According to a recent Microsoft report, flexibility is here to stay. “With over 40 percent of the global workforce considering leaving their employer this year, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work will be critical for attracting and retaining diverse talent.”
In order to attract and keep talent, executives must understand that with change, disruption and uncertainty conflict is sure to increase between employees, clients, vendorsre and partners. Here are four critical steps for decreasing conflict in a hybrid workplace.
The hybrid workplace creates more complexities in our workplaces and a greater likelihood to create unrealistic expectations, unfulfilled agreements and even unwanted change. (I call this the three U’s.)
Leaders can look through the lens of the 3 U’s to anticipate where conflict will arise and with whom. For example, how will losing 40% of your workforce affect vendors, clients, other employees, colleagues, and team leaders? The hybrid workplace is complex, and one small change can cause a domino effect of instability, unrealistic expectations, unfulfilled agreements and unwanted change.
What to do: Every time you experience an internal or external change, wanted or unwanted, ask yourself this question: Who will this affect? Then ask yourself about how to clarify expectations, fulfil prior agreements and manage change.
Become a conceptual thinker
Hybrid leaders must learn to think conceptually to make the invisible visible. No longer can a leader use management by walking around. Leaders must be more intentional with their communication and more conceptual in their thinking. Conceptual thinkers view work in the context of a larger system to see how work gets done and how one person’s work contributes to the whole.
Suppose office workers in a health care organization are allowed to work from home? What happens when these virtual workers decide to work outside of business hours and a health care provider needs access to information? The office workers might view their work as separate from the whole, but the leader needs to help everyone see the bigger picture.
What to do: Talk with all workers to determine how one person’s job affects the entire organization, then work with the entire team to revise policy to help fulfill the mission.
Create equity for all workers
On-site workers might have access to resources that virtual workers lack. According to Lauren Simmen, director of commercial product marketing at Crestron, a company that creates automation to improve efficiency and productivity, “The last two years have seen unprecedented change in enterprise communications. In a hybrid workplace, leaders need to create meeting equity for all participants.
“When everyone was working from home there was equality. Each person had equal pixel real estate — everyone had their own box and each of our voices had a dedicated microphone nearby,” she says. “In a hybrid setting with a mix of employees back in the office, not everyone gets a dedicated video feed or microphone. That’s a problem because it creates tiers of participation and visibility.”
What to do: Do a resource assessment, and compare the resources available to on-site workers versus virtual workers.
Just because you see someone at their computer doesn’t mean they’re working, and just because you can’t see someone working doesn’t mean they aren’t. The opportunity for all leaders is to redefine productivity.
While the workplaces of the past were about hours worked, the hybrid workplace will evolve to make productivity equal value and results. The “if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean” mentality will eventually be replaced by “What outcomes do we want, and what are we doing collectively to get there?”
What to do: Stop looking at hours worked and instead focus on results achieved and value to your organization and to clients, as well as the team dynamics to achieve the outcomes.
In the hybrid workplace, one of the biggest concerns is missed deadlines or dropped balls. Without the necessary planning, discipline and organizational tools, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s going on and miss deadlines. The hybrid workplace offers an opportunity for leaders to inspire greater accountability though constant communication about process and results.
What to do: Sharpen your organizational skills, and document deadlines and accountabilities in your calendar. When team members know you’ll be checking in regularly on a scheduled basis, they’ll look forward to giving you positive updates and will organically become more responsible.
When some work from an office and others virtually, it’s easy for misunderstandings to escalate. Emails will be misinterpreted, employees will perceive inequities, and clients may experience a lapse in trust. With some thought and planning, however, you can effectively anticipate and manage conflict in a hybrid workplace.
Marlene Chism is a consultant, executive educator and the author of From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading (Berrett-Koehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, or at MarleneChism.com