CMI Magazine - Issue 6

Page 1

AU T U M N 20 2 1 / I S S U E 0 6 THE MAGAZINE FOR CMI MEMBERS

WOR K . U N TETHER ED ---------

A special edition on the management challenges of hybrid working


Welcome

Contents

We need a “high-leadership” economy all the talk in uk government circles right now is about moving to a “high-wage, high-productivity economy”. The shortages of fuel and labour are, we’re told, bumps in the road as we move towards that. I believe we need a “high-leadership economy”. I’ve always known that good management and leadership help people perform better and feel more satisfied in their work, supercharge organisations, and elevate the economy. These past 18 months have only strengthened ANN FRANCKE OBE that. It’s effective management and leadership that will CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CMI unlock the potential benefits of the post-pandemic era. As we build up to CMI’s 75th anniversary in 2022, we must communicate a simple message to the government, business and the wider public: that good management and leadership underpin everything. So I encourage all CMI members to get involved with our 75th-anniversary research work. Thank you in advance for your input. Old-school managers will keep us in the old world. But managers and leaders who are comfortable with complexity, who can lead distributed teams, who are inclusive and hyper-digital will help us to “Build back better”. McKinsey’s brilliant director of research and economics, Tera Allas, illustrated the power of the boss in a CMI Better Managers Briefing recently: “90 per cent of people say the way they feel at home depends on the way they feel at work,” she said. Management and leadership don’t just help people in a job; they help you on the way up, too. CMI has just released a report called “Work-Ready Graduates: Building employability skills for a hybrid world”, highlighting the 11 key skills that, according to employers, equip graduates to progress in the workplace. Unfortunately, only a quarter of graduates believe that they possess them. CMI is calling --------on the government and universities to embed employability skills and career support that “ 90% of people say the way they will, in turn, boost economic growth. feel at home depends on the way they feel at work” Leadership in a hybrid world We mustn’t sugar-coat any of this. Management and leadership is hard, even more so in a “hybrid” world where people are distributed, working remotely and on multiple, flexible schedules. It will require different qualities to the old world. This edition of CMI’s magazine focuses on leading in a hybrid world. Check out the full list of contents opposite. I’m sure you’ll find something to help you navigate these challenges.

02 — AUTU M N 202 1

My take I know myself how tough it is to lead in a hybrid world. Having absorbed this edition and in my conversations with leaders, these seem to be some of the emerging management challenges: 1. Your people – especially new starters – are missing out on the benefits of impromptu workplace interactions. Over time, they won’t develop the “peripheral vision” that the best team members bring to the job. 2. People are under-managed and, over time, run the risk of developing potentially toxic habits. 3. At the other end of the spectrum, people are sometimes micro-managed and don’t feel trusted to do a good job. 4. Establishing and maintaining high levels of trust without false metrics emerging – for example, how quickly someone replies to an email – is an important but difficult task. 5. Reimagine the office/workplace so that it represents an “experience” and offers the possibility for the kind of creativity that isn’t available elsewhere. 6. Make sure your organisation is, and remains, inclusive. I feel very strongly about this one. There’s a real danger of new biases and in-crowds developing in a hybrid model, and managers must be aware of these. 7. There’s the risk of mild anarchy as people impose their own working schedules and preferences over and above the needs of the organisation. This is where a powerful shared sense of purpose comes in. Having clear and ethical ground rules are also important. 8. Sheer management capability is, as ever, key. Do your existing managers really have the empathy, social sensitivity and emotional intelligence that define the good modern manager? Make the small moments count There’s one approach that can address each of these challenges, and that’s the power of “small moments” (a phrase coined by McKinsey). As a leader, every interaction matters, whether you’re talking to a new starter about their career ambitions or to a Cabinet minister about what should be on their agenda for the year ahead. Small moments can have big impacts. It only takes a few seconds of good management to switch a project from promising to spectacular. Good management and leadership really can make the difference.

05 — Your work, your way What does hybrid look like across the CMI community? We found out what you love, and what you loathe… 13 — Why this is the moment to change The pandemic might be the best thing to happen to management in 200 years, says Jo Owen CMgr CCMI 16 — What’s your hybrid? Fully virtual? Back in the office? Or somewhere in between? Find your sweet spot on the hybrid spectrum 26 — The management challenges No big change comes without a few bumps in the road. Start by asking yourself these five questions 40 — The long game: Turley case study For planning and development consultancy Turley, hybrid work is nothing new. The team has been building up to this for years 48 — Mental health and wellbeing It has been a tough 18 months for everyone, so don’t expect your team to get back to “normal” any time soon, says psychologist Ian MacRae 52 — Total freedom at Fry Trust is the cornerstone of successful hybrid working. Meet the company pushing that idea to the limit

MANAGERS.O RG.UK — 03


Welcome

Contents

We need a “high-leadership” economy all the talk in uk government circles right now is about moving to a “high-wage, high-productivity economy”. The shortages of fuel and labour are, we’re told, bumps in the road as we move towards that. I believe we need a “high-leadership economy”. I’ve always known that good management and leadership help people perform better and feel more satisfied in their work, supercharge organisations, and elevate the economy. These past 18 months have only strengthened ANN FRANCKE OBE that. It’s effective management and leadership that will CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CMI unlock the potential benefits of the post-pandemic era. As we build up to CMI’s 75th anniversary in 2022, we must communicate a simple message to the government, business and the wider public: that good management and leadership underpin everything. So I encourage all CMI members to get involved with our 75th-anniversary research work. Thank you in advance for your input. Old-school managers will keep us in the old world. But managers and leaders who are comfortable with complexity, who can lead distributed teams, who are inclusive and hyper-digital will help us to “Build back better”. McKinsey’s brilliant director of research and economics, Tera Allas, illustrated the power of the boss in a CMI Better Managers Briefing recently: “90 per cent of people say the way they feel at home depends on the way they feel at work,” she said. Management and leadership don’t just help people in a job; they help you on the way up, too. CMI has just released a report called “Work-Ready Graduates: Building employability skills for a hybrid world”, highlighting the 11 key skills that, according to employers, equip graduates to progress in the workplace. Unfortunately, only a quarter of graduates believe that they possess them. CMI is calling --------on the government and universities to embed employability skills and career support that “ 90% of people say the way they will, in turn, boost economic growth. feel at home depends on the way they feel at work” Leadership in a hybrid world We mustn’t sugar-coat any of this. Management and leadership is hard, even more so in a “hybrid” world where people are distributed, working remotely and on multiple, flexible schedules. It will require different qualities to the old world. This edition of CMI’s magazine focuses on leading in a hybrid world. Check out the full list of contents opposite. I’m sure you’ll find something to help you navigate these challenges.

