With major companies like Apple officially phasing in their hybrid work policies, it appears that hybrid working is here to stay. But, if it’s not managed properly, this new way of working could further exacerbate workplace stress.
April is Stress Awareness Month, with this year’s theme being “community”. So how can leaders manage stress in a hybrid working community? Five experts share their views:
1. Create psychological safety for open feedback
While hybrid working potentially combines all the benefits of remote and in-person working, it also brings double the dangers. Risks such as longer hours and work life bleeding into home life, alongside the distractions and energy drains of the office, could make life stressful for employees if they lack the avenues to raise their concerns.
Lesley Cooper, management consultant and founder of WorkingWell, believes that creating the psychological safety for open feedback is key to minimizing these potential stressors. That means making greater use of feedback sessions within teams, both anonymously and in-person.
“If leaders clearly demonstrate their flexibility and willingness to listen to the experiences of their teams, stress levels can be managed accordingly,” says Cooper. “Psychological safety is paramount.”
2. Become a “time defender”
The stress caused by back-to-back meetings was becoming a problem even before the pandemic struck, according to Martin Boroson, director of leadership consultancy The One Moment Company and author of One Moment Meditation. But now that we don’t even have to walk from one meeting to another, we never get a break. And meetings intrude on our personal time as never before.
“All meetings now look alike, feel alike, and seem equally unproductive,” notes Boroson. “Time is being wasted while energy and engagement are being depleted.”
Boroson argues that leaders need to learn how to run meetings well. “They need to master the arts of focusing attention, managing energy, setting ground rules, differentiating meeting types, inviting the right people, aligning teams around intention and, perhaps most importantly of all, ending meetings early.”
In addition, Boroson recommends that leaders practice what he describes as “TimeFraming” – making sure there is sufficient time allocated to activities like preparation, processing, recovery and rest. “They can’t just talk about this,” he says. “They have to model it themselves and empower everyone else to defend this time.”
Boroson also suggests that micro-meditation (small bursts of meditation) can be a very valuable boost for teams – and can be done in any meeting. “A short reset like this can create windows of calm in an otherwise stressful, jam-packed day,” he says, “and make any meeting more focused, productive and enjoyable.”
3. Invest in company culture
The companionship we used to get from the physical office is no longer a given. Now we have to work harder to create the meaningful interactions and connections we used to take for granted. As a result, we need a supportive, unifying culture to bind us to our common values and goals – otherwise stress can become overwhelming.
“With a little creativity, we can design ways to close this gap — and perhaps even exceed what was previously possible, as community and culture can be built on a much larger scale,” says Christy Kulasingam, business strategist and founder of boutique consultancy In.Side.Edge.
Kulasingam suggests that designated social channels on collaboration platforms can act as a “virtual watercooler” while remote collaboration tools such as Miro and Mural aid teamwork. Nevertheless, he emphasizes that technology should not displace human interaction, especially when tackling wellbeing issues. For example, a free subscription to a mindfulness app might not be an appropriate solution when screen time could already be a major contributor to someone’s stress.
4. Don’t over-rely on technical wizardry
Brian Peters, CEO and founder of the Ultimate Financial Consultant, believes the transition to hybrid working has put particular pressure on those who need to sell as part of their role, and who now have to master the art of closing through the screen.
“I will always remain a firm advocate of face-to-face meetings, but we must accept that the virtual world is here to stay,” says Peters. “Plug and play is what people need: a tool that simply works, and works simply, wherever they are working from.”
5. Build in ‘agenda-free’ moments
“Agenda-free moments during the working day are essential for general wellbeing and stress management,” explains Lesley Tait, a personal performance and wellbeing coach at Her Supreme Self.
Tait says workers should build space into their daily agenda and maintain it outside of their working schedule. This is in addition to commonly advised approaches such as developing a solid morning routine, having a separate working environment, and taking breaks – such as lunch – to get outside and enjoy some exercise.