A tension is emerging as we take our first steps into the world of working in a hybrid way. On the one hand there’s the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with work colleagues, collaborate and rebuild the office culture, on the other many of us are unwilling or unable to let go of the flexibility and freedom of being able to work from home. Managers must rise to the challenge of reconciling these two perspectives in order to get the best of both worlds and enable their teams to thrive.
Accommodating differing perspectives, flexing to the needs of individuals and ensuring that all have the opportunity to contribute their best to the team is almost impossible unless deep psychological safety is present. Most of us have thought twice about sharing an idea in a meeting, speaking out if we don’t understand what’s expected of us or challenging the direction of decisions. This can be even more challenging when we’re not in the same place as our teammates.
Research consistently demonstrates that psychological safety is one of the strongest predictors of team effectiveness, quality decision making, innovation and execution. Speaking freely allows people to connect, explore and challenge in a more authentic way. Individuals within psychologically safe environments are shown to be more engaged, productive and happy at work.
Creating a safe environment is hard enough when everyone is in the same place. Hybrid working brings with it an additional set of challenges:
1. More than ever an individual’s personal circumstances have a bearing on when, where and how they want to work. Managers must take personal needs into account, encouraging openness about what really matters
2. Hybrid working has the potential to highlight differing values, identities and choices with a real risk of creating in and out groups depending on how much or how little people are in or out of the office. Those who feel that they are part of the ‘out-group’ are much less likely to speak up
3. Managers must work to overcome the natural tendency to favour those who they spend most time with (often within the office) and ensure that all are treated fairly and transparently
4. Ensuring that every individual feels that they have a voice and will be listened to regardless of whether they are at home or in the office takes constant effort and is unlikely to happen automatically
The essence of managing for psychological safety should always come from the simple question, “How can I help every individual be at their best within the team?”. This isn’t simply about being a decent, caring human being, or, on the other hand, manipulating people into doing even more, it’s the ultimate win:win. Individuals flourish within their professional lives and you, the manager, get their best contributions towards business goals.
So, what can managers do?
1. Connect regularly with individuals virtually and face to face when possible. Listen deeply, seek to understand what matters to them both professionally and personally. What is their ideal working situation and why? How can you support them?
2. Connect as a team. Come together to decide how best to operate in the new hybrid world, share the challenge as a team rather than offering all the answers. Ensure that every individual’s voice is heard and that the approach chosen reflects all perspectives.
3. Ensure absolute clarity around purpose and objectives. It should be clear no matter where a person is based, what they are working towards, why and how they can best contribute to team success. Check in with them regularly.
4. Fight “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.” Make sure every individual feels that their work is recognised and acknowledged by you the manager and by the broader team. Remember to give regular constructive feedback.
5. Encourage curiosity and experimentation. This is a golden opportunity to rewrite how the team operates and help every individual feel part of the challenge. Celebrate successes and learn from what doesn’t work.
6. Create an environment of deep trust and strong accountability. Give individuals the freedom and space to work in the way that suits them best whilst having complete clarity around what is expected of them and knowing that what they do matters.
We at The Manager Hub are passionate about making hybrid working work; come and talk to us about how we can help your managers focus their efforts in the right place and reap the rewards of genuinely psychologically safe teams.