02 — AUTU M N 202 1

My take I know myself how tough it is to lead in a hybrid world. Having absorbed this edition and in my conversations with leaders, these seem to be some of the emerging management challenges: 1. Your people – especially new starters – are missing out on the benefits of impromptu workplace interactions. Over time, they won’t develop the “peripheral vision” that the best team members bring to the job. 2. People are under-managed and, over time, run the risk of developing potentially toxic habits. 3. At the other end of the spectrum, people are sometimes micro-managed and don’t feel trusted to do a good job. 4. Establishing and maintaining high levels of trust without false metrics emerging – for example, how quickly someone replies to an email – is an important but difficult task. 5. Reimagine the office/workplace so that it represents an “experience” and offers the possibility for the kind of creativity that isn’t available elsewhere. 6. Make sure your organisation is, and remains, inclusive. I feel very strongly about this one. There’s a real danger of new biases and in-crowds developing in a hybrid model, and managers must be aware of these. 7. There’s the risk of mild anarchy as people impose their own working schedules and preferences over and above the needs of the organisation. This is where a powerful shared sense of purpose comes in. Having clear and ethical ground rules are also important. 8. Sheer management capability is, as ever, key. Do your existing managers really have the empathy, social sensitivity and emotional intelligence that define the good modern manager? Make the small moments count There’s one approach that can address each of these challenges, and that’s the power of “small moments” (a phrase coined by McKinsey). As a leader, every interaction matters, whether you’re talking to a new starter about their career ambitions or to a Cabinet minister about what should be on their agenda for the year ahead. Small moments can have big impacts. It only takes a few seconds of good management to switch a project from promising to spectacular. Good management and leadership really can make the difference.

05 — Your work, your way What does hybrid look like across the CMI community? We found out what you love, and what you loathe… 13 — Why this is the moment to change The pandemic might be the best thing to happen to management in 200 years, says Jo Owen CMgr CCMI 16 — What’s your hybrid? Fully virtual? Back in the office? Or somewhere in between? Find your sweet spot on the hybrid spectrum 26 — The management challenges No big change comes without a few bumps in the road. Start by asking yourself these five questions 40 — The long game: Turley case study For planning and development consultancy Turley, hybrid work is nothing new. The team has been building up to this for years 48 — Mental health and wellbeing It has been a tough 18 months for everyone, so don’t expect your team to get back to “normal” any time soon, says psychologist Ian MacRae 52 — Total freedom at Fry Trust is the cornerstone of successful hybrid working. Meet the company pushing that idea to the limit

MANAGERS.O RG.UK — 03


CELEBRATING

75 YEARS OF BETTER MANAGERS

As CMI looks back at our impact over the past 75 years, and how the role and values of professional leaders and managers have changed, we want to understand what is next for workplace leadership. CMI is embarking on a landmark new project, looking at what’s next for great workplace leadership, and how we can ensure equality, diversity and inclusion are right at its core. We will be asking you to share your experiences and practical ideas on how CMI can drive change toward a fairer, more inclusive and equal workplace, and in doing so, help to boost economic recovery and future growth in all parts of the UK. Using our members’ experiences and insight from high profile leaders, we will share the practical actions which managers are using today. At the end of 2022, this project will feed into a major piece of thought leadership.

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Exclusive CMI analysis

HOW TO GET HY BRID RIGHT ---------

Illustration_ Brett Ryder

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 05


one of us has done this before. We’re all feeling our way through. Every day there are new issues and curve balls. Our own decisions are under the microscope, too. What if our approach to hybrid working is out of step with the rest of the organisation or other businesses? Deep down, we all want to know: are we doing the right thing? To help the management community understand how to get hybrid working right, we asked more than 1,000 CMI members what’s working in their own version of hybrid working, what isn’t, and what, in their view, does best practice look like. These results give a clear picture of the main pressure points in hybrid working and provide a framework for building a sustainable hybrid model within your own organisation. This is what managers want from hybrid working – and what they hate. With many industries suffering from labour shortages, these principles could help you to secure the best talent available. Managers were asked for their feedback in June 2021 as we approached the end of the COVID-19 restrictions. We asked about their experiences with hybrid and virtual working during the pandemic. For this analysis, we reviewed the key themes that emerged from managers’ verbatim comments.

06 — AUTU M N 202 1


THE the first thing to say is that many managers have had positive experiences of hybrid working. “My department is 100 per cent more productive,” says a manager working in a private-sector business in the south-east of England. He’s not alone. A leader in a small private-sector operation in the West Midlands says he now has the “independence to act”. It’s about “being allowed to get on with the job rather than stick to preconceptions,” says one boss working in a small business. Hybrid working has freed many people up to do their job better. If you want to build a hybrid model that’s in tune with your people and attractive to potential recruits, then bear in mind the following pillars. These are the cornerstones of what the managers in our study believe to be best-practice hybrid working...

1. Does the new hybrid model provide people with genuine autonomy?

Implemented well, hybrid working should enable your people to decide where, when and how to work based on their tasks, meetings and workloads. It gives them the flexibility to adapt that work in tune with other life commitments, thus improving their work/life balance. Time previously spent commuting can now be spent with children, on caring responsibilities,

hobbies, or simply being available for home deliveries. Managers and leaders will need to bear these factors in mind when developing hybrid working models in future. One key thing to recognise is that, if someone spends a couple of hours during the day attending a medical appointment, they’ll be able to make up the time more easily if they’re working from

home. The key message for managers is: trust your people. Offer flexibility over which hours – and days – they can work. And innovate: if they can’t attend a meeting, make a recording of it and share it with them.

2. Will your model really improve people’s productivity?

Many managers in our study have found that working from home has increased their productivity. This is definitely a positive. Peace and quiet, without face-to-face office distractions, also makes many managers more productive. But there are deeper themes at play here: many people are simply working longer hours and not necessarily working smarter. M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 07


3. Does hybrid working enhance wellbeing?

There are contrasting factors at play when it comes to hybrid working and mental health. Many people have suffered feelings of isolation during the pandemic; there’s been a surge in mental health issues. But our study also shows many managers reporting improved mental health, saying that they feel less stressed working in a hybrid fashion. Reduced travel/ driving time has also had a positive impact on managers’ wellbeing. Anecdotally, it’s reassuring to see so many managers and organisations establishing mental health catch-up meetings and clinics for staff.

08 — AUTU M N 202 1

4. Are we enabling an office-calibre homeworking environment?

To function in the same way as they would in the office, people need robust technology infrastructure and equipment. They need instant communications technology (ie, Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, etc) to overcome challenges quickly. Some managers in our study were given help to purchase desks, chairs and monitors to get the full office set-up at home. But not everyone is so fortunate, so it’s a good idea for managers to acknowledge that they are lucky to have an effective home office space available to them.

5. Are we offering a genuinely “hybrid” solution?

Almost all of the managers in our study have been able to work in a hybrid way, the exceptions being frontline workers or people required to be on site. For those who can, the most common hybrid-working structure is to work two or three days a week from home, with the rest in the office, schedule-dependent. But the growing appetite for hybrid working brings specific challenges around technology: do your people have the digital skills required to operate remotely? Do they have the best equipment? Might they even need duplicate sets of IT equipment to operate effectively at home and in the office?


THE if you want people to love your hybrid working arrangements, address these common problem areas...

PEOPLE FEEL ISOLATED AND DISENGAGED...

DIFFICULTIES BUILDING CLIENT AND TEAM RELATIONSHIPS

The lack of informal communication and support is the big issue flagged up by respondents to our poll. “I’m not able to gather the informal feedback that I would get in the coffee queue. I’m missing the informal chat and interaction,” one manager said. Several people lamented: “Everything has to be planned.” Homeworking also means more emails and meetings, as you can’t have quick face-to-face conversations.

