Set clear expectations!
That is rule number one in manager and employee relations. What a manager wants from an employee begins with the job description and gains credence when the person is hired, and the job is explained. Yet because this rule is so apparent, it is easy to forget.
Something fundamental to the expectations equation is even more critical now. It is clarity. Be specific about what the job is and what an employee must do to satisfy requirements. However, there is more urgency now to clarify that we are migrating to the hybrid workplace where employers and employees come to the office on an as yet to be a determined basis.
Clarity, as Bartleby, the workplace columnist for The Economist, writes, “One of the great theoretical attractions of hybrid working to employees is that they get to choose what days they come in. But the point of in-person working is to spend time collaborating and bonding with their colleagues: that is much more likely to happen if companies are clear about who they want in the office on which days of the week.”
Cali Williams Yost, Founder & CEO of the Flex + Strategy Group, a strategic advisory firm, advises managers to begin with clarity. “Not just the tasks of each person’s job, but also what are the broader strategic priorities of the business and the aspects of the culture we value.”
In short, there must be agreement on when and where employees work. And now, in a time when employees have been accustomed to determining their hours when working virtually, their sense of autonomy is heightened. Therefore, before management decides which days employees convene, managers should converse with their employees to determine their wants and needs.
According to Yost, who has been advising on flexible work environments for 20 years, management creates clarity when it is explicit about what needs to be done. Yet there must be wiggle-room. “At the enterprise-level, flexible operating guardrails should be as broad as possible to allow adaptation to the realities of different departments, jobs, and people deeper in the organization.” When such “guardrails” are established, managers “have the flexibility and freedom to work and manage their lives to make sense for the business and for them personally. Otherwise, it can feel like chaotic, inefficient whack-a-mole.”
New role for managers
Some companies are okay with employees mainly working virtually, but those same companies expect managers back in the office most of the time. “The realities of the business they run should dictate how, when, and where [managers] lead a flexible work team,” says Ms. Yost, author of Tweak It: Make What Matters Happen to You Every Day. “It requires mastering the basics of good management that are no longer optional, like setting clear goals and priorities, regular check-ins, providing feedback and development opportunities.”
The world of work has changed, too. Management “means getting comfortable coordinating and communicating intentionally across onsite and remote locations and recalibrating the way work is done as realities of the business and people change,” says Yost.
One company, Ansana, cited in the Bartleby column, has “meetings free” Wednesdays. However, if a manager wants a meeting on that day, they must discuss it with employees first, e.g., something the firm labels as “re-contracting.”
This approach is in line with what Cali Yost advises. “One-size-does-NOT-fit-all in terms of how, when, and where the work is done best based on the realities of a particular industry, or even across departments, teams, and people. The consistency does have to come from the process an enterprise and a team follows to set their flexible operating guardrails, not from the same outcome for every job.”
As Yost explains, “some tasks and priorities may be done best onsite, while others they may be done better remotely or perhaps it doesn’t matter whether it’s onsite or remote. That task or priority gets done well” due to factors like “the nature of the job, the maturity, and experience of the team.”
This approach is not without difficulty. “It takes effort, experimentation, and time,” says Yost. “People are tired, and they want easy answers” that are not easy to come by in times of uncertainty. Such feelings do not go away quickly, but what Yost has determined through her work is that both managers and employees report that flexibility, supported by enterprise-wide guardrails, provides clarity as well as the ability to be productive.
Flexibility is essential
Ultimately the success of the hybrid workplace will depend upon flexibility, allowing employers and employees to determine the best working hours. And in doing so, they might discover that things go better when they are discussed openly and collaboratively and with greater clarity.