Collectively, we realize that the operating confines of a typical workday are in the past. The pandemic has all but erased the traditional 9 to 5 workday and replaced it with a more flexible, individually oriented approach that seeks to define a true work-life integration. (Not to be confused with a work-life balance!) During the pandemic, employees were forced to work from home and managers were put in the uncomfortable position of “trusting” that their employees were working. At first, most businesses tried to adopt structured methods to ensure that people were “at their desks” for the perfunctory 9 to 5 workday. After a few weeks of trying to maintain this artificial semblance of order, cracks began to appear at the foundations and new, more evolved models of operational performance appeared. Now, that the vaccine supple is finding its way into most individuals’ arms, there is a vigorous call to not throw away these evolutionary workplace trends but, instead, find ways to adapt them into the new “next normal”. How do we, as a university, educate our students to perform in this new operational paradigm – especially during this period where all the “pieces” have not settled into place?
As educators, we already know the importance of teaching adaptive fluidity in the classroom. As change is the only constant in one’s life, it is important to embrace change as a means for achieving productive results. The counter position, of course, being that you fight change with a philosophy that you, an individual, can change uncontrollable outcomes – a fight you never win. The pandemic is, by all rights, an uncontrollable change. You cannot control it and, as such, must find ways to adapt your activities to either live with it or leverage it for a competitive advantage. So, as a university, what are the ways that we can prepare our students for this new “next normal”?
- Develop a strong understanding of “you”.
Success in the hybrid workplace revolves around you – specifically, your means for ensuring a productive lifestyle. As an example, we found that individuals, when left to their own “devices” started working based on their own biorhythmic schedules. Early bird risers were found producing their best work long before the 9:00 am start time while late night owls could be found punching out reports and emails long past the 5:00 pm closing whistle. During this period, individuals began to integrate those activities into their schedules that allowed them to remain sane. For some, now that commuting was no longer a dead period in their day, took up new hobbies or found time to exercise or meditate. All in all, individuals assimilated their lifestyles in tune with their own needs. They understood themselves and applied that logic to their complete day.
- Establish parameters of performance – beyond just “clocking in”
Granted, many junior employees have been vexed by this new means of working. Lacking any daily or weekly direction they fall back on the idea that work consists of just showing up (a derivative of the old “clock watcher” mentality!) For many, it meant turning on their computer at 9:00 and shutting it down at 5:00 – spending their day reacting to demands on their time while, at the same time, catching up on their Netflix watching. Instead, the approach for each day should be tailored to have a series of activities that can effectively mark progress towards an established goal. That way, the employee is able to define their day and have something to show at the end.
- Understand your drivers and how they assimilate with your employer
Similar to knowing yourself, you should also be able to identify those areas where you share common ground with your employer. This is where the mission of the organization plays a key role to ensuring employee commitment. If the purpose of your organization is to generate profits and the employees neither share in those profits or that mission is misaligned with an employee’s view of their worth, levels of commitment will drop. Conversely, if the employer and employee share a common purpose, it is much easier to increase employee productivity as well as increase the overall initiative of the employee base – even though there is no longer a physical office location.
- Communicate your needs – both for work projects but also supervisory expectations.
Finally, each of us have a different workstyle. Some people like to be managing based on being given finite instruction while others like to create their own solutions based on broad guidance as to expectations. Either way, each represents a work style that must be communicated to a supervisor to ensure an effective outcome. For supervisors, assuming that one style fits all employees, will find an employee revolt just around every corner.
Hybrid leadership represents a new, very different way of working in today’s organizations. And, while all of the finite points have not been decided, there is a strong commitment by organizations to not return to pre-pandemic practices – finding that the “chaos” has created new opportunities for productive changes. Now, as educators, we have to prepare our students to adapt to this new “next normal”. For many of us that have not worked in this type of environment, the key appears to be “know thyself” as a preamble for making this change effective.