Not being able to have informal “water cooler” conversations means that managers don’t have contact with the wider business and lose that easy knowledge transfer. “You lose contact with employees you don’t work directly with,” said one manager. It’s particularly hard to build connections with new starters. Even more seriously, people report that it has got harder to build relationships with new customers and other businesses. After all, it’s tough to read body language when you’re on a video call.

M E S S AG E T O M A NAG E R S ○ Keep up the regular catch-ups and all-staff communications. ○ Make sure everyone’s trained up on virtual communication platforms (Teams, Zoom, etc). ○ Virtual social events – “wine online”, virtual coffee mornings, staff quizzes and virtual escape rooms were all mentioned – may help to protect staff’s mental health and prevent the feeling of isolation. ○ More broadly, is now the right time for a social? ○ Try to find shortcuts to those old, informal interactions. Here’s how one manager is going about it: “Increased use of informal “coffee” moments, lunch-and-learn sessions and quizzes to build company networks. These have been particularly important for encouraging young, single colleagues who may feel more isolated than older ones with families.”

M E S S AG E T O M A NAG E R S ○ Ask your team about how client and stakeholder relationships are going. Could it be time for some face-to-face visits?

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 0 9


THE EMERGENCE OF A NEW TECHNOLOGICAL ORDER Some managers report tech-related challenges. Common issues include: ageing tech that struggles to handle modern software and applications; poor WiFi that makes communication difficult (and could heighten feelings of isolation); and some team members not having the right kit – or not getting the financial support to purchase it.

M E S S AG E T O M A NAG E R S ○ The uneven allocation of technology can create morale-sapping “tech hierarchies” where senior staff have the best kit and can run all the best apps, and junior staff miss out or have to use their personal equipment. ○ Make sure your tech support teams understand these issues. ○ Think about offering financial help to cover any utility bill increases as a result of home-working.

10 — AUT U M N 202 1

NEW STARTERS SUFFER Training is increasingly being delivered online. But in a virtual world, it can be difficult to train new staff with the skills for the job. Similarly, it’s tough for managers to bring new staff on board.

M E S S AG E T O M A NAG E R S ○ Think hard about how knowledge gets transferred in your organisation and/or team. Does this happen quickly and effectively virtually? ○ Explore new online training programmes. ○ Consider whether onboarding and training may be activities that are best done face to face. That will also give you the chance to build relationships with new starters and, over time, give you the chance to teach them the expected professional behaviours, particularly among young people.


LOWER PRODUCTIVITY Sure, many managers have seen their productivity increase when working from home, but many people don’t have the space or the equipment for an effective home office. And productivity can suffer if you become too comfortable working at home or are distracted by other family members. Many people find it difficult to switch off from work when their workplace is also their home. In time, this can lead to burnout and destroy productivity. Other common productivity issues include: reduced creativity; slower response times as managers have to wait for responses; and people “hiding” behind their computer.

M E S S AG E T O M A NAG E R S ○ Set clear standards and expectations about productivity. ○ Bear in mind this advice from one CMI member: “Use classical conditioning techniques when working from home – learn to associate part of the house with work and part of the house with relaxation.” ○ Some companies allow staff to take equipment such as office chairs home to help create the optimal work environment. ○ Staff who are required to have quick response times will need the best IT.

OVERWORK This is a growing problem. There is an expectation among some managers that people should work the hours they’re saving on commuting. The sheer volume of online meetings can eat into working hours and mean that people have to work after hours to get the job done.

M E S S AG E T O M A NAG E R S ○ Think about imposing a maximum meeting length or preventing meetings being scheduled in the busier hours.

DETERIORATING WELLBEING Not having the support of colleagues face to face can affect an individual’s mental health. Many people are suffering feelings of loneliness and isolation. And the boundaries between home and work can become vague, with work time eating into family time. It can be difficult to switch off from work after hours.

M E S S AG E T O M A NAG E R S ○ Consider the effects that working from home can have on a person (mentally and physically). ○ Many organisations have email footer messages that explain how they respond to after-hours messages. Here’s CMI’s, for example: “At CMI we work flexibly – so whilst it suits me to email you now, I don’t expect a response or action outside of your own working hours.” M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 11


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The moment to change

“THE PANDEMIC HAS RESET EXPECTATIONS ABOUT HOW MUCH CHANGE YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO ACHIEV E AS A LEADER” ---------

Words_ Jo Owen CMgr CCMI

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 13


enin said of the russian revolution, “There are decades when nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen.” We discovered the truth of that statement at the start of the pandemic. People and organisations achieved far more change, in far less time, than we ever thought possible before. In the first 20 years of this century, we had fooled ourselves into believing that we were changing faster than ever. Then the pandemic hit and the first 20 years felt like a stroll in the park compared with the way organisations shifted to remote working, often overnight. The pandemic has reset expectations about how much change you should be able to achieve as a leader. Under the right conditions, even long-established firms and ways of working can change radically and fast. Leaders now need to ask themselves what other changes they should be making. What other unforced changes should you make? What “impossible” changes are now possible? Henry Kissinger, US secretary of state during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s, defined leadership as the art of “taking people where they would not have got by themselves”. This is useful because it helps us understand that there are plenty of people with grand titles who are not --------leading; they’re just managing a legacy they “ The pandemic has raised the inherited. Leaders cannot live in the comfort stakes for what leaders should be zone of business-as-usual, because comfort able to achieve, but it may also zones become uncomfortable when the rest of the world is changing and you’re not. have made change more difficult, The pandemic has raised the stakes for at least in the short term” what leaders should be able to achieve, but it may also have made change more difficult, at least in the short term. Many firms are reporting widespread change fatigue. Staff feel that they have “done” change, and they now want some stability and predictability in their lives. If you want to rise to the challenge of change as a leader, you need to do two things. First, make sure that hybrid working is working for everyone... At the moment, hybrid working is still working on the back of the goodwill of staff who are finding ways to make it work. That is not sustainable when it leads to overwork, stress, loss of a healthy work/ life balance and mental health issues. Fortunately, making remote working work does not require some form of magic. You need to establish clear rhythms and routines that enable each team to work well. And every leader has to raise their game. Leading remotely is far harder than leading in person. Setting goals, managing workloads, influencing people and decisions and motivating 14 — AUTU M N 202 1


your team is far harder when you cannot see your colleagues. But this is wonderful news, because it forces managers and leaders to be far more purposeful and deliberate in everything they do. Only when your teams are comfortable and confident about how they work today will they be able to contemplate more change tomorrow. Piling more ambiguity, uncertainty and change on existing ambiguity, uncertainty and change is a recipe for disaster. Then, build a coalition for change... Once you have a stable platform, you can get to work. The challenge is to build your coalition for change in the new hybrid world. This is where you will discover that the office is not dead. The office is a wonderful machine for communicating, collaborating, influencing and persuading, building (or wrecking) trust, developing agendas, building coalitions and gaining support. In other words, it’s the perfect place to plan change and set it up for success. Doing all of these things remotely is possible, more or less, provided you already have established bonds of trust and networks of influence and support. But usually, this high-trust work is high-touch: you need to be face to face. — The pandemic was a revolution. The challenge is Jo Owen CMgr CCMI is whether you want to continue the revolution or seek the author of Smart Work refuge in a quiet life. As ever, the best firms and the (Bloomsbury, 2021). Reach best leaders will rise to this challenge and prosper. him at jo@ilead.guru M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 15


