When you think of a manager, you consider an individual who is responsible for overseeing internal work processes, execution of projects, and consequent reporting on the outcomes whilst ensuring their team feels taken care of.
Following a period of instability, organisations around the world have been forced to adapt and remain flexible to keep up with the demands of societal circumstances. This demand for transformation is no different for managers. As their employees are demanding more freedom to choose where and when they work, managers will need to focus on eliminating three key barriers to employee autonomy in order to adapt their role for the hybrid era: social pressures, health concerns, and unequal access to tech. If they effectively address these concerns, the hybrid working model will begin to self-pilot.
Employee autonomy must be nurtured
Jabra’s latest hybrid working research showed that 66% of workers with full autonomy to choose where and when they work chose a hybrid model as their ideal workweek. However, only 57% were actually, currently working a hybrid model. Of that 9% gap, 2% are working from the office more than they would like and 7% are working from home more than they would wish to. This begs a few important questions: if these workers have full autonomy, why aren’t they working their ideal workweek? Why are they either working full-time at home or full-time in the office when they could be choosing otherwise? The following provides a few possible explanations, including top tips that managers should consider to empower their employees to work in the way that best suits their lives.
Empower, don’t punish
One reason that employees may be working full-time in the office more than they wish is social pressure. This can be a very powerful force in the workplace. Despite an organisation seemingly giving employees complete freedom to work wherever they would like, a culture that says, “you need to be visible in the office to progress,” whether explicitly or implicitly, effectively undoes any degree of autonomy given to employees. Jabra’s new research also found this to be relatively common for employees around the world: 55% said they were concerned their career would suffer if they didn’t come into the office on a regular basis. Of that 55%, almost half (49%) cited a lack of transparency in how performance is evaluated as the main source of their concern.
The solution? As a leader, if you’re going to enable more employee freedom, where employees have the decision to both come into the office or work anywhere else, it needs to be made abundantly clear through both communication and action that employees won’t be unduly punished for not working in the office. A good place to start is with output-based performance evaluation. This has been discussed for a long time, but it’s clearly not taken hold to the degree necessary to make employees feel comfortable working in a way that best suits them. Another key step is to train managers in location bias, or the unconscious bias that leads to preferential treatment of those with whom they have the most face time. Employees often reflect the behavior of their leaders, so one of the best ways to show that it’s okay to work from home is for leaders and managers to lead by example and do it themselves.
Communicate, update, and reflect reality
One reason employees may be working full-time from home more than they would like is because, even two years into the pandemic, the virus is still a major health concern for many workers. 40% of all employees globally say they are reluctant to return to the office because of Covid-19. Similarly, 55% are reluctant to enter a small conference room due to continued anxiety surrounding the virus. Workers understand that a return to the office means increased exposure to the virus, and that’s a risk that many are simply not willing to take.
How do managers resolve this? It’s difficult for employees to exercise their ideal work arrangement if it’s hampered by existential fears regarding health and well-being. To ensure that employees feel safe returning to the office if they wish to, leaders will need to continually update health guidelines in the office, reflecting local realities. Managers must also advocate for spaces where employees can choose to work alone with limited contact to others. This way, everyone wins; employees feel their concerns are listened to and acted upon, and as a result, managers reap the rewards of a more engaged and productive workforce.
Build an inclusive tech ecosystem
Over the past two years, many workers have optimised their home office spaces with technology that enables them to thrive in virtual environments. Along the way, they’ve received a lot of help from their employers. In fact, 83% of remote workers say their organisation provides them with the necessary technology for equal and inclusive collaboration no matter where they work. For full-time office workers, this number drops to 57%. In a world where work is increasingly trending towards virtual environments, access to technology will be crucial in ensuring satisfaction, inclusion, success at work.
So, for hybrid work, the answer is two-fold. If leaders want to enable employees to work their ideal working arrangement, they need to look at how to optimise their office spaces for employees who are working primarily in virtual environments. Similarly, they’ll need to provide employees with personal, flexible technology to access those virtual environments from anywhere. This includes identifying collaboration technologies that will enable both in-office and remote employees to collaborate on an equal playing field, and which allow employees to seamlessly move between these places without feeling left out. Only then will employees truly be able to work a flexible arrangement on their own terms.
Autonomy does not lead to redundancy
Although social pressures, health concerns, and unequal access to technology all play a role in potentially unbalancing a workforce, thanks to the rise of hybrid working, there are indeed ways for managers to counteract this. High employee autonomy doesn’t render managers redundant. In fact, the role of a manager becomes even more vital in an organisation with high employee autonomy. However, this role is an evolving one. Managers must take a proactive stance in making sure that the team’s culture is conducive to high employee autonomy.
Now, more than ever, managers must lead by example, demonstrating that working from home will not hinder progression. They must also take safety concerns following the virus seriously, putting guidelines into place to reflect local reality. Finally, leaders should optimise technology ecosystems to make the most out of our physical workspaces, providing professional equipment to facilitate effective collaboration. These three pillars are fundamental to being a successful manager in the era of hybrid work.
About the Author
Holger Reisinger is SVP at Jabra. We make life sound better by developing intelligent audio solutions that transform lives through the power of sound, enabling you to hear more, do more & be more than you ever thought possible.