Dr Zara Whysall, Research & Impact Director at Kiddy & Partners March 18 2022

Pressing Pause - Where next for the work revolution?

Dr. Zara Whysall, explores the top tips from leaders to start afresh with the new ways of working...

This is a question many leaders are asking, and frankly, it’s time to come up with some answers. We entered into a global hybrid working situation with good intentions, but for many people, it’s becoming clear that hybrid isn’t working. Many people feel they’ve slipped into an ‘everything is scheduled’ time blackhole, which leaves little time for doing focussed work. For some it never worked; most organisations have a raft of colleagues in a range of ‘frontline’ roles for whom hybrid has always been irrelevant, and now find themselves in an ‘us vs them’ situation which is far from ideal. So, it’s time to start afresh. Where to start? Here are some tips for leaders:

Design work with people and what they need to achieve at the forefront

One of the biggest problems is that current ways of working were devised as a response to a crisis, where the location was the driving factor. Whilst it worked as a means to an end (that end being surviving an unprecedented global pandemic), it’s no way to go about designing working practices that are anything more than temporary.

It’s time to get intentional and design work with human psychology in mind. Cast location aside and make decisions based on what’s best for individuals and teams to connect, collaborate, innovate. As part of the research we’re conducting with clients to help provide some much-needed guidelines to support leaders with reshaping ways of working, one HR leader shared some useful advice:

We’ve banned the word hybrid. Instead we want people to focus on working smart. It’s not about location but finding ways for teams to work together where they can be at their best.”

Diagnosing collaboration needs is one step in helping make informed decisions about how to redesign ways of working that optimise performance and connection.

Diagnose collaboration needs

There are various ways of working with others, but not all require true collaboration. For instance, think of a rugby team. All players need to be on the same pitch at the same time. Prioritise any in-person working opportunities for activities that need this live, real-time collaborative interaction.

A lot of team tasks simply need active coordination. Think of multiple medical experts doing their bit to prepare a patient for a procedure. A nurse may come to check blood pressure and other vital statistics, updating their chart for the specialist who later comes to inform the patient about what to expect, and the radiologist who ensures that the relevant scans are ready for the specialist to consult. This involves exchanging information and engaging in activities for mutual benefit to achieve a common purpose, but unlike collaboration, each party is largely able to do their own thing separately. So long as it’s coordinated well, and all team members are clear on what’s required and aware of any dependencies between separate activities, allow flexibility around where and when for these tasks.

Then there are tasks that just require cooperation. Think about a production line where the individual components are made separately and then brought together at the end for assembly. Like collaboration and coordination, this also involves exchanging information, adjusting activities, and sharing resources for mutual benefit to achieve a common purpose, but individuals can undertake tasks in separate silos and then bring their results together at the end. Forcing people to achieve this as an end-to-end cooperative endeavor is unnecessarily time-consuming and restrictive, plus people who need quiet, focused will not perform at their best this way. Ensure regular check-ins but save the quality collaboration for the final assembly point.

It’s time to get more conscious about how we’re leading our teams and stop to reconfigure ways of working around what’s optimal for performance and wellbeing. Take employee preferences into consideration, but also remember that although the habits we’ve slipped into now may feel comfortable, they’re not necessarily what’s best for us.

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