Many companies have been living the hybrid work model for years, often with higher-ups who have engaged in executive coaching to further drive their success.

There are also many other companies that had the model thrust upon them very abruptly, and they had to scramble to learn a new way of leading while trying to sustain the business. These companies were thrown into the deep end without a life preserver, which was okay when they imagined it would be a temporary situation. As stated by a VP of Human Resources about 3 months into the pandemic, “We can all tread water for a little while.”

Why are Executives Struggling with Hybrid Work Models?

Fast forward 2+ years and businesses are now being tasked with the challenge of considering a permanent shift to a hybrid workplace model. Just last week I was on a call with that same VP of Human Resources as we discussed what he was getting from executive coaching.

He began to share his challenge with shifting perspectives; his own, his executive team, and their employees.

“I’ve seen a lot written that ‘what employees want has changed’. I’m curious if that’s true, or if it’s now just more acceptable to ask for what they have wanted for a long time?”

He went on to talk about a particular struggle he was having that pertained to employees being more vocal about asking more questions of the organization.

“We have always striven to be a company that promotes fairness in the workplace. We’ve been really proud of living by the value of fairness,” he shared. “Now I have employees asking me why certain people get to work from home while others don’t have that option. I try to explain that some employees have jobs that are customer facing or are on a manufacturing line, so there is no option of not being on site, while others in the organization have jobs where there are options.

I feel like I am continually defending my position which feels disingenuous.”

“How do I talk about this in a way people can understand and not feel that they are being treated unfairly?” He sat quietly for a few minutes. “Frankly I’m finding it exhausting!”

“That’s a great question that many people are also asking,” I agreed. “Perhaps it’s worth taking a look at how you define ‘fairness’ in this hybrid model?” I queried.

“I’m not following,” he said.

“Does your current definition of fairness only include what hours people work and their work location? Or is there more to it?” I asked.

As we dove headfirst into exploration mode, and he was engaged in redefining what a ‘fair’ hybrid work model looks like for his organization, he landed on something. “You know,” he said excitedly, “I think I’m focusing on the wrong thing.”

“Okay,” I said, “What’s the right thing?”

“If I think about why employees come to work for us and why they stay, fairness is certainly a part of it, but it is really all about connection. They feel connected to the value they bring to the organization, and they feel connected to the value our organization brings to the people we serve. Maybe that’s the conversation we need to be having. Maybe we’ve lost that focus on connection. If we keep them connected with those things that have always been important to them, then we should be able to have a different kind of conversation around the value of fairness as it relates to them and their role.”

He left the call with a renewed energy and the task of challenging the whole executive team to jump into process with him.

Think about any long-distance relationship you have had over the years; the success of that relationship is all about connection. There may be things that happen along the way that annoy you or make you feel that something is unfair. You may be together in person frequently or infrequently. What ends up sustaining the relationship is all about why you are connected and how much effort you put into keep that connection going.

Leaders often reach out to receive executive coaching about how they can maintain these connections, and what efforts are required in differing situations, ex. hybrid work models.

How Can Executive Career Coaching Create Connections?

  1. Connect employees to company vision and values

This has always been important, but now it is even more important when people are not physically on-site every day. Ensuring your team understands the vision and values of the organization and how their role fits into this helps them see how they are having a positive impact. Most people want to know that what they do is worth something, that it is valuable, that their contribution is important. That their work makes a difference.

Questions to ask about connection with vision and values:

  • Why does this business exist?
  • What value are we bringing our customers?
  • How do our company values align with your own values? Why is that important to you?
  • How does your role contribute to the value we bring our customers?
  • How are you making a difference?

2. Connect on a human level

According to Maslov, our most basic human need is a need for belonging. This doesn’t change with hybrid work. People still need to feel connected to the business, to their team, to other teams. So how do we foster a high level of human connection when people are not in the same place at the same time?

Executive coaching stresses the importance of using compassion and empathy when leading. Ensure you are providing opportunities for people to continue to ‘belong’, to contribute ideas, to talk about their personal lives, to talk about their successes and challenges. These conversations don’t require you to solve anything or have a specific outcome or come up with an action plan, they are just about connection.

