Today’s office environment, in many ways, is hardly recognizable from that of just a few years ago. Although many have been talking about the “new normal,” no one yet knows what that will look like.
Supervisors are perplexed as to how to manage when some of their employees may be in the office, at least part-time, while others are working remotely. This turns the role of manager into something that they don’t recognize, nor have any experience with.
Traditionally, most employees aspired to become managers, seeking more money, more responsibility, a nice office, and the perks that go along with being a member of management. Much of this is disappearing. What happens when a manager doesn’t have a nice office with a window and an administrative assistant at hand? Stepping across the threshold of the manager’s office used to be a bit daunting for the average employee.
In today’s “Nowhere Office,” a term coined by Julia Hosbawm in her book of the same title, the traditional symbols of managerial authority are often absence. On a Zoom call, everyone is equal – each person on the call occupies the same one or two-inch square. The only threshold to cross is a digital one. Everyone has the same “digital office.”
Another managerial challenge is that “the office,” and all the structure and trappings associated with it, have been replaced by “the team.” Rather than a coherent, all-in-one-place group, with a visible and physical hierarchical structure, a manager now has a team with little or no tiered structure, but rather defined by the current project’s tasks. Once the project is complete, the team may no longer exist.
In situations like this, employers need to find other incentives to tempt people into management. In the past, money could be a major motivating enticement. However, in today’s business climate, where employees are looking for more meaning and purpose in their jobs, and money often doesn’t cut it.
Another significant shift is revealed in the fact that the terms “Blue Collar” worker versus “White Collar” worker have been replaced, in many cases, by “Hybrid Haves” versus “Hybrid Have Nots.” At social gatherings, the oft-asked question “what do you do,” has been replaced with “do you work from home?” or “do you work hybrid?” Whereas the “White Collar” tag used to be the goal, it has been replaced by the “hybrid haves.” If you have a job that allows you to work from home or trek into the office occasionally, you’re seen as someone who is successful.
The skill set for a successful hybrid manager is different, in many ways, from the in-office manager. The difficulty lies in the fact that today’s managers will often need both. As expressed by Robin Madell in flexjobs, a great hybrid manager needs four skills:
1. Flexibility: Just because certain days of the week may be reserved for “in-office,” doesn’t mean that everyone will always be able to be there. Recognizing that the workforce has changed, and that the manager no longer has iron-clad authority may be difficult, but necessary. If a member of the team needs to work off-site occasionally when the rest of the team is in-house, flexibility must be allowed.
2. Pro-active communication: Wesley Nelson, director of Hepper.com states “In a hybrid environment, it’s more important than ever that everyone feels heard, given they cannot always be seen.” He added that members of your team—particularly the more introverted employees—may feel it’s harder to reach out to you than it was when you shared the same room.
3. Emotional intelligence: Jon Buchan, CEO of Charm Offensive, explains: “In the wake of the pandemic, people have been emotional and vulnerable,” noting that there has been a ‘visible shift’ in behaviors and preferences. Workers are no longer motivated by the same set of factors as they were before the pandemic. With emotional intelligence, you can quickly spot their pain points and instill them with a sense that you have their backs.”
4. Inclusion: Managers need to avoid the trap of believing that their in-house workers are more productive than those working from home. This can create barriers to productivity. Jon Buchan addresses this issue by recommending centralized channels of communication. “For instance, make a rule that every meeting will take place on Zoom,” he said. “This enables employees to interact over a shared space regardless of where they’re working from, which contributes to a cohesive and closely-knit workforce. Inclusion makes everyone feel valued and goes a long way in keeping the workforce productive.”
Managing today’s hybrid workforce is fraught with difficulties, some known, and many more to be learned. The effective hybrid manager must be aware that the old ways of managing people are no longer applicable. Maintaining a successful, coherent, and happy workforce is the next big management challenge.
If you are struggling with any of these issues, our professionals at ASN would love to help you out and provide any guidance you may need. Just give us a call.