Let’s Talk About Team Workability
Have you ever received a non-urgent late-night email from a colleague and felt obligated to respond? Or wondered if your working hours need to mimic your boss’ schedule?
If so, it may be time to evaluate your team’s workability.
Workability is a method practice at The Clearing that we recommend to clients of all types. Team workability is norms and practices that are agreed upon by the team on how we work independently, how we work together, how we set boundaries to meet our own needs, and our expectations of each other to maintain a healthy work performance.
We codify these norms using our Team Member User Guide. It’s free to download – give it a try and see how it works for your team.
How Workability Improves Team Dynamics
First, workability allows team members to play to their strengths. Because their preferences on what works best for them are stated, anxiety around workplace norms is lessened. This helps each person be as productive and engaged as possible.
Here’s an example.
John has to leave the office every day at 4 p.m. to take over childcare from his partner, who works nights as an EMT. Instead of leaving team members resentful that a co-worker leaves early every day, they know based on his User Guide that John begins work at 7 a.m. to make up for early afternoons.
This is one of many examples of why establishing norms and agreements on how to work together promotes positive team interactions and minimizes frustrations.
On the flip side, when there aren’t explicit conversations about workability it can lead to friction. For example, if you aren’t explicit about work hours, you may receive non-urgent messages at 10 p.m. Wondering whether you’re required to respond at that hour can be as stressful as the message itself. Simply knowing that emails after 5 p.m. (or whatever agreed upon time) don’t have to be responded to until the following day may relieve that stress and allow people to come to work feeling refreshed.
When to Discuss Workability with Your Team
If you have yet to establish expectations and norms, it’s never too late to begin. And if you have established team workability, it should be revisited on a periodic basis. Even teams on the best of terms can fall out of sync – and the cause may not always be clear.
Macro events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, changed the way much of the world works. Revisiting workability in such situations is critical – and obvious. Micro events, however, may be less noticeable but still challenge norms and expectations.
Using The Clearing as an example, we review workability when we engage a client in a different time zone. What new expectations and norms must be established for our east coast team members servicing a west coast organization? What can we do to ensure they retain balance while working with a client starting and ending the day later?
Taking it down to the individual level, empathy as a manager is critical in both establishing and maintaining workability. While I do my best heads-down work between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., I don’t expect my team to stay in the office just because I’m still working. Having my team understand why I choose to stay relieves the potential guilt my team may feel when choosing to leave the office earlier than me.
I’ve also learned that just because a work style isn’t productive for me doesn’t mean it isn’t productive for someone else. I once had a team member who had a hard time concentrating when they stayed in one location. They liked to move locations throughout the day in order to focus. They were most successful when they had a change of scenery or movement. Similarly, I had another team member, who in order to maintain productivity, needed regular breaks that may include a walk during the day.
Taking the time to review their User Guides and sharing mine helped us understand each other and create an environment that worked for our team instead of being one-size-fits-all. It’s also important to discuss individual User Guides as a team and to collectively establish team workability norms and practices.
Workability Thought Starters
In addition to filling out the User Guide, here are a few items I keep top of mind when considering workability for teams.
Email timing. Consider scheduling emails to send at a different time if you are working early or late so as not to cause your team members added stress or frustration.
Be honest. Not every workability preference can be met – and that’s ok. Client needs or company policies may not allow it. When that’s the case, be transparent about why and discuss other options to alleviate concerns.
Mind the hybrid. Without everyone in one place, workability becomes critical. Being explicit about when in-person is required or when cameras must be on makes it easier to get everyone on the same page.
Establish an after-hours process. There will always be times when urgent matters come up after hours. As a team, establish norms on how to contact each other on weekends or after standard working hours (e.g., send a text message)
Most of these tips may seem common knowledge; however, we don’t always follow it in practice – especially when work is hectic. The problem is that it’s at this time when considering team workability is most important. It prevents burnout, lowers stress, and reduces churn. So next time something with your team seems off, even if you’re busy, take a moment to review or evaluate team workability – it just might be what gets your people back on track.
If you want to chat about workability or team dynamics, I can be reached at Theresa.firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember, it’s easiest to catch me between 5 and 7 p.m.
As my colleague Cara Valentino recently shared, employees are having many feelings when it comes to physically going back to the office. As The Clearing’s Talent & Delivery Excellence lead, I’m partnering with our HR team to ensure our employees experience a smooth, stress-free return to the office.
Some employees are returning to a space they haven’t seen in more than a year. For others hired in the midst of the pandemic, they’ve never been to our home base in Washington, D.C., at all. Of course, every company’s approach to re-entry is different (all-in, hybrid, etc.) and each must choose the strategy that optimizes the experience of its employees and customers while staying true to its mission.
So while I can’t offer a one-size-fits-all approach, I can offer 3 key tips to set you and your teams on a path for re-entry success.
