. It gives them something to pin that connection on.

Charlie

Hello HR Manager. Well done on managing all the challenges that have been thrown at you in the last couple of years. You mention that your team has done well all things considered. No doubt you adapted to working online and as a team had to work together to solve totally new problems. What do you think the positives have been of the last year? I would recommend you get the team thinking about that and find ways to build on the good that has come from the changes you have made. Start with a team session and have a review meeting together. Use this to identify the benefits from homeworking that you want to keep, and bring forward into hybrid working. Create a guide setting out your new ways of working and agreements you have made to each other. Keep it positive by framing this as a learning opportunity. Try these questions to get you started: what did working online and at home help you to do differently or to improve? What have you learned in the last year that could help us in the next six months? What have you missed from previous ways of working that you would like to bring back? Getting the team to help plan in this way gives them some ownership for making hybrid working effective, and will bring them together again.

Laura

It sounds like you have a good team, who know what they are doing but have hit a bit of a rough spot. Your team may well be fully formed, interdependent and performing at a high level in normal times. However, people have had a lot to cope with, and here we go making changes again with hybrid working. Any change will knock the confidence of the team and take them back to a ‘forming’ stage. As a leader, they need you to set out what needs to be done and what is expected. Try sharing your personal challenges and experiences with the team. Show them that you appreciate what they have done so far, and that you have confidence in them. Try introducing spontaneous conversation again yourself, but make it purposeful, not nosey! Welcome people into the office, ask them how they are, ask them if they need your time today and what for. Book that in. Show commitment to them. Take breaks, and ask them to join you. When they are working online, get in touch and check in with them. Make this normal, not formal. Model the behaviours you miss seeing in them. And be gentle, it will take time to build new behaviours into the working day.

Philly

Hello manager. It sounds like your team have some very different individual needs. This can be tricky – when you want to be fair to everyone but everyone needs something different. The key here is in understanding those needs, and talking openly about the need to be fair in different ways. Fairness is not sameness. Try taking a coaching approach – starting with each person. Ask them what they find challenging about hybrid working, what they can do themselves to make it work for them, what accommodations they need from their co-workers, and what they could do to support the accommodations of others. This might include things like ensuring team meetings take place with both online and in person options, or being clear for each person what time of day calls and meetings can take place and when people need to be left alone uninterrupted. Then bring the team together, and share ideas on supporting each other. You could bring this into your team planning session, as suggested by Charlie. Often complaining is rooted in a sense of unfairness, so heading that off can help people see this is a collective challenge, and collective efforts are needed to make it work for everyone.

Rachel

Hi there. This is a tough situation. As an HR team, you need to find a solution that works for you, and for all the other teams in your organisation. I’ve seen hybrid working really work well in large organisations where hotdesking has been set up. For some organisations, this isn’t really that new – it’s just a change to how we have been working in the last year or so. Therefore, you may find there is a lot of useful practice in your organisation already. Ask other managers what is working for them and what they find difficult. Ask them what they have done in previous roles that helped. You could also tap into your HR networks, and find successes in similar charities. Internally, can you create a network for managers to share their ideas, or keep a central repository of shared successes, and ongoing challenges? Internal blogs, Teams, Slack Channels, and newsletters are all useful resources for this. Can HR be the champion of sharing this knowledge? Given your unique position as a central team with a people agenda, you could be modelling the way for others and highlighting the positive solutions that have been found.

What next?

If you’d like to explore ways of handling for situations like this, contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to discuss similar challenges and how we might be able to help.

Finally, if you’re facing a challenge you’d like some advice on in the next issue of the Safe Space, email us on safespace@managementcentre.co.uk. While we can’t promise to publish all the requests we receive, we will offer advice by email as a minimum.

 

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...

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