Navigating new ways of working for the long term

ways of working
© Volodymyr Melnyk

Lucinda Carney, CEO and Founder of Actus Software, explores how HR can use remote management behaviours within an office setting to successfully navigate an effective approach to working for the long term

More than 20 million people have now been vaccinated in the UK and consequently, the roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions is well underway. Amidst the hype, I recently conducted a webinar in which 100% of respondents saw hybrid working as the future of work. Indeed, hybrid working seems to be the new buzzword on everyone’s lips as teams everywhere prepare to juggle an office base with remote options.

Whether people are excited or anxious about the thought of transitioning away from a 5-day a week remote working model, it will undoubtedly require significant practical and cultural changes for most. While we could argue that there is no difference because we have been working remotely now for twelve months, the reality is that many of us will now move into hybrid working structures which may vary from day to day, week to week. The logistical challenges are going to increase for many as we decide whether or when to insist on face to face being necessary.

So, in preparation, one of the best things we can do is step back and ask ourselves how we can leverage the lessons learned over the past twelve months and use those to navigate new ways of working? 

Remote management

In January of this year, we carried out a survey that revealed that as many as 95% of managers considered that remote management during the pandemic had been ‘entirely or significantly different’ to face-to-face management. Although people managers have indeed had to suddenly grapple with adapting to a virtual setting, different doesn’t necessarily mean worse off.

The reality is that many of us have actually learned many new skills in the face of lockdowns, such as video collaboration, remote communication and overall resilience – to say nothing of sour-dough baking and amateur hairdressing! In fact, despite the very literal barriers caused by social distancing measures, teams everywhere have been forced to create greater professional and personal bonds in other ways with their colleagues to overcome this. Unintentional side effects have been greater inter-departmental working rather than just relying on those in the same location and a greater sense of connection through seeing quite literally into each other’s homes.

When we consider that a lot of the social and more informal learning that would normally have taken place in the workplace has been absent, people instead have had to make a special effort to ask for help or to book a time to speak with a colleague, rather than just asking the person on the next-door desk or watching how others do things in the background. This is especially prevalent for new starters: you could compare it to taking a cat away from its mother too early. People haven’t been able to learn by directly watching and this also means they have missed out on the belonging that comes from observing and sharing social norms.

In a way, this has simply ignited our teams to go above and beyond their comfort zone to adapt, which is not such a bad thing within a constantly evolving workplace. For better rather than worse, people managers have adopted a more empathetic management approach. Previously, knowing that someone has a passion for swimming or a new puppy may have seemed like an idle conversation. Indeed, we certainly all found it easier to compartmentalise personal and work-life conversational topics within the transactional style of the office. However, with the traditional forms of visibility removed, it is more important than ever to replace this loss by remaining connected in other ways – by approaching our employers in a more holistic management style.

This explains why, when I asked what people management behaviours were more important within a remote environment, in contrast to face-to-face interactions, 82% said providing frequent check-ins and one-to-ones was significantly more important to their jobs than before. With employees distributed away from other team members, making the effort to have these interactions is now pivotal to creating positive work culture. Certainly, people within a positive work culture, where they feel valued, will be more likely to go the extra mile for the company they work for.

So much so, that 58% of respondents rated providing recognition and praise as more important within the current landscape, as was taking a personal interest in an individual, at 57%. With face-to-face interactions removed, it’s clear that setting clear goals, recognising achievements and adopting a more empathetic approach, proved more effective at ensuring employees are continually motivated and encouraged to work.

What’s next?

Our teams have dealt with uncertainty both at home and at work and this has greatly urged a call for change. Despite the crisis, at least we have learnt that adopting a human-centric approach is a defining trait for successful remote management. But why restrict this just to a remote setting?

Even if the pandemic does finally come to an end, the global instability and the transformations that have come with it, are likely to remain. If this is the case, and if employees are more productive when people managers take on an empathetic approach, it would surely seem that the lessons learned from lockdown regarding people-centricity should continue in the post-pandemic world.

At the end of the day, why revert back to the transactional style we once practised in the office if it is so unwelcome? It’s clear now that building human connections and putting our people first is what constitutes a positive work culture, for today and tomorrow’s world.


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