WHAT’S YOUR HYBRID? ---------

Words _ Adam Gale and Chris Dyer

16 — AUT U M N 202 1


When figuring out what kind of hybrid working your organisation should implement, it helps to understand what the options are. Here’s the state of play from around the world... ---------

Illustration_ Ben Kirchner


hen the pandemic forced offices to shut, it cracked one of the cardinal assumptions of 20thcentury management: that for work to happen, you need a workplace. After that, the long months of offices opening at minimal capacity, with some people in and some people out, in turn cracked another longheld belief: that people would work wherever you told them to work. In fact, many people found that they preferred doing their jobs from home, or at least having the choice to do so. The prospect of being ordered back into the office put a new line in the sand. Talent began to walk. Amid the so-called “Great Resignation” – which saw four million people quit in the US in April 2021 alone – 47 per cent of British employees said they would leave their jobs if they were denied flexibility. TotalJobs notes that 10 per cent of job listings now mention remote working. In response, most – though not all – organisations have indicated that they will not seek to return to the old ways once COVID-19 has passed, but will instead embrace some form of “hybrid” or “blended” working. The problem is that when they say hybrid working, they don’t all mean the same thing. --------Some mean continuing some degree of remote “Most organisations working; others are hinting at a fully fledged have indicated version of flexible working where we can that they will not choose how, when and where we work. seek to return to Here’s the current lie of the land...

the old ways once COVID-19 has passed, but will instead embrace some form of ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ working”

18 — AUTU M N 202 1


01. EVERYONE WORKS FROM HOME ---------

although it’s rare, some employers – such as the five-person Business Travel Association, and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations – have eliminated the office altogether since the start of the pandemic. They join the select ranks of virtual organisations such as US-based PeopleG2 (see below) and The Hoxby Collective, a marketing agency that was founded to be entirely remote six years ago, and which operates a system of asynchronous work via channels such as Slack in place of meetings.

How we went totally virtual: the People G2 story ---------

“PeopleG2 is a US-based leader in employment screening and background checks which I founded in 2001. From 2007 to 2009, the US experienced a significant recession, particularly in the mortgage industry – at the time our biggest source of clients. I was forced to cut costs, but I did not want to cut employees. By going virtual, I was able to cut expenses by 38 per cent, while eliminating 0 per cent of our employees. “Since 2009, the company has been 100 per cent virtual – and successful. Here are some of our key learnings. Reframe your thinking “As many learned during the COVID pandemic, going remote or hybrid is about much more than just sending some or all of your team home with a laptop. An effective

remote or hybrid model should be a combination of philosophy, tools and talent leveraged in a deliberate way to achieve optimal outcomes. The key word in that definition may be ‘deliberate’. “Whether hybrid or completely remote, you need to change your ways of thinking. I learned this the hard way. When PeopleG2 first went remote, I quickly realised that I had become a bottleneck, as employees were bringing the majority of decisions to me. It hadn’t been as noticeable in the brick-and-mortar office, but once these requests started piling up in my email inbox, the bottleneck was clear. Designing a new process involved delegating responsibilities and clarifying which decisions needed approval and which could be made by an employee.

“Hybrid models are different from 100 per cent remote ones, and actually require more thought, design and leadership. Certainly you want to avoid the pitfall of thinking that the onsite part of your model is the same as it always has been and that you’re simply ‘bolting on’ the remote part. Instead, you should view them as two new models and focus on adapting both to ensure strong integration. Start with people “Whether going fully remote or just hybrid, a lot of people think the first step is setting up the technology, but I disagree. The best sequence to follow is people, process, tools and technology. Bring in technology last, not first. Instead, start by considering your people. Who are they? What can they do? What M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 19


can’t they do? What do they need to succeed? “That leads to processes, which should leverage your people’s talents. Rather than being a burdensome checklist, processes should be a smooth flow that makes sense. Next up come the tools that people need in order to keep the processes flowing. Tools can be many things, from a laptop through to access to industry databases. With people, processes and tools in place, you can lock it all down with the technology. “In a hybrid model, you will find that people, process, tools and technology are a little different for the remote team than for the on-site team. As you

work through the entire transformation process, note the differences and brainstorm with the group about how to incorporate the differences while also keeping things as seamless as possible. Promote culture and equity via meetings “In terms of resources and managerial support, the needs of remote employees will differ from those of on-site employees. You want to be sure to provide fair and equitable support. “One way to promote and reinforce equity is in meetings. Meetings are essential tools for communication in all organisations, but in remote and hybrid models, they also are

— Chris Dyer is founder and CEO of PeopleG2 and co-author of Remote Work: Redesign Processes, Practices and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce (Kogan Page) 20 — AUTU M N 202 1

great ways to drive the culture. For example, you can start by checking in with each attendee to give them the chance to engage. This could be a quick update on a project or client. Regularly recognise successes and milestones and, as far as possible, recognise at least one person on the remote side and one on the on-site side. “In hybrid meetings, there is a risk that the team on-site in a conference room will end up dominating over the virtual attendees. Meeting facilitators should be aware of this and ensure that the virtual team has the same opportunity to contribute. Another approach is to have everyone attend virtually, so that the on-site team members attend from their desks rather than in a conference room. “Hybrid or completely remote, the new landscape of work offers both opportunities and challenges. If there is one point I hope you take away from this, it’s that leaders have to be deliberate and thoughtful as they adapt.”


02. DOWNSIZED OFFICES: SOME WFH REQUIRED ---------

— Lloyds’ City of London HQ is one of many offices being remodelled for a less deskbound future

most hybrid models allow employees to work from home, but some more or less insist on it by virtue of reducing the capacity of their offices to the point where, by definition, some people will need to work at home on any given day. At one point, this looked like it would be a major trend among larger organisations, but the predicted apocalypse in the commercial leasing market has yet to happen. A survey of CEOs by KPMG earlier this year found that just 17 per cent planned any downsizing at all. BP is a prominent case, reportedly planning to halve its real estate footprint for its 25,000 office workers globally. It expects that employees will come in three days a week, although it notes that they can do so more often should they wish. Other employers – just over half, according to Knight Frank – are focusing less on downsizing offices than on reconfiguring them to have fewer desks and more collaboration space. That’s what Lloyds Banking Group is doing, to accommodate the nearly 80 per cent of its staff who say they want to work from home substantially post-COVID (typically three days a week). Alongside cutting square footage by 20 per cent over the next three years, it is reimagining the remaining --------space into “hubs” that will primarily be used “Other employers for group work such as project initiations, as are focusing less well as team and client meetings.

on downsizing offices than on reconfiguring them to have fewer desks and more collaboration space”

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 21


03. THE M AINSTREAM: 3:2, 2:3 AND HALF-AND-HALF ---------

the most common configurations of hybrid working to be announced so far don’t involve cutting office space, but do involve workers spending two or three days a week somewhere else. KPMG has said staff can work in the office four days a fortnight. Its rival, PwC, wants workers to spend 40-60 per cent of their time co-located with their teams, either in the office or at a client site. Meanwhile, magic circle law firm Linklaters allows people to spend up to half their time at home. The biggest difference within this group is whether WFH days are determined flexibly or by rota. Apple, for example, expects workers to be in the office Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, while Google, which also wants most workers to be in three days a week, says “product areas and functions will help decide which days teams will come together”. --------Those that give staff choice over when they work at home will find that they are likely to opt for Mondays and Fridays; a LinkedIn poll of 21,000 people revealed that of staff thought 71 per cent thought those were the best days Mondays and for remote working, against only 5 per cent for Tuesdays or Thursdays. Fridays were the

71%

best days for remote working, according to a LInkedIn poll of 21,000 people

22 — AUT U M N 202 1

— Will Google’s campus-style offices in Silicon Valley suit a hybrid world?


