Coaching in the Hybrid Workplace

January 25, 2023

Posted by BOLDY- Get a Coach

The COVID-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst for a rapid shift to a remote / virtual workplace system.

As the world returns to some semblance of normal, some organisations are calling workers back to the office. However, global surveys reveal that the majority of employees want flexibility in when and where they work and are willing to leave their jobs if employers do not meet these expectations. In order to attract and retain talent, many organizations are therefore offering flexible workplace arrangements. This phenomenon is now known as the ‘hybrid’ workplace.

Hybrid workplace arrangements – in which a subset of some employees (knowledge workers) work from home some or all of the time, while others work onsite – appear to be a structural change that is here to stay for the long-term. This trend is still being defined however one definition of hybrid is here:  Hybrid work is a flexible work model that supports a blend of in-office, remote, and on-the-go workers. It offers employees the autonomy to choose to work wherever and however they are most productive. https://www.webex.com/what-is-hybrid-work.html#:~:text=Definition%3A%20Hybrid%20work%20is%20a,however%20they%20are%20most%20productive

Some organisations have rejected the hybrid trend. This can be role specific (i.e. where manual labor or customer facing tasks necessitate in-person work) however some office-based companies have also rejected hybrid (ie TESLA) instead claiming that only ‘slack’ employees who are cheating the system want to work from home. This appears to demonstrate a low degree of trust between organisation and employee. 

However, for those cultures who are embracing hybrid several challenges are being worked through. Some of the emerging issues with hybrid systems and challenges for leaders in managing hybrid teams include: 

  • Time and place: Managing geographically distributed and asynchronous teams across time zones.
  • Loneliness, belonging, motivation, trust, productivity…
  • How staff learn - ie removing the opportunity for spontaneous role modeling or learning by osmosis from environment.
  • Perceived impact on relationship building and culture-making - how staff form bonds.
  • Visibility of productivity (and risk of staff taking on other jobs.
  • Measures of productivity being introduced through tech - ie keystrokes and retina movement. 
  • Requires more purposeful communication and planning amongst team to get work done - perception of less spontaneity in office collaboration. 

The science of complexity provides a theoretical framework for understanding how leaders might best manage teams in hybrid organisations. Complexity science focuses on the dynamic interactions between agents, rather than the agents themselves etc. Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) is the name given by theorists to refer to complex systems in which the system members are agents in their own right and are able to adapt to system inputs in unpredictable and novel ways (Cavanagh, 2016).   This includes all of the dynamic interactions between individuals, teams, managers etc. including input from the environment: market, government policies, new technology to support hybrid workplace systems etc. It also includes interactions at a cellular level - i.e. how individuals might protect themselves and their family and community during pandemic by isolating, to ensure the disease spread is intercepted. ALL players in the organisation have a choice as to how they behave in a hybrid situation - will they work from home and slack off or work harder. Will they integrate their family into their work, or not? Do they create separation in their household or is their work/life boundaryless now? Does the employee ‘lean in’ to the culture or lean out during work from home? How does this impact their team relationship, their boss relationship, their understanding of the objectives of the business, and what’s happening in the market while they’re working remotely?

All of this context has a huge implication for our coaching. In the simplest form - coaches need to be comfortable coaching online and remotely! Building rapport with coachee remotely role models the comfort with ambiguity required in the hybrid CAS context. Importantly:

  • Coaches working with leaders in this complex adaptive setting have the important role of influencing the organisation as a whole. 
  • Coaches must be aware of the theory of adult development, and how their own complexity of mind meets the leaders in this setting. 
  • The coach must have an advanced perspective taking capacity to view not only the needs of the coachee, but the various levels of complexity surrounding them. 

COVID-19 has created an emergent situation where our workplaces continue to change, and our coaching practices must change at the same pace. To discuss our ideas on how this should be done, and the imperative of getting coaching right for leaders as we chart the waters of the hybrid workplace, reach out to connect@boldly.app

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