Thriving in the hybrid workplace

Lenny - sSeven ways to wellbeing in the trans-Covid work environment

I remember the moment, about five years ago, when my wife mooted the idea we should get a dog. Both of our families had owned various dogs, but it’s interesting how selective memory can be.

My wife looked back with a sense of fondness: on loyal childhood companions; the exuberant greetings on opening the front door; those four legged friends who’d always been there for a hug when you were in the dog-house too. I looked back on the constant stream of obligations: the daily walks, the hairy furniture, the vet’s bills, and the endless picking up of poo.

Undeterred, in a textbook example of stakeholder on-boarding, my wife lobbied the kids and a year later, I formally conceded the vote. And it really was a formality – as I recall we were on our way to visit some puppies at the time. And Drake’s Law was duly enacted, wherein: “The last member of any family who agrees to a pet, is invariably the one who ends up looking after it.”

I might struggle to admit it in public, but it was a great call. The occasional weekend walks as a family have made indelible memories, but it’s been the daily walks, just me and the dog, that’s helped balance my life, given me the mental breaks, and created the space for me to reflect – something that’s been especially important for us all since March.

Which brings me to my point. This year has been incredibly difficult for people who are used to working in an office environment, and the imminent return to lockdown over Winter will feel even harder than it was the first time around. In my recent CEO conversations, the twin topics of wellbeing and burnout have become resident features, and finding solutions for ourselves and our teams is a live and pressing challenge.

So, for your inspiration, here is my roundup of the top seven things that I’ve seen make a positive difference for my clients in this new, hybrid working environment:

  1. 45-minute meetings that start on the hour. Simple to implement but a game-changer for avoiding burnout. Get to the point in your meetings and you won’t need that full hour, but you will need that break between sessions as time goes on.
  2. “Pointless” colleague conversations. Virtual meetings are inevitably much more transactional, functional and structured than face-to-face ones, but we all need time to “just talk”. Whether it’s informal, randomised breakout rooms at the end of a call; drop-in hangouts; or “Friday social check-ins”, it doesn’t matter. Set up a mechanism, allocate time, and model the behaviour you want your people to adopt.
  3. Manage by results. We’re all thankfully shifting from “managing by presence” to “managing by results”, but that means we need to ensure the results we expect are realistic. Check in on the impact your expectations are having; coach and compromise accordingly.
  4. Out of hours is when it suits. Blurring of work and home life is rising fast and can be crippling for the inexperienced home-worker to manage. The flip-side is that home-working gives flexibility – especially valuable as nights draw in, but only if your people feel able to use it. Publicly establish, including through your own behaviour, that it’s not merely acceptable for your people to be offline at times they choose, it’s expected.
  5. Recognition more than ever. The best way to signal the behaviour changes you want to see, is to celebrate them loudly whenever you see them. But beyond that, recognition, thank-you cards, prizes and awards, all drive team cohesion and are invaluable now that we’re so physically fragmented. The smallest drops of kindness can make the biggest ripples.
  6. Committee for Fun. The thing people miss most about the office is the social contact, so fix it. Remember the team that set up the summer barbecue or the office fun-run? Challenge them to create virtual events that bring humour, shared experiences and fun back into your colleagues’ lives. Pub quiz, film night, online board games; whether lunchtime, afternoon or evening, your social squad needs an open brief to create joy.
  7. Ideas from everywhere. I didn’t invent any of these ideas. They all came from client organisations, and most of them came bottom-up, from their teams. You don’t need to solve all the hybrid-working challenges alone – open the floodgates for suggestions and ideas; see what your people are already doing and help them share solutions. In short: ask for help.

As a consultant, I’ve been working from home for well over a decade, and I remember a colleague telling me, right at the start, that it came with upsides and downsides. “You’ll need to build your own social and support networks,” he explained. “You’ll be amazed how much you’ve relied on the office for that. But on the flipside, I can go shopping on a Tuesday afternoon.”

At first, I thought he was being flippant. But in fact, he was being profound. It took a while to sink in, for me to give myself permission to use my days however I want to, but he was right. As the many clients who’ve phoned me in the middle of a sunny afternoon, only to hear the sounds of birds, traffic, passers-by and occasional dog-barks echoing through our conversations, will attest.

So, here’s my challenge: how can you, not just introduce these practices and structures, but generate and share more from your team, and ultimately, how can you give them permission and encouragement to “go shopping on a Tuesday afternoon?”

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