For managers: Develop a better environment for hybrid work

Hybrid collaboration risks causing conflict

Many managers have lost touch with their employees after the onset of working from home. This can cause conflict, but with the right framework, we can reap all the benefits of a new, flexible working life, says business psychologist Katrine Bastian.

"The first thing people mention is meetings," says business psychologist Katrine Bastian.

For 15 years, she has advised businesses in organisational, managerial and staff development, but in recent years she has seen an enormous change in her field.

Virtual meetings are the most tangible – and radical – change in many people's working life. Social dynamics are at stake, and while some win from the change, the general community at a workplace risks losing.

"We're starting to return to the office after the summer holidays, but many of us still want to divide our working life between our home and our workplace. There are also many managers who thrive on working from home, but the paradox is that they also feel more distant from their staff," says Katrine Bastian.

We are working asynchronously

Katrine Bastian believes that in the future, we will organise our workflows more flexibly, in what she refers to as hybrid collaboration. We will not necessarily work at the same time and in the same space. In other words, we will work asynchronously.

"This means that we have to focus on establishing frameworks and structures for how we work together, so that we can synchronise with each other. And if, as a manager, you're not particularly good at structuring, then get help. This does not mean that you're a bad manager," she says.

Perhaps you will need more one-to-one conversations to ensure a dialogue that gives you an idea of how your staff are doing and how tasks are progressing. You can also schedule staff meetings regularly, requiring everyone to be present in person.

We all have different needs

Problems arise when employees have different needs, says Katrine Bastian.

Some people thrive at home, avoid wasting time in the morning traffic and achieve a better work-life balance.

Others miss the lively buzz at the office and miss seeing their colleagues.

“Our ideas of inclusiveness are under pressure, because all we want different things. As a department, it is important that you talk about problems as they arise, instead of ignoring them and leaving them unresolved. This can result in major conflict," says Katrine Bastian and stresses that conflict is also a natural part of the transition to hybrid collaboration.

"This is the downside of all the benefits of hybrid collaboration. We gain a lot of flexibility, but we also risk losing contact with each other."

Sense of justice

Another thing challenged by hybrid collaboration is our sense of justice, says Katrine Bastian.

"Justice is a very individual feeling of whether things are going properly: Whether things are fair, or whether I get the same attention from the manager as my colleagues," she says.

The feeling of injustice may arise if an employee has worked from home for some days and has suddenly missed out on an exciting task, because the task went to an employee who was on-site at the office instead.

This is my decision

Everything points at a huge managerial challenge. The manager must be clear in his or her communication and create a framework that everyone can accept.

"On the one hand, we need co-determination as employees, because we're talking about our own lives. On the other hand, we need managers who can lead the way to this much more flexible working life. So, sometimes managers also need to say 'this is my decision'," explains Katrine Bastian.

"If the manager allows staff too much leeway, there’s a risk of conflict. Because how much can you demand from your colleagues? When do you insist that a meeting be held in person, even though one party suddenly prefers attending from home? This is not necessarily easy for a colleague, unless you’re very confident with each other."

Katrine mentions a specialist company she has advised over the past year. Staff have missed the professional exchange of feedback that was a natural element at their workplace. Therefore, the manager structured feedback sessions for them, divided them into smaller groups and allocated time in the calendar for them to meet virtually and share feedback with each other.

Another manager has decided always to participate virtually at hybrid meetings at the department. Even if this means that he has to sit alone in his office, while half of the department is in a meeting room next to him.

Conflict is natural

One thing all the businesses that have done well during the forced transition to hybrid forms of collaboration have in common is that they are used to reflecting on how they work," said Katrine Bastian.

And this is a quality we must continue to cultivate. Because the experiment is not over yet. It has only just started.

"COVID-19 has caused us to look at our working life in a completely different way with different methods and technologies. But we were forced to do this. Now is the time to experiment to find out what actually works. And not least give it some time before we evaluate," she says.

"It's also important that we have what I call psychological security. That we have the courage to talk about mistakes and insecurities and to test things without blaming each other afterwards if they go wrong."