Same faces but different expectations

Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D.

Returning to the office after two years of some form of remote work presents a unique opportunity to redefine how the new team will function. Some form of hybrid work is a reality. According to FlexJobs’ 10th Annual Survey (conducted between July and August 2021), 58% of respondents report wanting to be full-time remote employees post-pandemic, while 39% want a hybrid work environment. That’s an astounding 97% of workers who desire some form of remote work

Same faces but different expectations, going back to the way things used to be is not sustainable. Moving forward demands that the experiences of in-office, remote and hybrid team members are honored. How? Leaders’ can use a three step process: Explore, Implement, Refine.

What should be the new operating model for the team? What are the rules of engagement? What is the definition of success? Answers are found in an open dialogue. Listening is an urgent priority for Leaders—anticipate a problem here consider the use of a facilitator for the team meetings.

One approach is an adaptation of Appreciative Inquiry, a strength based approach that engages stakeholders in self-determined change. Prior to the first team meeting ask each team member to list what we did over the last two years that kept our team successful/productive.

Expect a wide range of responses including personal flexibility, use of technology, meeting structure, inclusion, team building activities, leader behaviors, and non-work communications. Capture every item on an electronic white board or some other visible medium seeking clarification where needed. This may take more than one meeting. Provide each team member with the complete list of successful practices.

Phase One; select an manageable number, 5-10, of the highest priority successful practices. Take one practice at a time and devote the needed team meeting(s) to developing a specific implementation plan that will incorporate the successful practice as an ongoing behavior for the team. Continue until all the selected practices have a corresponding implementation plan.

Set a time to evaluate each of the Phase One plans making the needed changes. When the team is satisfied with how the Phase One plans are functioning go back to the list of remaining successful practices and develop a Phase Two set of action plans. Evaluate the results and continue until the team and leader are satisfied that all the listed practices have a implementation plan.

With the solid foundation of desired practices in place, schedule a regular on-going meeting to assess which are being followed, or need modification/deletion. The initial plans are just the beginning, conditions are not static, real time experience will open the door for needed upgrades and improvements. Continuous exploration fosters team growth and effectiveness.