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Optimum Talks Blog

Adjusting to change: Approaching the transition to a hybrid work model with flexibility and openness 

by Carolyn Leathead, Ph.D.
September 24, 2021

It’s no secret that the psychological impact of the pandemic has shaken our personal balance, pushed our capacity to adapt to change and transformed many of our everyday routines and behaviours – both good and bad. It is incredible how people have adjusted to the “new normal” multiple times, with some thriving as they work remotely while others have pivoted to find new ways to manage their ever-evolving role and responsibilities. For some, the past 18 months have enabled them to embrace change including adopting a healthier lifestyle, living more simply, reconnecting with old passions, or even making a big career shift. However, for others, the changes have been more difficult as they juggle additional responsibilities and mental health concerns, sometimes with little to no support. So, when it comes time to transition towards a hybrid work model – how can we best support our teams; those that will embrace the new models and those who are not yet ready?


Recognizing Your Employee’s Autonomy

As a leader, being attentive to the needs of your team and adapting the “hybrid work” formula so that it takes their personal reality into account is critical. Being flexible in your approach will allow you to support those who want to (and will benefit from) a new work model while giving others the space and time they need to do so. This is a way of recognizing the individual needs of employees and fostering the development of their personal effectiveness. Moreover, as a leader, it is a way of demonstrating managerial flexibility, courage, as well as high emotional intelligence. When an individual feels that they have a voice, are empowered to make choices and explore options more broadly, while simultaneously having the support of their leader, they are far more likely to be engaged and productive.


Focus on Openness and Compassion

When mapping out your hybrid work model, prioritize benevolence, well-being, psychological health, and openness and be careful not to downplay the experiences we have encountered as a community. This can make employees feel heard, open to share experiences more broadly, and create compassion for workplace or hybrid scenarios not previously considered, fostering greater levels of trust and deepening understanding.

It is essential for leaders to listen to their teams by simply validating their emotions, reservations, apprehensions, and fears – with an ear that does not judge but welcomes. Take a moment to gather this information and observe what emerges from the resilience and courage shown by your employees in recent months. Encourage your team to support one another whether they choose to return or not. For some, their mental health and wellbeing are likely to improve with having in-person connections and it is okay to celebrate this along with all other unique employee experiences.

No matter where individuals fall in terms of their needs or desires, they are likely to have an adjustment period. Clinical psychologist, Alice Boyes, reminds us that having unintentionally avoided various social situations and physical places, because of the pandemic, the hybrid work models (especially those with an office component) will inevitably cause anxiety symptoms in individuals, which is both normal and to be expected. Anxiety symptoms can come in many forms, ranging from fatigue, trouble sleeping, headaches, increased irritability, to feeling short of breath. The key to making a smooth transition to a new hybrid model is to make it gradually so that individuals have time to acclimatize to a new routine, develop new benchmarks, go through some bereavement or loss in regard to their “pandemic” routine and accept this new reality.


Don’t Forget About Your Leaders

Leaders have not been immune to the change and disruption of the pandemic. In fact, they have experienced all the same changes as their employees both at home and work, while also having faced added pressures and decision making like never before. They may even have fallen behind their own employees as they have strived to keep their team afloat and maintain existing productivity levels.  They have assumed their role in an unclear pandemic context, which has generated fatigue and a significant drain on personal resources. Leaders should spend time self-reflecting on their personal beliefs, asking questions, and sharing their answers in open and sincere conversations with their peers. Questions can include:

  • What do we need employees back in an office to do differently than what they do today?
  • What can they do better in an office versus remotely?
  • What have we been missing operating as we do now?
  • What do they need to succeed in a hybrid work model?
  • Why would I want to work for this organization?
  • In what ways can I enhance my new professional reality while adapting to the needs of my teams?
  • What would make my work more meaningful?

By undertaking this exercise, leaders will better prepare the organization for the new hybrid work model by uncovering any conflicting opinions or gaps in mindset and creating an agile plan that will make the transition as smooth as possible for each individual.

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