The pandemic has been around long enough to use up 15 letters of the Greek Alphabet. Hybrid Workplaces are a norm. The World Economic Forum have cried their throats hoarse — for the past three years — while telling us that in order to be relevant to the times we live in, we need to be “lifelong learners”.
Even for decision-makers in a Hybrid Workplace, challenges abound. Uncertainty over what a rejigged workplace will look like. Fragmented teams that are supposed to promote cross-functional collaboration and innovation, but really aren’t. All of this, along with the challenge of being challenged all the time.
In a world in which VUCA has gained more professional prominence than its military origins, helping teams navigate the workplace of the future is a responsibility that’s as layered and complex as the acronym itself.
Near, Far, Wherever You Are
It’s 5pm, and you’re in your conference room. Most of your team is with you. The rest are windows on a Google Meets interface. A brainstorm for a business pivot is in progress.
One of your employees — who’s been hogging your line of sight for a while — has a good suggestion. You greenlight it. At the same time, a glowing frame on your laptop has the idea of a lifetime. But, the employee who just went out of the box for you feels left out of the conversation. He/she decides to let the status quo remain, to not contribute. A pivot that could have redefined your business dies out, just like that.
Proximity Bias has a very palpable presence in Hybrid Workplaces. It’s an intangible concept, but it can have very tangible consequences on productivity, morale, and employee retention. As leaders, it’s imperative that you never let the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” come true at your workplace.
Recognising Proximity Bias as a potential issue is the first step towards creating an equitable environment. And, incorporating these aspects into your workplace dynamics can help you chart the way forward:
1) Make it a habit to also consider remote employees for new projects.
2) Use communication solutions — like Trello or Slack — to keep employees looped in for pertinent, project-related conversations.
3) Ensure that all of your meetings are virtual-friendly, and proactively ensure the participation of remote members.
4) If remote members are involved in a meeting, making it a completely-virtual fare could serve as a good approach for eliminating Proximity Bias altogether.
Most importantly, give all of your employees the flexibility to tailor their work schedules.
Complexities apart, these are also emotional times. Microsoft employees attested to that not very long ago, being human and offering their shoulders to weeping colleagues.
Mental health and burnouts have been sparking more conversations than ever. Even dissections of The Great Resignation are throwing up as many psychological reasons as work-related ones. Empathy is the need of the hour, one that’s needed to fill an emotional chasm that the pandemic has opened up in organisations.
Dale Carnegie also knows how a strong Psychological Safety net connects to the bigger picture. And as a leader, these pointers are a good place to start from:
1) Prioritise mental health: Designate liaisons to coordinate and monitor Employee Assistance Programmes and other training/awareness modules for mental health.
2) Understand your employee strata: While dedicated mental-health resources are key, knowing how to deploy them will increase their efficiency. For instance, mental health is topping Generation Z’s workplace priority list in the post-pandemic world. Thus, it would be prudent for start-ups to take this into consideration while implementing mental-health initiatives.
3) Reach out to employees, even if just to ask how they are doing: Workplaces are now spanning continents, but they’re still very lonely places to be in. Being there for your employees and hearing them out can go a long way. Ensure that your employees are aware of the mental-health resources at their disposal, and their benefits.
When it comes to guiding employees, interpersonal and emotional dynamics make up two-thirds of the leadership barometer. The missing third can be found in a statement and a related suggestion that WEF made at the start of last year.
“…for the first time in recent years, job creation is starting to lag behind job destruction”.
“Close the skills gap.”
As a leader, it’s essential to put together a four-pronged survival toolkit for employees, one meant to help them cope in a distance economy.
1) Analytical Skills: Equip employees with problem-solving skills, and build an environment that fosters innovation.
2) Technical Knowledge: Though scope for upskilling is domain-dependent, digital know-how is key for survival.
3) Social Intelligence: Since interpersonal skills continue to be a primary work-driver, leaders need to prioritise Social Intelligence and communication-centric acumen.
4) Resilience: Another must-have skill for agile environments, C-suite employees or otherwise.
While putting together an upskilling blueprint, leaders also need to have a good understanding of the skills that are key to their future business model, and use Learning & Development as the rudder for this journey.