Training for the Hybrid Office
Workshop with Questrom team-building expert is part of plan to help BU staff with the home/office split
We asked Paul Hutchinson a silly question and got a serious answer.
Q: “How is managing a hybrid office like a cave rescue?”
A: (Laughter) “In more ways than you would realize! You look at adventure education, and you’re looking at small teams working in high-risk situations in rapidly changing environments. You need really clear and effective trust and communication, and you need to know who’s doing what, who’s carrying what gear, who’s carrying the snacks. When those things are not done, it can be a nightmare. But when you do all that stuff, it’s an amazing adventure.
“That’s work, right?”
Hutchinson is a Questrom School of Business senior lecturer in management and organizations. He is also a veteran experiential educator, who has worked with over 50,000 participants in team-building and leadership programs, often outdoors. His résumé includes training in wilderness medicine, vertical rope work, and cave rescue.
On Monday, November 15, he’ll bring all of that expertise to bear—well, hopefully not the wilderness medicine part—to train BU staff to function at their best in the new hybrid workplace, where many are splitting their time between home and office, and everyone isn’t necessarily in the building at the same time. Hutchinson will lead a 90-minute Zoom workshop, Building Trust in Teams, focused on hybrid teams and open to all staff. Register here.
“When you think about it in a wilderness context, one of the first things you have to do as a leader is establish trust,” Hutchinson says. “What’s interesting is that we often have the assumption when we’re all in the same place that people are being productive, so we can see that. The thing about working in a hybrid environment is, you can’t see that. And so you have to just trust that work is being done or you assess it in a different way.”
The workshop is just one of a series of events planned by BU Organizational Development & Learning (OD&L) to help staff make the most of the new hybrid learning environment, says Mumtaz Badshah Brown, director of OD&L. A number of eligible University staffers have chosen to take advantage of the new policy begun this summer permitting many of them to work remotely up to two days a week, a nod to how dramatically the COVID-19 pandemic has altered societal expectations around the culture of work. There is a formal policy in place and a website dedicated to remote work.
During the pandemic, “people were very creative and did an excellent job coming up with ways to work with each other in that remote setting and stay engaged. There was tremendous creativity and innovation,” Badshah Brown says. “But now that the campus is back up and running, as teams opt to have remote work arrangements, the result is a hybrid team.
“What that means is that on any given day, you have some members of your team who are on site and some who are remote,” she says. “That creates a new set of challenges, new things that one has to take into consideration.”
It’s important to take into account the makeup of each work team, she says: is it a new team? Is it a team that is well-connected? Are you hiring new people and how are you going to onboard them? How are you going to communicate in this new setup—do you come in person for team meetings or are all meetings going to be on Zoom? How do you keep one another updated on the progress of projects? Are you using digital collaboration tools and is everybody comfortable using them?
“It’s important to be explicit about communications when you are not all going to be on site together,” Badshah Brown says. “You just need to develop processes so there is transparency and there is clarity.”
Beginning in the summer, OD&L and Human Resources began providing tips, resources, and workshops to help staff and supervisors navigate this new world. The multipronged approach is intended “to help people the way they want to be helped,” she says. Most of the materials can be found on the Remote Work at BU website, which includes not only the basics on the policy, but a set of toolkits to help people succeed in hybrid teams.
I want people to know that we are here to help them as they try to navigate this new space and figure this out.
“Many teams actually had everybody read these resources and then discuss and cocreate the ways they’re going to communicate, what digital tool they’re going to use, what works best for them,” she says.
ODL and HR have also curated on-demand mini-courses available through Terrier E-Development on subjects such as prioritizing while working remotely or setting and communicating goals. These are in addition to workshops such as Building & Sustaining Team Engagement, led by OD&L staff, being held Tuesday, November 30, from 9 to 10:30 am. For more details or specific inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hutchinson’s Monday workshop is designed to address questions such as, Are you seeing trust amongst your team members waning? Are you challenged by sustaining and improving trust in your team? Are you curious about how you as an individual can improve trust between your team members? A panel of leaders from across BU will join Hutchinson to share how they build trust amongst their teams and discuss challenges they foresee.
Results-based performance assessment is one way to help make the hybrid office work, he says. “There’s no silver bullet. Really it’s getting that relationship between the supervisor and employees so the supervisor knows the stuff is getting done and the employees don’t feel like people are looking over their shoulder all the time, which actually decreases motivation and makes job satisfaction a lot lower.”
For years workers have told him that if they could have one day a week to work at home, they could get so much done, without being constantly called into meetings and putting out assorted fires in the office.
The biggest factor in building trust is open, transparent communication, with clear, specific measurables, he says. BU is such a vast organization, with so many different types of jobs, he notes, and some are easier to make hybrid than others. “But I think the key thing is, if you are able to say to your supervisor, ‘I need to work at home one day a week and if I do that, this is what I can get accomplished in one day’ or ‘I finished that grant, I responded to those emails.’ To really be clear about what’s going on so the supervisor can really get comfortable with what’s happening. Over time that trust builds.”
Building trust doesn’t mean that you have to scale a ropes course or build a fire in the woods with your coworkers, though, as Hutchinson has learned.
“The transition from adventure education to teaching at the business school was something I thought would be impossible,” he says with a laugh. “They approached me to teach OB, and I said, ‘Outward Bound? I can do that.’ And they said, ‘No, organizational behavior.’ I didn’t really know what that was. But now, a decade later, apparently I do.”