Behavioural science specialist says it’s important not to favour face-to-face staff when implementing a hybrid work model
When it came to the pandemic, brokers had challenges left, right and centre. Not only did lenders change their credit policies and their interest rates over and over again, but borrowers came to the fore with a whole set of uniquely COVID-related problems. And then, of course, there was the heated property market and the record business that came with it. But aside from these tumultuous yet exciting times, brokers also had to adjust to a remote working environment. This meant managing staff virtually while grappling with new tech systems and redesigning processes.
Now that leaders and staff are used to working apart, a new challenge has arisen – how to move forward and maintain team cohesion in a hybrid working model.
According to behavioural science specialist and host of the top-rated How I work podcast, Dr Amantha Imber, it is important that business leaders prevent against giving preferential treatment towards face-to-face members of staff.
“I think businesses really need to be careful to not favour people that work from the office and put in a lot of face time,” she told MPA. “It’s really easy for leaders to positively bias people they can physically see working and physically tap on the shoulder for more opportunities.”
She said doing this could negatively impact team cohesion. For example, while it could be tempting to ditch Zoom meetings for face-to-face staff and simply include remote team members through video call while the rest of the team shared one computer, this could disadvantage those working from home by making them feel like they are on the outer. Imber suggested that every team member should instead join the meeting from their own computer to create a better sense of connectiveness.
In terms of creating team cohesion after working apart for a period of time, she said it was first important to decide what the “rhythm” of the business was going to be.
“Are you going to mandate people coming back to the office or are you going to prioritise flexibility,” she said. “My advice there would be to give people as much flexibility and choice as possible. There might perhaps be one day where you say everybody needs to be at the office if you feel like collaboration best happens face to face.”
Despite this common belief around collaboration, she said there was limited evidence to suggest that a face-to-face environment worked best. Anyone who has worked in an open plan office before is sure to understand that being close to one another often has the opposite effect. According to workplace culture specialist and author of Culture Fix and The Project Book Colin D Ellis, not only are modern day offices uninspiring, but their open nature ironically creates barriers between staff.
“In reality open plan is only good for one type of personality,” he said. “This is why you see things like headphones in offices. People don’t feel like they are able to do quiet, considered work because organisations haven’t set offices up in the right way.”
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Imber said it was important to schedule non-work-related social activities to enable the entire team to come together and bond.
“I think it’s easier for those spontaneous catch ups to happen when you are working at the office but I think it’s a good idea for leaders to be proactive in making sure these things do happen,” she said.
When moving from a remote work environment to a hybrid one, it is often necessary to make changes to systems and processes to enable for a streamlined workflow – particularly when it comes to collaborative tasks. Imber said it was good to err on the side of overcommunication when it came to any changes that needed to be made. She said that it was often overwhelming for staff to come back into the office after working from home because of all the added stimulation.
“It is overwhelming being around people and different physical environment, lights and sounds, it’s a much more intense environment than working from home for most people and that takes getting used to,” she said.
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While working in a hybrid model doesn’t come without challenge, it could be well worth the extra effort and investment.
“Hybrid is absolutely the way of the future,” said Imber. “I would hope that some of the good changes that have emerged from the pandemic, like leaders trusting their team more, prioritising output over hours, for example, I would hope that those changes stick and that leaders continue to operate with really positive intentions as opposed to assuming the worst.”