Why it is time to show managers some love
At the start of the Covid pandemic, many people suddenly became managers of remote or hybrid teams with no time for preparation and little consideration for the ways their role as a manager would have to adapt (let alone how they would manage their own home situation). A year and a half on, we look at some of the issues managers are juggling, the potential pitfalls they face and the skills they will need to succeed in a changed workplace.
It was not a blip, the world has changed
What was done in an emergency a year ago is likely to remain, at least in part, for the longer term. Whether the rationale is saved office space, a commitment to greater diversity, or employee preference, many organisations are not considering a wholesale return to the office; and hybrid working is becoming more widely accepted. Managing everyone remotely in a pandemic is one thing; but as some people return to the office and people work in a variety of ways and locations, how do we prevent managers from falling into the trap of showing preference to the most visible rather than the most able in their team? This new dimension requires managers to be equipped with the skills and agility to treat their team equitably regardless of how much face-to-face contact they have with individual members.
Same storm different boats
“We are not all in the same boat, we are in the same storm in different boats”.
Various versions of this quote appeared last year to express the different experiences people were having during the pandemic and what’s clear is that some weathered the storm in a luxury yacht while others clung desperately to driftwood. For managers, this presents the challenge of fairly assessing performance and making recommendations about progression, when people’s ability to contribute over the last 18 months has been vastly different. How does a manager fairly compare someone who was part furloughed and juggling childcare or grieving the loss of a loved one with someone who was able to work extended hours because they had no additional responsibilities? Clear leadership and communication is needed across an organisation to support managers to navigate this sensitively; so that the inherent unfairness of the pandemic isn’t further embedded in people’s longer-term outcomes at work.
Trust what you cannot see
The past year left managers with little option but to trust their teams, and for hybrid working to become embedded it is critical this trust remains. If teams are less physically visible, then managers need to become more focused on outcomes than whereabouts. Yet, this does not come naturally or feel comfortable to many people. In cultures where very command and control styles of management were prevalent, or where, until the pandemic hybrid working was unheard of, this presents particular challenges. As these businesses return to ‘normal’, the temptation for managers to revert to what was previously comfortable and abandon what was expedient in an emergency will be strong. Organisations need to harness the autonomy and trust built up over the 18 months and equip managers with the skills and importantly the permission to succeed with less direct control over the day-to-day of their team.
Overall, it is clear, managers need some love. The toll of the pandemic has been immense and the permanent changes to the way we work mean organisations cannot leave it to chance and hope their managers get it right. There has been a fundamental shift in what it means to manage and if hybrid working is to really become the norm, then managers must have dedicated support to equip them with the skills and permission to manage in a flexible way that ensures their whole team can succeed. Worryingly, a CIPD report from this April found that although 63% of employers are introducing or expanding the use of hybrid working, only 28% have plans to train managers on how to manage a remote team. Without guidance through times of change, we tend to revert to what is easiest, and in the case of managers, this risks entrenching inequality or setting back the potential gains that a genuinely more flexible approach to where and how people work can bring.
Clair Hodgson, EMEA Director How Do You Do It