Questions to ask about human connection:

  • How are you really?
  • What are you doing for fun these days?
  • What’s going well and what’s challenging right now?
  • What’s happening outside of work that’s important to you?
  • Who have you scheduled time to connect with lately where work-talk is off limits?
  • What are you doing to take care of yourself?

3. Connect people with performance by enabling, not managing

For many great leaders and managers, the biggest question that popped up when people started working remotely was, “How do I know people are working when they are not in the office?” I remember many times answering that question with another question, “How do you know they are working when they are in the office?” I’ve been met with agreeable answers most of the time.

What is it about the 9-5 time frame that made us feel good about the way we managed people? Made us feel that if people showed up within that time frame they were ‘doing their job’?

For the most part, people will work to expectations. Doesn’t matter where they are located or how many hours they put in daily. If your expectations of someone are low or unclear, that’s the kind of performance you will get. If your expectations clear and stretch them, you will get that performance.

The added benefit of focusing on expectations is that you can capitalize on people’s ‘energy clocks’ as opposed to the clock on the wall.

Let’s face it…there are many people whose energy clock does not and never did align with the 9-5 time clock.

When we focus more on the results expected within a certain time frame, we are honoring and connecting with people’s individual work styles and ‘energy hours’. When we encourage people to work at their optimum time, we are getting better results in a shorter time, and we are getting people who are engaged and excited about their contribution.

Ensure people know what performance is expected. Let them know how their performance will be measured? What does acceptable performance vs. excellent performance vs. unacceptable performance look like. Be clear about expectations, don’t manage their hours!

Questions to ask to connect with performance:

  • How are you tracking expectations?
  • Is there anything you need from me?
  • Do you need more clarity on anything?
  • Are there any obstacles in your way? How can I help?
  • Are you challenged enough? What more do you want to be doing? What more can you take on?

4. Connect people with the role and connect the role with the value to the customers.

Whether a role can be done remotely or not, it’s not personal.  The fact of the matter is that some roles can be performed remotely, and some can’t. Don’t try to make excuses or smooth it over, there is no need to make excuses for something over which you have no control. Engaging in executive coaching programs gives leaders the confidence to make decisions on how to break bad news, showing their candor.

It’s more effective to spend time connecting people with the value their role brings to the organization and ultimately to your customers. And if there are options for remote work, co-create that with the employee in a way that aligns with the organizations expectations as well as honors the individual needs of the employee.

Questions to connect people with the role:

  • How does your role add value to the organization?
  • Why is your role important in serving our customers?
  • Why is it important that our customers get to see you in person?
  • Is it possible that the role you are in can be done remotely? If so, what would that look like?
  • How many days per week/per month does it make sense for you to be ‘in office’?
  • When you are ‘in office’ what would create the most value for you to be doing on those days? Who do you want to make sure you connect with in person when you are here?

5. Connect in-person occasionally if you can.

Although video brings us closer than just telephone calls, neither can replace the unique connection that happens in person.  

I love hearing the excitement and energy that has occurred over the past few weeks with some clients who are re-entering their offices for the first time in over 2 years. For some new hires, it is their first time entering their new workplace at all and meeting some of their co-workers in person. One executive shared excitedly, “I’m finally getting to meet in person the team I have spent that last 2 years building!” Then she laughed nervously, “I hope I am not a disappointment to them!”

Whether there is a big off-site in your plans or smaller regional in person meetings, ensure there is time budgeted for people to connect on a personal level with their colleagues. Consider what you could bring to the team as a source of influence if you had the experience of executive coaching.

Questions to ask about in-person connection:

  • What’s the value in meeting in person?
  • How do we want to use the time differently than we do virtually?
  • How can we invite people to contribute to give them more ownership for the content of in-person meetings?

I love this quote by Brene Brown, “Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive substance and strength from the relationship.”

The success of hybrid work is not about the structure…it is about the connection and relationships. What are you doing to drive connection in your relationships?

Download our Essential Leadership Coaching Guide here.

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