In many of our other hybrid working blog posts, we’ve talked about the ways hybrid leaders can adapt themselves to leading in hybrid models and the things organisations should be doing to ease their transition to the hybrid working world. Here, we turn our attention to hybrid workers themselves, by looking at six key behavioural traits that we consider essential for knowledge workers working in hybrid environments.
Without the opportunity to share a cup of coffee or go out for a drink after work, knowledge workers may find it more difficult to form close relationships with their colleagues than they would have when they were all working in the same physical space. (That said, there were plenty of people pre-pandemic that just came to the office, did their work, kept themselves to themselves, and then went straight home)
From all of our research, we know that social cohesion is paramount if teams are going to be effective in hybrid models. So on those occasions when hybrid workers do interact with their team members – either via video call, in person, or even over email or chat – they need to make an effort to be especially friendly, approachable, and to go out of their way to build and maintain warm and trusting relationships. This might mean starting meetings with some social chat about where they are, what’s going on, their kids, sport, the news, etc. This will help build rapport and social cohesion more quickly, allowing hybrid teams to flourish.
Note: we’re not asking hybrid workers to be fake or insincere – we’re simply suggesting that team dynamics will be at their best if everyone makes an effort with one another. In the old world, being friendly within a team or community was looked on as nice if it works; in the new world, it’s critical to successful virtual working.
In a world where we cannot actually see our colleagues working, and where we may not have the luxury of an informal cup of coffee to clear up potentially harmful misunderstandings, hybrid workers need to trust their colleagues by default.
Trust is an essential, non-negotiable ingredient of any functional team of knowledge workers, particularly those working in hybrid environments. The ideal hybrid worker trusts that their team members will deliver, and that they are there for them, should they need them
3. Trust Conscious
Not only does the ideal hybrid worker make an effort to trust their colleagues, but they also make a conscious effort to manage the trust that has been placed in them by others.
If they say they are going to do something, they will make every effort to do it. If, for some unforeseen reason, they know that this commitment is no longer achievable, they will let their colleagues know as soon as possible and explain why this is the case.
Trust can be extremely fragile, particularly when we are not working in the same physical space as our colleagues. If we are not true to our word, if we give our colleagues reason to doubt us, distrust can creep in, poisoning the dynamics required for optimal hybrid working. Hybrid workers should do everything they can to earn and protect the trust that their colleagues put in them.
Openness is another trait that becomes particularly important when working in hybrid teams. If we remain reserved and closed off to our colleagues, we are creating conditions within which doubt and distrust can take root.
Someone may, for example, suffer a bereavement in the family and find it difficult to work to the best of their ability as a consequence. Noting the decline in the quality of this person’s work but lacking an understanding of their situation, their colleagues may begin to question their work-ethic or their commitment to the project. By remaining open with their colleagues, the ideal hybrid worker creates the conditions within which empathy and trust – rather than their opposites – can thrive.
Note: we’re not suggesting that hybrid workers share their most intimate secrets with one another, but they should make a conscious effort to be open, particularly when a lack of openness might lead to harmful misunderstandings.
In the past when we were all working from the office, it was possible to leave our personal lives at home and our professional lives at work. This allowed for a neat and natural division of these two spheres of activity. Now, though, in order to maintain this division in a hybrid working environment, we need to be disciplined with ourselves.
On the one hand, hybrid workers need to ensure that they remain productive throughout the course of the working day. Without a manager looking over their shoulder, it can be easy to get into bad habits and procrastinate some of their time away. They may, for example, start a quick, innocent scroll through twitter, only to find that they’ve lost half an afternoon to mindless browsing. The ideal hybrid worker will find ways to discipline themselves so that work hours remain work hours.
And equally, leisure hours need to be reserved for leisure. When hybrid workers close their laptops at the end of the day (or in the middle of the day to take a break), they should – except for on very rare occasions – leave them closed. This will allow them to maintain a happier work life balance, and it will ensure that they are at the top of their game when they do finally return to their laptops.
This ties in with a larger point about self-discipline and mental wellbeing: in order to perform at the best of their abilities, hybrid workers need to look after their mental health. This can sometimes require real, conscious self-discipline. The ideal hybrid worker will make sure they are getting enough sleep, eating enough good food, drinking enough water, and getting enough exercise.
Hybrid workers who don’t make an effort to look after their mental wellbeing will find that their ability to perform at their best is severely impaired. Looking at the world of sport, it becomes clear that peak performance involves days of rest, where perhaps the schedule is deliberately looser, avoiding a relentless stream of Zoom calls.
One of the dangers associated with hybrid working is that certain team members may begin to feel isolated or disconnected from their teams if they are not working in the same physical space as them.
Communication is the remedy. Just as hybrid leaders need to communicate their vision and expectations with their team members, hybrid workers need to communicate their preferences and expectations with team leaders and fellow team members.
Additionally, a skilled hybrid worker needs a good sense of the pros and cons associated with different channels of communication, as well as an understanding of which channels are most appropriate for different purposes. If, for example, they wish to be absolutely certain that the other person understands what it is they have to say, along with the context of the subject, a video call or in-person conversation, where they will receive and respond to immediate feedback, may be the best option.
Face to space, in the same space, ‘synchronous’ dialogue is at the pinnacle of the communication pyramid. Asynchronous text communication is at the base. Knowing which to use and when is a critical skill for the effective hybrid worker.
Thriving in a hybrid world requires every member of the organisation – from the ‘C’ suite down – to chip in and do their part. Each individual needs to make a concerted effort to maintain trust, social cohesion, and to stay focused. They need to recognise that they have a duty to deliberately maintain these aspect of the work life. If problems arise within a team, they need to be flagged and dealt with in an open and fair way before trust dwindles and relationships decline.
This is all part of the new world. Hybrid working is a game for grownups.