Stacey is excited to work from her office again, seeing her colleagues, and having a distinct end of her day on her commute home. She’s had a productive year, and yet is ready for her old ways of productivity. Scott, on the other hand, is dreading going back into the office. He has created a great office and routine at home, taking 15 minutes in the morning to walk his son around the corner to school. He has never been so focused and productive.
Two high-performing peers, leading their firms to success. Two dynamically different perspectives. How do you, as a leader in your firm, make decisions about where, why, and how work gets done? How can you engage all, or even most of, your employees?
The post-Covid workplace is a hybrid mix of work-from-home and in-office or on-site employees. With so much uncertainty for the immediate future, professional services firms must realize that hybrid workforces are the reality for now. The challenge is knowing how to ensure your remote team members feel connected to your in-person team members. How do you create a cohesive, united team, not one separated by who is in the office versus who isn’t?
One of the key challenges that firms face is the power differentials between people in the office and those working at home. Team members who work from home feel out of the loop and may feel a lack of visibility. As effective as Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams is at bringing your team together via video call – it’s still not the same as being in the same physical location.
So, how can you keep your in-person and work-from-home team members fully engaged? There are three key measures you can take to build a truly healthy, productive hybrid workforce for your firm.
1. Create New Meeting Norms.
When a meeting ends, team members leave the video call and go on to the next task. However, those who are still in the conference room continue the conversation – and sometimes details change or new ideas emerge after the call. Unless you involve your entire team, not just the in-person team, you run the risk of neglecting the information, insight, and expertise of your work-from-home team members.
Without a good plan in place, a rift can start dividing your hybrid team. This is only one situation where it can start. Those moments cause inequality and start eroding trust and communication. You need to create a new set of parameters for your meetings.
For starters, ensure there are no side conversations in the conference room. Nothing makes a remote team member feel like a ‘have not’ more than seeing other team members lean over and whisper to each other while they’re sitting in the conference room. Even if the information whispered is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, the gesture is rude and unnecessary. In a more benign way, having multiple conversations happening in the conference room without including remote team members turns them into spectators, not participants.
Another wise decision to eliminate post-meeting conversations – also known as the ‘meeting after the meeting’ or the ‘hallway meetup’. Instead, allow only one conversation: the one where everyone is involved. When you need to collaborate and problem solve, consider one or two days per month where your team comes together. Be deliberate about the work that happens on those days when you’re all together. That includes taking 15 minutes the morning of or the day before to create a true meeting agenda. Know what you’re going to talk about as a team, who’s responsible for each task, and how you can best use your time to get work done together.
2. Share Your User Manual.
When do you do your best work? The work that requires your brain to be at its best? How do you like to receive feedback? How do you like to be recognized? Share this information with your colleagues. You don’t have to write it all out into a formal document – nor should you necessarily do this – but make it a point to clearly share this information through different conversations and written communication (ex: emails).
If you’re leading your entire firm or even a team, you may want to put together a User Manual for the group you’re leading. Include details about communication parameters (“We talk about these details in Slack, but not those types of details or topics.”), deadlines, working processes (meetings, task lists, brainstorming sessions, etc.), and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). While it’s unreasonable to expect your team members to know all of the nuances and particularities of every other team member, it does give you a good starting point.
Your User Manual helps outline how you’d like your team to communicate and operate as well as why those ways are important. Share it with every team member who will be part of your hybrid workforce, so they have all the information they need at hand whether working with you remotely or on-site. You can also share it with colleagues so they have a clear picture of who to contact for what.
3. Build your relationship capital.
Who are the key stakeholders in your projects, clients, and career? Who are the individuals who will help you gain visibility and influence? If your team members don’t know they matter to you and each other, no amount of in-person connection would change that belief. On the other hand, if your team members know you have their back and that they are in a safe, trusted workspace, it doesn’t matter where they work because you know they’re invested in your firm’s success.
The pandemic drained so many incredible people of hope and joy. There was little to no time to prepare to work from home. This abrupt mashup of work and life is still jarring for many people to experience, but we’re learning together.
The one detail we cannot forget as leaders is that your team members aren’t only work-from-home staff or in-person staff. No, more than anything else, they’re human. You have team members who lost loved ones, rescheduled weddings, anniversary trips, birthday parties, reunions, everything, and the impact has changed a lot of people.
Your greatest responsibility is to connect with each of your team members on a human level. How are they holding up? How’s their family doing? What would it look like to help them experience truly fulfilling work this year and into the future? What does success look like to them today, compared to only a few years ago? That may mean changing their schedule a bit or revisiting their role descriptions. That can’t happen in a vacuum or through guesswork – it takes intentional, honest conversations. It takes leadership.
It’s Time to ReIgnite Your Team
The bottom line is building a hybrid workforce means you need to create a new kind of trust. You need to instill a deep knowledge of safety in your team. They need to know you’re okay if they try and fail on some details – that’s how we learn and grow. Create openings where they can ask for help if they need it. Be deliberate about what type of work happens at home (focused work) and the type of work that happens in the office (collaboration, creativity, problem-solving work).
Yes, it absolutely is possible to create an incredible hybrid workforce, but you may not know where to start. That’s why I created ReIgnite: a six-session training and coaching program to help professional service firms like law firms and accounting firms build stronger, higher-performing, more productive hybrid workforces in 90 days or less.
If you’re ready to make your back to the office approach be your greatest competitive advantage, ReIgnite was made for you. Go to julieholunga.com/reignite to see what’s possible today.