04. FULLY FLEXIBLE ---------

lots of major employers have said they’re embracing fully flexible working, but in practice line managers will almost certainly still have a say on the matter. Flexibility also means slightly different things in different places. Nationwide and SAP have said employees can work wherever they wish, as have TUI and digital marketing agency Adtrak, albeit with a requirement to come in at least one day a month and one day a week respectively. Other companies with f lexible models are building a little more structure into the equation. Salesforce, for example, is allowing employees to choose between three modes of working: office-based, fully remote or “flex”. Flex involves coming into the workplace one to three times a week in order to work on collaborative projects.

05. EVERYBODY IN ---------

not everyone is onboard with hybrid, particularly in financial services. Goldman Sachs already expects everybody in, five days a week, its CEO David Solomon having famously described remote working as an “aberration” earlier this year. JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon seemed to agree, announcing in May that he would no longer be participating in Zoom meetings – a signal of disapproval if ever there was one. They aren’t alone. A YouGov poll of 1,000 employers in August revealed that 19 per cent did not intend to allow any remote working – even one day a week – after COVID.

---------

“Goldman Sachs already expects everybody in, five days a week, its CEO David Solomon having famously described remote working as an ‘aberration’ earlier this year”

— The likes of JP Morgan may end up leading the charge back to the office M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 23


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The five big questions 26 — AUTU M N 202 1


The management challenges

H Y BR ID WOR K ING

you should be asking ---------

Words_ Adam Gale

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 27


1. What are the downsides?

28 — AUT U M N 202 1


The upsides of remote working are fairly clear. For a lot of people, though certainly not all, it improves the efficiency with which they do certain tasks, as well as their work/life balance. One of the primary critiques is that while remote working may work in the short term – because everyone already knows how to work with each other – over time it erodes the relationships that glue organisations together. Kevin Ellis, chair and senior partner at PwC UK, says this is a particular problem for the 1,800 school-leavers and graduates that the professional services giant recruits each year, many of whom have never experienced working in an office full-time. “They won’t know how much you learn by observation. How do you build rapport? How do you run a meeting? How do you gather the views in the room and

judge how comfortable everybody is, from the most junior to the most senior person? That peripheral vision is really hard to learn from a textbook,” he says. New starters will also be less likely to meet people outside their teams, leading to the creation of silos and impoverishing their professional networks. Even seasoned employees can find communication a problem without those moments of impromptu interaction that happen in the kitchen or outside a meeting room. “You get a lot of paranoia remotely when someone sends an email and people read things into it. But if you’re in the office you can just ask what they meant. That’s all part of the culture – and our only long-term competitive advantage is culture,” Ellis says. Then there’s the increased risk of under-management – and its ---------

evil twin micro-management – in remote teams. With under-management, the challenge is that out-of-sight can very easily turn into out-of-mind. Phil Jones CMgr CCMI, managing director of Brother UK, says that, like all management, this is really about knowing your team and learning who needs extra support. This is significantly harder when you can’t “walk the floor” as you can in an office. “Someone can give the impression that everything’s fantastic on camera, when it really isn’t,” he adds. Micro-management can arise as an instinctive over-compensation to this problem; if you can’t see someone working, then they must not be working. But constant monitoring, Jones says, is “route one to losing trust – and if we break that trust, we will never make hybrid work.”

“ New starters will be less likely to meet people outside their teams, leading to the creation of silos and impoverishing their professional networks”

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 29


2. Wouldn’t it be easier just to make people come in to the office?

30 — AUTU M N 202 1


Not necessarily. Just because managing remotely is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. At Brother UK, Phil Jones is trialling a return to the office on a 3:2 basis, but is also exploring virtual-first measures. “An effective team might dial in on a Friday between 1pm and 3pm, cameras on, while working on their own projects. That gives them space for those free-ranging discussions and allows informality to flow again,” he says. Managers need to find the virtual version of walking the floor, Jones says – regular, off-script checkins that aren’t about monitoring progress, but simply to see how someone is, whether they’re struggling with anything and what’s going on in their day. Jose-Luiz Moura, senior VP and chief operating officer at Salesforce UK and Ireland, says there are processes you can introduce to make this easier. New starters and hiring managers at Salesforce receive regular email prompts to carry out certain actions and have certain conversations during their first six months, for example. He insists this is really a matter of culture first, policies second. “Managers’ skills will need to adapt to handle hybrid teams with potentially contrasting working styles and evolving team dynamics,” says Moura. “At the heart of this is nurturing trusting relationships.”

Developing this trust is the solution to micro-management – whether remote or otherwise. Jones says that for managers to trust people, they need to see the advantages of flexibility, focusing on results rather than how quickly someone replies to an email. “We need to educate our managers,” Jones explains. You may nonetheless decide that the best way to mitigate the management challenges of remote working is to have less of it. Ellis, for one, thinks there’s no substitute for face-to-face time, at least two or three days a week. The idea is that people learn, bond, collaborate, manage and are managed when they come in to the office. And so long as they come in to the office often enough, it doesn’t matter too much if those things happen less when they’re not there. So, how do you get people to spend time in the office in a hybrid system? Professor Sir Cary Cooper CMgr CCMI, an organisational psychologist at Alliance Manchester Business School, warns that mandating attendance is “silly” and “illogical” because it destroys the main benefit of this new way of working: not the fact that people work from home, but their freedom to choose. “Even before the pandemic, the science showed that if people could work flexibly, then it enhances job satisfaction, reduces stress-

related sickness absence and, where you can measure it, improves productivity,” he explains. Flexibility requires negotiating a “new psychological contract” between employer and employee about their work arrangements, with terms that work for both parties. Such conversations are unlikely to cause any problems with the overwhelming majority of employees, in Cooper’s view. Forcing workers to come in (or, indeed, to stay at home), on the other hand, risks actively disengaging them – particularly when many of their peers in other organisations do have flexibility. If you can’t force workers to come in to the office, then you need to convince them to want to come in. Ellis says this requires reimagining the office to be as attractive, comfortable and appropriate for collaborative work as possible. “People aren’t going to commute for an hour and half each way to work in a rabbit hutch when they can just do that at home.” Jones adds that leaders have a particular role in selling the physical workspace to reticent employees. “We’ve all been in our caves so long that we’ve lost the sense of what being in a sociable office environment is actually like, so it’s incumbent on us to create that energy, that buzz of being around colleagues again.”