“Have empathy and understanding for where people are on the re-entry spectrum – and remember to be respectful vs. judgmental of people’s decisions regarding health and safety.”
TIP #1: Be crystal clear about your re-entry strategy.
Once your formal plan is announced, be ready to field questions given you’ll be operating in what may feel like a brand-new environment. Plan for the unexpected.
Tie your re-entry strategy to your corporate strategy.
Clearly define your approach to health and safety practices/guidelines.
Have clear tips and resources ready for using office technology, such as computers, projectors, printers, wi-fi networks, etc.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: hold open forums, office hours, create a shared drive with re-entry resources, etc. for employees to discuss re-entry. It’s critical for both new hires and veteran employees to understand current policies and know where to go to access information.
TIP #2: Be explicit and consistent about expectations.
Leaders must name what behaviors are acceptable in these conditions and what behaviors are unacceptable. For example, how often do you need employees to go into the office, and under what circumstances? When employees are asked to come into the office make it clear why. If you have expectations around how often folks should be visiting the office, name them. And be consistent: one person saying you should be in two days vs. someone else saying four days will create (avoidable) tension in the workplace.
Be explicit with expectations for new hires. New hires won’t have the context around pre-pandemic office expectations let alone new corporate expectations given they may never have been to the physical workspace before.
Educate employees on when it’s important to be in the office. For example, if a team or a client’s needs require an in-person meeting to help support the work, it’s important for employees to understand the why behind the ask.
Leverage this expectation-setting resource we developed at The Clearing to help your teams better understand each other’s work style preferences.
TIP #3: Honor the Human.
Have empathy and understanding for where people are on the re-entry spectrum. Everyone has different comfort levels about re-entry and being in different situations.
Be respectful vs. judgmental of people’s decisions regarding health and safety.
Give people time to prepare. Employees may need to juggle childcare needs, pet schedules, or even their wardrobe after spending the last year and a half working remotely.
For the Physical Workspace: Make the office welcoming, especially if folks haven’t been in the office for a while. Consider offering breakfast to entice employees back into the space, or host open houses to feature new technology or office layout plans to better enhance employees’ in-office experiences.
For Teams: Define and/or audit the working norms you established in the virtual environment and ask key questions: What are norms that were established in our working remote environment that we want to bring back into the office with us? What are the lessons we learned from the virtual world that we want to bring forward to help us work better together?
For New Hires: Focus on engagement. Remember, it’s easy for them to feel disconnected after entering the company completely virtually. If safe, hold (in some cases belated) new-hire orientation sessions or in-person team building activities to bring them into the space and get them connected with their colleagues.
If you have questions about leading through re-entry or would like to share best practices you’ve seen success with, I’m always available to chat at email@example.com.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I took some time out to reflect on my career and the lessons I’ve learned as I worked my way up from an entry level consultant to Director here at The Clearing. I’m sharing them here, alongside some of my favorite quotes from inspiring women in hope of helping other female leaders who may be looking for guidance on their way up.
EMBRACE YOUR STRENGTHS
When I first began my career, I was convinced that good leaders all shared certain characteristics. They looked a certain way, behaved a certain way, and followed the same management methods to lead their teams. In practice, I’ve learned that effective leaders come in many shapes and sizes. You don’t need to be a charismatic visionary with big ideas in order to succeed in leadership. You’ll be far more effective if you understand and embrace your own strengths. Love who you are, and bring that authenticity to work with you every day.
“True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed… Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.” – Sheryl Sandberg
FIND YOUR VOICE
So many women I know, myself included, have remained silent at times when we should have spoken. We didn’t think we had all the answers – or the right answer – and so we said nothing at all. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s more important to trust my instincts and myself and speak, even if my response is imperfect. The thoughts and opinions we keep to ourselves may be just the ones needed to spark the right answer. Share, and share confidently.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” – Brene Brown
ASK “WHY NOT?” INSTEAD OF ASKING “WHY?”
When faced with a new opportunity or an overwhelming challenge, it’s natural to be afraid to take a risk. Rather than embracing the possibility of a positive outcome, we have a tendency to approach with fear of failure. Becoming a strong leader means shifting into a more open mindset in which new opportunities yield optimism instead of dread. Asking “Why not?” and “What’s the worst that can happen?” are good ways to set your mind at ease and find the courage to embrace a new opportunity.
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.” – Helen Keller
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SHOW COMPASSION
Our cultures and our careers often teach us that being caring and compassionate shows weakness. In my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes courage to be vulnerable and show emotion, and it helps others to trust you. Be a leader, but be a human being first. Show that you care, have compassion, and emulate the values you want to see in your organization. Others will follow your lead.
“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
I would love to hear from other women now. What leadership lessons have you learned in your career? Where do you struggle most in your journey? Whose wisdom do you turn to when you need a boost?