It goes without saying that 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 did the first time around (for the reasons, see my article from last month).
It’s no surprise, then, that in my recent conversations with sector leaders, 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. But solutions are out there, and people are sharing them.
Here is my round-up of the top seven things that I’ve seen make a positive difference for my clients in this new, hybrid working environment:
• 45 minutes per hour. Make it the new standard that meetings are capped at 45 minutes long and start on the hour (or 20 minutes, starting on the half-hour). This is simple to implement, but a game-changer for avoiding burnout. Get to the point in your meetings and you won’t be short of time; but you will need that break between sessions as time goes on.
• “Pointless” 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.
• Coach 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. It’s often the quiet ones who are struggling the most.
• 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 flipside is that home-working gives flexibility – especially valuable as the 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.
• 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. 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.
• Committee for fun. The thing people miss most about the office is the social contact, so fix it. Remember the team that organised the last Christmas meal or the sponsored run? Ask them to create virtual events that bring humour, shared experiences and fun back into your colleagues’ lives. Pub quizzes, film nights, online board games; whether lunchtime, afternoon or evening, your social squad needs an open brief to create joy.
• 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 some of these practices, 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"?