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 31


3. Does it matter if some people choose to come in more than others?

32 — AUTU M N 202 1


The short answer is yes, unless you’re careful. While some roles clearly need people to be in more often than others, there are inclusivity implications. On one level, the advent of widespread flexible working ought to be an excellent development for inclusivity and gender equality in particular. After all, women have long been more likely to want flexibility and suffered career penalties for requesting it. In principle, this bias should disappear if everyone is flexible. The risk, however, is that an “in crowd” develops – people who come into the office more often, who have those important, informal conversations that characterise office life, and who (intentionally or unintentionally) don’t bother to include people who are working remotely. Those people, Cooper says, are still disproportionately likely to be women. “Will that have implications for their career

progression and development? Will men have an edge when it comes to promotion because they’re showing more face time? Will senior men select other men who are presentees? I’m worried that might happen,” he says. The obvious solution, of course, is to stop forming “in crowds”, but that’s easier said than done as it involves challenging deeply ingrained biases. “I’ve got to make sure that if I’m promoting somebody it’s not because they’ve worked very hard for three days to be visible with the right people, to game themselves into a promotion, rather than earning it through pure competence. We’ve got to design those biases out,” says Jones. One way to do that is to build inclusivity into the culture, so that if anybody’s out of the room – man or woman – it’s more likely that people will remember to include them. “In years gone by, there would be drinks down the pub, and that’s

where all the decisions got made. We’ve really focused on breaking down that perception,” says Chrysta Poppitt, senior director for HR at planning consultancy Turley, which has been operating a flexible working model since 2015 (see page 38 for the full case study). “It has become a value for us that if you see someone doing something that isn’t terribly inclusive, you politely ask why they’re doing it that way or make a suggestion as to how they could be more inclusive,” Poppitt says. Ellis says that PwC has found a simple way of making hybrid meetings more inclusive: defaulting to video calls even if almost everyone on the call is in the building. “It creates a level playing field, but it can still feel a bit clunky for those who aren’t in the room, particularly if it’s a whole-day meeting,” Ellis admits. “But it’s still a lot better than when we used to do conference calls.”

---------

“ P wC has found a simple way of making hybrid meetings more inclusive: defaulting to video calls even if almost everyone on the call is in the building”

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 33


4. How do we co-ordinate people if they choose where they work?

34 — AUTU M N 202 1


Giving people flexibility doesn’t mean abandoning structure altogether. Indeed, if you don’t pay attention to the practical considerations of co-ordinating people, freedom can soon turn into anarchy. What happens, for example, if one person chooses to come in specifically to be with a colleague, but their colleague chooses to stay at home to finish a report? Or when one person wants to work from 5am to 1pm, another from 1pm to 9pm, and they can’t find a time to meet? Or when the whole organisation chooses to stay at home on Fridays but come in on Tuesdays – only to find when they do that half of them don’t have a desk? Jones points to an emerging inoffice issue: people making video calls in open-plan spaces, unaware

of how distractingly loud they are. “All those office conventions need to be sorted out,” he says. One way to do that is to impose rules, rotas and core hours. But if you’re too heavy-handed, this can have the same disempowering effect as telling people where they should be working. Ellis notes that it can also be done more organically. Indeed, matrix organisations such as PwC, where employees often work on multiple projects simultaneously, have long had to deal with similar challenges. Certain ground rules can make sure that managers and team members alike are sensible and considerate in their decisions. “We want people to get into the mindset of planning further ahead, looking at their calendars, deciding what days they’re coming in and making that work with their

---------

assignments. This requires all of our partners, myself included, to be very open about when we’re coming in too. It’s important that people know I’m at home today but in London tomorrow, so they know they can stick their head through the door, which has always been part of our culture,” Ellis explains. These ground rules – which may simply be that it’s best that the whole team meets face-to-face two or three times a month, or that we try to schedule heads-down work and one-to-ones when we’re at home – shouldn’t be imposed, but negotiated. For Cary Cooper, that means absolute transparency: “I would talk to direct reports and say, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking, what do you think?’ The more transparent managers are in this process, the better.”

“ What happens, for example, if one person chooses to come in specifically to be with a colleague, but their colleague chooses to stay at home to finish a report?”

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 35


5. What’s the most important thing I can do to make hybrid working work?

36 — AUT U M N 202 1


In the end, a lot of this comes down to skilled management. “The hybrid model requires a different kind of line manager who can build teams where some are in the office and some are working substantially from home. Do we have this kind of line manager in situ now? The answer is no, because managers tend to be promoted based on their technical expertise, not their people skills,” says Cooper. He adds that empathy, social sensitivity and emotional intelligence are more important than ever because it’s harder to get to know people or read their body language when you’re not together. Often, the only sign that someone is struggling with an unmanageable workload or unrealistic deadlines is that they’ve gone a little quiet on team calls.

“The challenge is what do we do with the existing cohort of managers. Let’s say a third of them have the natural social skills, and 30 per cent can be trained. My worry is that the other 20 per cent are just untrainable,” he says. He goes on to suggest that we need to think differently about who we select for management roles and, concurrently, how we develop people who are technically able but not suited to managing people. Transitioning to a hybrid model clearly won’t be easy, but that shouldn’t really be surprising. We had decades to figure out how to work in offices; we’ve had less than two years to understand how to work effectively as remote organisations, and even less time operating as hybrid ones.

---------

This is a learning process that requires constant evaluation and re-evaluation. Salesforce, for example, introduced daily pulse surveys to measure wellbeing, and weekly global all-hands meetings to raise and answer questions during the pandemic. These will remain, says Moura, helping to guide the company’s approach post-pandemic. While we may not always get hybrid working right first time, we are likely to get better at it with focused effort. Let’s not lose sight of the opportunities it brings, despite the immediate complexities. In fact, it may be that flexibility forces us to address problems – such as poor line management and communication – that we tolerated for far too long.

“ We need to think differently about who we select for management roles and, concurrently, how we develop people who are technically able but not suited to managing people”

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 37


---------

“ It’s the serendipity that we have really missed. The things that you wouldn’t and can’t plan a specific Teams call for, with someone you don’t necessarily work with day to day”

38 — AUTU M N 202 1


C ASE ST U DY

The value of small moments A recent McKinsey study found that in companies that saw the biggest productivity increases during the pandemic, managers and leaders encouraged “small moments of engagement” among their employees. These moments were “microtransactions” in which coaching, mentorship, idea-sharing – and, yes, physically working alongside one another – took place. Russ Lidstone, group chief executive of The Creative Engagement Group, is a big believer in the power of the small moment. “It’s the serendipity that we have really missed,” says Russ. “The things that you wouldn’t and can’t plan a specific Teams call for, with someone you don’t necessarily work with day to day.” He gives the example of

two senior members of his team bumping into one another while grabbing a coffee, leading to a discussion in which both realised that they were looking to solve similar problems for separate clients, and so combined forces and perspectives to formulate a stronger approach. His own ability to read situations is far stronger when face-to-face with colleagues, he says. “After seeing one of my team in the office for the

first time in 18 months, I realised that someone I thought held up well (on camera) was having a challenging time,” he says. “This is something we were able to act on, and it brought home a critical benefit of hybrid working and face-to-face interaction.” Small moments can also lead to better deals, says Lidstone. Shared values and cultural alignment play a big part in, say, mergers and acquisitions. “When doing this virtually, you have to work much harder to ensure you’re confident regarding the ‘fit’. There is no substitute for the down-time moments, the glass of wine or social chat before you conclude a deal,” he says. “Spend five minutes in live conversation with someone, and you’ll largely ascertain whether they’re a good egg or not.”

