In the recently published Career Guide, brought to you by Barden and Chartered Accountants Ireland, Neil Curran explains how you can balance connectivity with flexibility as employers plan and refine their post-pandemic working models.
The afternoon chit-chat over the coffee machine, office gossip over the water fountain, and the race for the last parking space in the morning… it’s exciting for many to be returning to the office. However, our return to the office will never be the same as hybrid working emerges as the new normal and we seek to balance flexibility with connectivity.
Here are some tips to help you leverage the new working model to maximise your workplace engagement while achieving your career goals.
Check in with your career plan
With businesses adjusting to the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, you may not have focused much on your career since March 2020. Or perhaps your manager wasn’t ‘in the zone’ for career conversations, especially if your business was going through change. Re-evaluate whether your goals align with your career aspirations, which may have changed since the onset of the pandemic, and consider whether the steps to success need to change. Now may be a good time to engage with a mentor or coach.
Be an early adaptor
This is a tip that people can and will struggle with, but early adaptors are likely to be the ones that set the scene for the hybrid workplace. So, create the new normal for yourself and reset expectations for your team and manager. We are in new territory, and the workplace is crying out for early adaptors to test what works. This means setting expectations with others as to what your hybrid work style looks like.
Communication is critical. Let your manager, peers and stakeholders know when you will be available in person and the hours you are working where relevant. Don’t create a stigma between in-person working and the days you work at home. The pandemic has shown us that people are as productive, if not more productive, when working from home. So, create a perception that homeworking days are regular workdays. Perception is reality in the workplace.
Relearn how to socialise
It’s important to adjust your communication style to reflect the different demands of the hybrid working environment. Conscious communication, where we communicate with intention, will be a critical skill. Let’s break it down into its key components.
We are all able to listen, but it doesn’t mean we listen all the time. Consider the conditions for effective listening when communicating – not just when you listen, but when you need others to listen too. Consider the appropriate communication method, the time of day, environment, and language to get your message across. If you wait until you are back in the office to communicate important things, you risk selling yourself short.
Be aware of your language
With the obstacles hybrid working brings, it’s essential to be mindful of how our intention doesn’t always align with interpretation by others. Most of us aren’t aware of our communication style, but we all have cultural and personality traits that influence the words we use. For example, auxiliary language (should, would, could, etc.), lack of assertion with saying no or yes, and making assumptions about those we are communicating with can distort intention and interpretation, thus undermining credibility.
Out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind
The need for strong relationships will continue in the hybrid model, and we need to balance how we adapt to it. This applies to both formal and informal interactions. In a hybrid workplace, there is a risk that we will keep office communication to a minimum on our homeworking days. This shouldn’t be the case. In fact, with expectations that Monday and Friday will become popular days for homeworking, these are prime days for informal and formal communication. Informal communication, such as asking colleagues about their weekend plans, serve relationship maintenance. (Pro tip: when asking a colleague what their weekend plans are, be specific when asking them on Monday how their weekend was. For example, ask, “How was the hike in Glendalough?”)
With formal communication, don’t restrict scheduling important meetings to office working days only. Get the balance right. Similarly, when it comes to one-to-one meetings with your manager or other key stakeholders, don’t cancel meetings if you are homeworking – even if the agenda is light. Checking in with others keeps relationships in check while also presenting an opportunity to catch up on non-essential items.
Audit your advocates and support framework
As a result of the pandemic, many of us have had infrequent connections with people. Our social capital may have dwindled as a result. Advocates are people who speak highly of you and can be found in your organisation, your sector, and your network. As we move through our careers, we collect advocates who speak positively about us when we are not in the room. It is therefore essential that we audit our advocates to see where improvement is needed.
Be the change you want to see
It will take some time before the pendulum settles in the hybrid working environment, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about how our career plan will shape up in the future. Yes, we have extra plates to spin – on top of work/life balance, we have homeworking versus office-based considerations. However, now is the time to shape that engagement while keeping our finger on our career development pulse.
Neil Curran is a corporate trainer and professional improviser specialising in effective teams and authentic communication.
You can read this article and others in Career Guide 2021/2022.