Hybrid Is the New Normal. However, Core Work Relationships Still Matter, and Need Rebuilding

Hybrid is the new normal with most people returning to the office for at least some of the time. Leaders need to make deliberate efforts to encourage positive social interaction amongst teams, whilst they think how the office fits into their business.

Hybrid Is the New Normal. However, Core Work Relationships Still Matter, and Need Rebuilding

Working from home became the default for many during the pandemic.  However last week the ONS (Office for National Statistics) released data that showed that 84% of those people who had to work from home during the pandemic now plan to hybrid work, with only 8% wanting to be full time in the office. These figures show that hybrid is definitely going to be the new normal.

Commuting less will be good for people’s work-life balance and will also put less pressure on the planet by reducing carbon footprints.  However, there is a risk that core work relationships that have been depleted during the last two years will not be rebuilt. Leaders need to consciously think about this as otherwise some of the magic of working together will be lost.

In previous articles, we have reported significant drops in work-life balance as well as in team relationships and friendships at work. This is concerning because these factors are related to Connect and Be Fair, two of the Five Ways to Happiness at Work. Relationships are the cornerstones of collaboration, the foundation of trust and psychological safety. If these trends continue, or even worsen over time because of remote working, then businesses may become less innovative and competitive.

So, as you decide what your company policies are going to be regarding people’s weekly working patterns, remember that social interaction between employees is an essential part of business. We achieve more together, rather than individually.

How to rebuild core relationships as you decide what’s best for your company**

The responsibility is on leaders to listen to their people to decide what is best for their company. Polling employees is an excellent way to get a feel for what people are willing to do, especially after they have tried coming back to the office. When change happens to people (especially if they don’t have a say in the matter), it causes resistance. When they are involved in the process, they are more likely to lend their support.

However, leaders must also be very deliberate about not just how to work, but how to develop team relationships and encourage friendships. Friends at work make the consequences of the pandemic far easier to endure.

As you’re trying to decide what’s best for your company, allow us to share some insights on how successful businesses can make a deliberate decision in developing employee relationships. As we said in a previous post, don’t be afraid to reimagine your working world. It may be the right time to try something new and radical. 

Think about relationships as ‘bonding, bridging and linking’**

“It’s not what you know, but who you know.” 

This old piece of networking wisdom contains many levels of truth. While the people we associate with determine our ability to succeed, social scientists have taken it one step further – to look at the different types of social ties and their influence on us.

Bonding is a tie that connects close peers together. In the work context, it’s the strength of your relationship with your teammates. 

Bridging connects people with different identities and backgrounds. At work, it’s your relationship with your colleagues in other teams. 

Linking connects people at different levels within an organization or society. In a work environment, it’s the connection you have with your leaders, division heads and organizational leaders. Linking works downwards as well — leaders need to be in touch with new employees so they can have ears on the ground, and insights on what’s happening in their firm. 

Without constant social interaction in office environments, how are you developing these aspects of team relationships?  Before starting a new project, ask yourself: ‘who can we not move forward without?’ The answer to this question will tell you something about who you need to develop relationships with to accomplish your goals. 

Reflect on what you’ve lost (and gained) **

We’ve been social distancing for a while now, and we’re starting to come back together. This is a great time to reflect (if you haven’t already) on the things we’ve lost and gained along the way. What essential changes did your company make during the pandemic?  What did you lose along the way that you’d like to recreate? 

If you’re going back to the office, consider the kind of habits you’d like to keep up. Perhaps they’re social activities — a weekly music playlist, a quiz night — or organizational practices. 

More importantly, how do you create things like stronger team relationships intentionally rather than accidentally by default? This is more easily done with actual data — like the weekly reports and culture profiles that Friday Pulse can provide. 

Where do offices add the most value in your company?

With no real ‘end’ to the pandemic in sight, companies need to stay flexible in their approach to office work. It’s time to rethink the role the office plays in your business and assess the value it adds to your company.

The office was once thought of as the sole arena for work. But the pandemic has shown that the office doesn’t actually have to be the place we work. This begs the question: where do offices add the most value? 

Where the office does add value, however, is as a gathering space. It is a social space where networking happens and relationships, social bonds, and friendships develop organically in the office environment. 

It might help to reimagine the office as an optional social space — a place for collaborations, interactions, mentorship and, even, fun. Perhaps it’s a place for training employees. Maybe it’s a meeting place for activities that bring the team closer together. Whatever role you decide the office plays within your business, a place to develop team relationships is a must. The ‘office’—physical or otherwise — needs to be a place of emotional and psychological safety. It needs to be a safe place for relationships to grow. 

Should you stay, or should you go? **

Hopefully, you’re in a position to reflect on your learnings from the pandemic and to talk to your people, to determine a course of action that is fair for everyone. Whatever you decide, decide together. It’s the deciding together that increases wellbeing for your company.