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 39


W HAT GOOD

40 — AUTU M N 202 1


LOOKS LIKE TU RLEY’S JOU R NEY TO SUSTAINABLE FLEXIBILITY

Words_Adam Gale M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 4 1


wasn’t at all clear, in March 2020, that everyone would actually be able to conduct their business without a physical place of business. Would the IT work? Would the broadband hold? Could a human being realistically spend all day in video meetings? One firm that found the transition easier than most was Turley, an employee-owned planning and development consultancy with offices in 14 locations across the UK and Ireland. Turley first embraced flexible working in 2015, and now every single person in the business has either a formal flexible contract (about 10 per cent of the team) or a bespoke, informal agreement negotiated with line managers (the rest). These effectively set out when and where you’ll generally be available or unavailable. It could be that you walk the dog at 9:30am every day, pick your daughter up from school at 4pm, or do power yoga on alternate Tuesday lunchtimes. The point, explains Chrysta Poppitt (right), Turley’s senior director for HR, is that you’re able to balance the things going on in your life with what works for clients and for the company. Originally, this flexibility was fairly structured. “Our purpose is being in business together so that our people, places and performance will flourish, and if you think about it, you can’t be too prescriptive with how people should flourish,” Chrysta says. But the early feedback in 2015 was that Turley’s employee co-owners appreciated some boundaries. A consultation process at the time drew responses from 80 per cent of co-owners, resulting in the company’s Freedom and Responsibility Framework. This has evolved recently to a blended flexible working model which is less structured and more informal and which enshrines certain guiding principles, including that some face-to-face contact is vital for culture and client service. It also sets out what kinds of behaviour are acceptable – and what isn’t. “You can switch off at 3pm without feeling guilty, or you could work flexibly from different locations to balance life and work: coffee shops, visits to family, or from different office locations,” Chrysta says. “I’ve been able to go to the hairdresser during the typical working 42 — AUT U M N 202 1

Chrysta Poppitt has been leading the HR aspects of Turley’s move to flexible working


---------

“ Y OU CAN SW ITCH OFF AT 3PM W ITHOU T FEELING GU ILTY, OR YOU COU LD WORK FLEXIBLY FROM DIFFERENT LOCATIONS TO BALANCE LIFE AND WORK: COFFEE SHOPS, V ISITS TO FAMILY, OR FROM DIFFERENT OFFICE LOCATIONS” M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 4 3


---------

“The informal agreements are designed to be fluid, changing as circumstances change” week to get a much-needed appointment, because that’s life. I just let people know.” The informal agreements that were introduced in 2019-20 begin with open conversations with line managers, whether you report to a senior consultant or the chief executive. Managers encourage their team members to suggest how flexibility would help them, but also how they intend to mitigate any challenges that arise as a result for the team or clients. “All that we ask is that you exercise good judgement and stewardship, and ensure that you meet client expectations and prioritise face-to-face time with your clients/team through open discussion with your team, line manager and project team,” Chrysta says. The informal agreements are designed to be f luid, changing as circumstances change. In 2018, a co-owner survey revealed inconsistencies in how people experienced flexibility. “Some people had written their own rules in their heads about who could or couldn’t do certain things, and around needing to be in the office because they might not get the same opportunities if they weren’t,” Chrysta says. She was also concerned that, for some people, flexibility was another way of saying they never shut off. These challenges will continue into the new normal working environment, and Turley is working hard to ensure every co-owner benefits from continued flexibility and equal opportunities, development and progression. This feedback reinforced the need to define and share expectations of what people could expect from their line managers – such as regular check-ins, a focus on results rather than time spent working, and a consideration of personal circumstances. This approach is important to address presenteeism and ensure people are supported to have time out and focus on their wellbeing. The firm also decided to vocalise the message about flexibility by finding role models for it at the top. At a recent all-hands virtual company conference, Turley’s chief executive Dave Trimingham was asked what to do when clients set meetings outside of someone’s usual hours. His response was that, just as with a meeting in the office, you should exercise your own 44 — AUT U M N 202 1

Turley CEO Dave Trimingham encourages coowners to use their discretion in managing their work life


---------

“ It’s about giving people the support and encouragement to say that just because you’re working from home, you don’t have to be available 24 hours a day” judgement or take soundings from your line manager or colleagues about whether to make an exception. “It’s about giving people the support and encouragement to say that just because you’re working from home, you don’t have to be available 24 hours a day. That’s not healthy. You just need to communicate it well,” Chrysta says. “One thing that our experiences over the past 18 months have taught us is that we’re all human.” Turley has updated its email signatures to refer to its blended flexible working model, communicating to recipients that its co-owners will respond during their working hours, which may differ from the traditional working day. “I’m not sure many people will be working nine to five,” Chrysta adds. Turley’s plan to return to the office envisages roughly 50 per cent occupancy post-COVID, compared with 70-100 per cent before, with hybrid meetings as standard and attendance managed through a desk booking system. New starters are asked what days they plan to go in and to make sure there are other team members around. Office attendance is focused on collaboration, sharing and learning. One team set up a “co-working time” where co-owners buddy up with someone else in the team and dial in for a couple of hours while they complete their own work. “It’s about recreating that sense of spontaneity and connection you get from being in the office,” says Chrysta. “Even if you’re not going in as often, that sort of innovation needs to happen.” After nearly six years of flexibility, Turley has no intention of going back. “It leads to higher levels of engagement, and these arrangements support inclusion and diversity, because we’re giving people what they want: work that fits with their personal lives and fits with our clients. And that in turn will help retention,” Chrysta says. “I’ve had people say to me that this approach to flexible working has been instrumental in them being able to carry on in consultancy life. “It feels like such a backward step when businesses request everyone to come back in all of the time and expect people to work traditional hours. For me that just isn’t long-term thinking. Flexibility is definitely the future.” • M AN AGER S .ORG.UK —4 5


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48 — AUT U M N 202 1


Mental health and wellbeing

IT’S BEEN EMOTIONAL... Managers should recognise that the pandemic and working from home have changed people’s behaviours and attitudes. Probably forever... ---------

Words_Ian MacRae

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 4 9


here’s a rule of thumb about behavioural change in psychology: after three weeks, temporary changes start to become permanent. After three months, they’re entrenched. Many workers are now 18 months into working remotely, and a host of other behavioural changes have come with that. I’m a work psychologist, so I’ve seen a lot of different, unusual, impressive and sometimes surprising behaviours on video calls over the past 18 months, from sleepy, angry, friendly (or, on one occasion, fully nude) partners in Zoom backgrounds, to people in various stages of intoxication, or people “multitasking” on screen or off. Common Zoom interruptions tend to involve unexpected problems with kids, pets or pants. Isolation tends to lead people to develop their own “normal” behaviours that don’t always vibe well with other groups or office cultures. That means there’s conflict coming as we return to offices. First up When people work independently, they will cultivate their own style and approach. They might try different tools, techniques and technology. And they can share what they learn with their managers, teams and organisations. This can be a source of innovation and development, but it can also lead to disagreements. As people return to the office, it will be even more important for managers to make sure that their teams have a shared sense of purpose, common values and clear performance metrics for individuals as well as teams. People need to be working towards the same objectives so everyone ends up at the same finish line, even if they get there in their own way. Misunderstandings, miscommunications and conf licts can quickly escalate in digital spaces, too. The success of remote teams relies on adaptive, responsive and well-organised managers. It is the responsibility of managers to model respectful communication on digital platforms and take an active role in conflict resolution. Conflict is inevitable, but it is manageable.

