Across the country, schools are opening. Indoor dining is resuming. Haircuts are happening. People are going on dates! Our glorious new normal looks closer than ever.
How many days a week will I be expected to go into the office? Can I choose when to commute or not commute? How do I meet my manager in another state? How do I effectively collaborate with three people remotely and three people in an office? What does the pet policy look like? Can I still have lunch with my team? What is safe behavior in our office? How will I...
These are just a few of the pressing questions People Ops leaders and managers are grappling with. The reality is that our world of work is forever different. COVID-19 shifted all of our expectations of what is “normal,” and the widespread adoption of a hybrid workplace has meant many of us are being asked to adapt and evolve AGAIN, after a year of trying to adjust to protecting ourselves against a pandemic.
At LifeLabs, we’ve been studying great leaders for years, especially ones who have managed their teams through tough transitions. To help your team evolve their work to fit the new hybrid workplace, practice these three tips to keep your teams adaptable and thriving through the journey.
Change is processed as loss
As teams transition to new hybrid or remote work ecosystems for the long haul, it’s safe to expect that there will be resistance to changes that may, to you, feel like obvious wins.
The hard reality for many: re-gaining officemates means sacrificing sweatpants 24/7.
No matter how great a change may be, human beings tend to experience change as a loss of something before we experience it as a gain. It’s simple: what we know is known, and change means stepping into the unknown, even if that unknown has a potential reward (psychologists and economists call this loss aversion).
For example, we may gain the pleasure of being in person with some of our colleagues, but returning to a grueling commute looms large in our anxieties. Parents may gain the joy of having their kids back in school, but feel frustrated by new childcare and carpool logistics. New standardizations to processes may increase efficiency across a globally distributed team, but may also trigger a feeling of lost autonomy and increased nostalgia “for the way it used to be.” Many of us at LifeLabs are dreading the inevitable retirement of our sweatpants and the return of ‘real’ pants.
These stresses can add up for teams that may feel that the rate of change is beyond their capacity to keep up. We teach managers to create space for ‘cognitive offloading,’ times when employees can air grievances and feel validated that the struggle is real. Our burdens are lighter when we all carry them together.
Pro Tip: It’s easier to get into ‘cognitive offloading’ sessions with employees who are co-located in an office. Practice equity by dedicating 1:1 time with remote workers to share their feelings. Use clear intention statements to telegraph why you’re asking.
“I know we’ve rolled out a lot of process changes in the last two weeks. I’ve been hearing frustrations from some people, and I want to make sure we have a chance to connect. So that I can better support you, what are your thoughts and feelings about how the last two weeks have gone?”
Moving into hybrid workplaces means experimentation and trying new things. Maybe it’s new communications norms, new meeting practices, or simply new ways of getting work done.
Experimentation and iteration can be frustrating, especially for teams that are feeling overburdened by a year of challenges and setbacks. Frustration can spread across a team in a process that psychologists call “emotional contagion,” where one person’s feelings trigger similar feelings in others.
While some frustration is normal (see above), great managers intentionally highlight small wins that showcase progress and achievement. It might be sharing out high sales numbers to a distributed team (win = revenue), posting a happy customer email to a shared Slack channel (win = happy user), or highlighting a new hire’s past achievements (win = we’re getting an interesting person on our team).
A consistent cadence of small wins reminds teams that their efforts to adapt and evolve are not in vain.
Pro-Tip: Sometimes small losses are also the best small wins. When we teach resilience skills, we love to ask “what can I learn from this?” as a way to turn our failures into crucial lessons that will inform our future success. When you get it wrong, share what you’ve learned!
Thanks everyone for the feedback about our ‘days in the office’ policy. We got it wrong! We’re really excited to learn that it’s actually more efficient to schedule meetings if we’re all in the office Monday through Wednesday. Keep telling us how you feel! We’re all learning how to make this new normal work best!
Name it to tame it
Daniel Siegel coined the phrase “name it to tame it” as a way to help people practice the skill of “affect labeling,” where we pause and take a moment to name our intense feelings. Slowing down and attaching a label to our feelings (“I’m feeling angry”) actually gives our brain’s executive functions an opportunity to reassert control.
The same process plays out in groups undergoing stress. The term “Zoom Fatigue” jumped into the collective consciousness as a valuable shorthand to describe the physical and mental exhaustion of unexpectedly shifting to an all-remote setting. At times during the pandemic, we were all experiencing “anticipatory grief,” or tapping into our “surge capacity.” These terms gave shared language to groups of people struggling to express complex feelings.
At LifeLabs, we use the metaphor of “slushiness” to label how we navigate the stresses of change. We know that change is never over - things never freeze in place. The best we can hope for is to be solid when things are working and be fluid when it’s time to change. Staying “slushy” means rolling with the punches and looking for solutions in imperfect circumstances.
Other teams generate their own internal language. The design firm IDEO calls the nebulous space between start and end of a journey the “fog phase.” We worked with a biotech company that coined “the paperwork phase” as a way to keep anxious scientists calm when projects didn’t feel like they were moving forward. No matter what you call it, embrace the “messy middle” as you lead teams towards successful hybrid workplaces.
Want more on how to set up your team for hybrid success? Check out our complete hybrid work playbook!