The Missing Tool in your Hybrid Work Plan

Apr 18, 2022 1 Min Read
Plan Ahead for Successful Hybrid Work

Back to normal.

It’s a heartening phrase if you missed eating in restaurants or hugging your grandchildren. But the message is gloomier if you’ve spent too many years coping with a draining culture at work--and are now returning to it.

We’ve long known that workplaces are in a state of simmering crisis regarding employee fatigue and overwork, but concerns have amplified with Bloomberg showing us that the workday has lengthened by two-and-a-half hours, and over half of workers surveyed by Indeed saying they’re officially burnt out.

With the US reopening rapidly, there are consequential conversations afoot about the return to the office. The talk heard in every conference room and virtual platform is one of Where. Where will teams sit each day? Where will offices be located, closed, or kept? Will managers need special training to counter their bias against workers who chose one Where vs. another? These are pivotal thoughts to explore.

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This Where question, however, is the second most important topic about the next normal. It’s not the first.

The conversation that is being ignored, and the single most essential discussion to have, is about the How. Because this reboot of work offers us a spectacular opportunity for a behavioral makeover. We may not have a blank page on which to write, but it’s close. Right now, there’s a fleeting chance to investigate and shatter decades of unquestioned How before the new status quo solidifies.

The Where topics are the bricks of our new professional home. But How is the mortar.

How will we undo the extended workday that sprang from COVID? How can we stop our bizarre and costly tolerance of overwork and the pile-on of low-value tasks? How can we transform work so that it’s no longer the most difficult part of our lives?

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Speaking to an HR healthcare leader recently, he rapidly turned to lamenting the truth of his current How. Due to workload and a high-pressure culture, attrition and stress were up and engagement was down. On a human level, he shared stories of crying moms, shaky marriages, and at least one team member with serious depression. Their How now is worse than ever, but it’s not on the agenda.

We all need to stop the presses, sit down and take a minute to think. We must ponder and mull and envision the future of the How we want to see brought to life within the new Where. And if you are a leader of even a few, you must engage your team to help craft that destination.

When my father Allen Funt, the well-known TV producer and beloved creator of Candid Camera, interviewed children for the show, he had a big challenge. How could he quickly create rapport and break through the intimidation felt by a little child toward a big unknown adult? He did so by lighting a match and then feigning difficulty in blowing it out. He’d sit balanced on the edge of a preschool-size chair, huffing and puffing with theatrical overacting, finally turning to the youngster and saying, “Can you help me?” And the child would. Moments later, he and his new pal would be chatting about topics like guardian angels, money, or the wonders of spaghetti.

Like my father, leaders need to set aside the power distance that interferes with honesty. However, leaders should not feign the need of assistance, but rather they should directly embrace it, admitting their real need for input and feedback. Leaders must put aside the hubris that can creep in and directly ask teams what part of the current How gets in the way of their best work and what actions can be taken to change it.

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Improving the current How is possible with simple changes like these:

Make the Wedge a habit.

One simple tool can provide the breathing space--the oxygen--needed to ignite your energy and improve your decision-making. The Wedge is a small portion of open time inserted between two activities—such as a request and a response, a meeting and a meeting, or a crisis and a plan. The Wedge pries apart actions or events, buying you a minute to think, plan, or compose yourself. It’s a nimble power move any of us can use on our own and, when applied as a team, it dramatically lowers the “hallucinated urgency” that can drive us mad with its frantic demands.


Figure out if Flex-work is working.

If you happen to have great boundaries and expert compartmentalization skills, flex work can be an oasis. If not, it can end up being a mirage. Real flex time often looks like this: We work from seven to three, and then clock out. But after doing so, we still feel the work ripples of those at their desks and we end up checking email or responding here and there during the time we are supposed to be off.

It’s very hard to ignore work while others are working. So, start team conversations about how to strengthen and support these boundaries of work and nonwork. Help each other find a balance between the benefits of flex time and the benefits of synchronized work followed by synchronized rest.
Use a Yellow List.
As the Wedge helps you calm down and perhaps see that not every need or thought is truly urgent, you’ll need a place to temporarily gather issues and requests until it’s the right time to deal with them. This is where the Yellow List can help. It’s a list of all the non-time-sensitive tasks, ideas, and questions you keep for anyone with whom you regularly communicate.

When you are about to send an email or text, ask yourself if your need can wait, and if so place it instead on your Yellow List. When the list lengthens, schedule a short meeting or call with the appropriate person or team for a “download.” When you use a Yellow List, you significantly cut back on wasted time by batching and consolidating your communications.

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Go beyond the Wellness Day.

Every heart-centered leader I’ve spoken to in recent months has given their exhausted teams a wellness day or even two. It's the right thing to do and a good start. But that’s no more the solution than giving a starving man a quarterly binge. Discuss ways that your new How can feature recovery and recuperation within the context of your daily workflow, not just in a single compensatory twenty-four hours. (Which, by the way, is likely used to catch up on laundry or wait on hold to finally reach an insurance company or bank.) Talk about how daily recuperation can show up appropriately in your role and team.

The waste, overwork, and tolerated misery that lurks within so many companies can be dramatically reduced by taking a strategic pause and applying some thoughtfulness. But pausing is not what we’re good at, going is. We need to stop now, on purpose and against our instincts, to think about it. Our future How must not be an accident.

The joyous return that’s begun all around us is moving and magnificent. We smile again and again as our social streams fill with images of glorious team reunions and the subtle joys of working in shared spaces. Many have never appreciated the essence of camaraderie so much. Celebrating the end of our loneliness can be just the beginning of the next wave of positivity. Designing our new How can end a lineage of professional pain. It can return us to the primary gifts of work: meaning and contribution. It can be absolutely anything we want it to be if we stop and take a minute to think.

This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn.

Be sure to check out this insightful media on how to manage the flow of ideas while working from home:

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Juliet Funt is the founder and CEO at JFG (Juliet Funt Group), which is a consulting and training firm built upon the popular teaching of CEO Juliet Funt, author of A Minute to Think.

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