50 — AUTU M N 202 1


“Did your line manager really tell you to watch Bake Off ?”

The work has only just begun... Overall, the results from the global remote working experiment have been impressive. The evidence strongly supports the idea that remote workers are more productive, and the majority of employees prefer hybrid work models. But it’s not over: the challenge for managers now is adapting to a world where we have more choice about how we work. When managed properly, digital communication can offer structure and greater clarity about work outcomes. Conversations about performance can be more deliberate, better recorded and more focused on performance. Managers can be clear about what needs to be done, make sure their teams have the necessary resources and give workers the flexibility to accomplish objectives. Managing remote workers effectively means treating people like adults. They need to know exactly what they are expected to accomplish and be given flexibility in precisely how they achieve it. When workers are expected to return to the office, it should be to accomplish an objective that can only be achieved in the office. Managers must be prepared to justify their decisions. Managers who refuse to let employees work remotely without good reason tend to be viewed as incompetent. There are certain tasks that can be done more effectively in shared physical spaces. --------In-person sessions can help to build team cohesion; there are benefits to meeting “ Managing remote workers new clients or colleagues in-person; there effectively means treating are advantages to in-person onboarding people like adults. They need and training. And some people are just less to know exactly what they productive when working from home. •

are expected to accomplish and be given flexibility in precisely how they achieve it”

— Ian MacRae is a workplace psychologist and has written six books about workplace psychology. His upcoming book Dark Social: Understanding the dark side of personality, work and social media is published by Bloomsbury in November M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 5 1


Total freedom

THE COMPAN Y BUILT ON ABSOLUTE TRUST

52 — AUTU M N 202 1


Moving to a hybrid working model relies on high levels of trust. One very unusual UK software company has been giving its people total freedom to self-manage since it started. Could Fry be a model for more organisations in the future? ---------

Words_Jess Stillman

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 5 3


Zahid Malik founded Fry in 2000 in the wake of the dot-com crash

hen covid-19 first emptied offices and sent most companies scrambling to figure out new ways of working last spring, Fry, a global organisation that develops exam and CPD software for universities and researchers, wasn’t disrupted much at all. “To be honest, COVID didn’t make any real difference in terms of how we operate,” says Zahid Malik, chief executive of the company, which is headquartered in central London. That’s because since its inception, Fry has been operating under the principles of maximum transparency and employee self-management. Since the mid-2000s, when the business started to grow from a small consultancy to the 40-person firm it is today, staff have been free to choose when and where they work, how much holiday time they take, and even, largely, what they work on. The company’s books are open to all employees (including salaries), and 25 per cent of profits are split equally among employees. It’s an unusual paradigm, and Malik is open about the significant challenges involved, but it’s also a way of working he hopes to see more organisations embrace as they find their way to a new, postpandemic “normal”. ---------

“ Since its inception, Fry has been operating under the principles of maximum transparency and employee selfmanagement”

54 — AUTU M N 202 1


HOW THIS EXPERIMENT IN RADICAL TRUST BEGAN ---------

like many entrepreneurs, Malik started his company to fill a need he himself experienced. As a young researcher, he came across the works of Brazilian industrialist Ricardo Semler, management thinker Frederic Laloux and Dutch entrepreneur Jos de Blok. All three described a radically open and co-operative way of working, where, rather than receiving top-down orders, employees decide together what to work on and take responsibility for executing these plans with minimal rules. “I thought, if I ever do go into business, this would be a great kind of company to work in,” Malik recalls. There was one small hitch. “I couldn’t find a company that worked like that, not in those days. So I thought, well, I’ll set one up.”

Ricardo Semler’s autobiography Maverick sparked Malik’s interest in democratic corporate models

SETTING UP A SELF-MANAGED COMPANY IS THE EASY PART ---------

implementing fry’s founding principles of trust and transparency has been a work in progress ever since. “It seems like it should be a straightforward way of doing things, but actually it’s incredibly hard,” Malik admits. One of the biggest challenges isn’t stopping employees from slacking off. It’s ensuring they don’t overwork. “People honestly work too hard and they burn out,” Malik claims. At traditional companies, employees often feel like they’re working for their boss or for the larger machine. Taking time away feels comfortable. But under self-management, employees work closely in small teams. As a result, taking --------time off can feel like letting down “ O ne of the biggest your team. Without guidance challenges isn’t stopping about when to switch off, people employees from slacking end up working more, not less. “What we’re moving to now, off. It’s ensuring they especially as we’ve been growing, don’t overwork” is putting some boundaries in place to protect employees and the business as well, because if

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 5 5


As well as small, innovative teams, Amazon’s success is also built upon micromanaged warehouse workers and delivery drivers

people are burning out, then that’s not good for the business either,” Malik says. As the firm has expanded, planning and priority-setting have had to evolve. When Fry was smaller, individual teams decided what to work on based on customer feedback. But as the company has grown – and especially during the pandemic, which caused a huge spike in demand for Fry’s products – deciding which customer requests to act on first proved more challenging. Even so, Malik remains committed to self-management and is in the process of updating the firm’s decision-making systems. He drew inspiration from an unlikely source: Amazon. While the e-commerce behemoth might be known for its tight management, it’s also intensely customer-focused, with small, innovative teams (founder Jeff Bezos’s “two pizza rule” forbids any team from being so large that two pizzas can’t feed the whole group). Amazon manages this tension by having teams write long memos explaining what they want to work on, which are discussed intensively before being greenlit or shelved. Fry is experimenting with something --------similar. “If you want something done to the “ Jeff Bezos’s ‘two pizza rule’ product or features, you have to write down forbids any team from being in detail what should be done and why, and so large that two pizzas then that gets discussed every month as can’t feed the whole group” a group,” Malik says. Executing this new system is a work in progress. “I don’t think we’ve got it 100 per cent right yet,” Malik adds, but the system, however labourintensive, has the significant advantage of allowing frontline workers, who are actually closest to customers, to make decisions about what will best serve them.

56 — AUTU M N 202 1


WILL SELF-MANAGEMENT CATCH ON IN THE POST-COVID WORLD? ---------

with all these challenges, does Malik sometimes pine for a more traditional management structure? Not at all. Instead, he’s hoping to see more organisations --------and managers embrace self-management “ It’s very difficult for after the disruptions of the past few years. your ego when you start COVID-19 has highlighted the ability moving away from being of most knowledge workers to manage included in everything their time and get their work done outside the office. Malik is hopeful that managers and asked for decisions” will extend this lesson in trust as more employees filter back to the office. “You can probably take a risk and say, well, certain things, within certain limits, let people decide on what they think is best. On the whole, we find that trusting people works really well. What you don’t want is to have an organisation that is geared around that one per cent of people who might abuse the system, because then you’re sending a really terrible message to everyone else. Give people that space and they will absolutely rise to the occasion,” he says. But he also offers a cautionary note to managers. “It’s very difficult for your ego when you start moving away from being included in everything and asked for decisions. Suddenly people start doing more things themselves and you’re less involved. You have to learn to adapt and find something more useful to do so.” If you can let go of some control and take a step back, Malik believes the effort is well worth it. “You’re just going to get better work from people if you start adopting more of these ways of working,” he says. The post-COVID reshuffle might be the perfect opportunity for more managers to find out if he’s right. •

M AN AGER S .ORG.UK — 5 7


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