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Leading in a flexible environment

Oct 7, 2021
Leading in a flexible environment

Working on a flexible basis and eradicating traditional working models has been trending for a few years amongst all sorts of industries and organisations, from starts ups to large corporations.

Flexible working is the way of the future as more companies come to realise the benefits that come with it.

Orbis have recently introduced a flexible working structure to the company. To give us an insight into how we are doing this, Ryan Orton discusses the importance of having a human approach to managing a team and exploring trust with flexible working.

What experiences have you had so far with a flexible working structure?

When I’m working from home, I’m probably more productive because I’m more focused, there aren’t any social distractions that come with an office environment.

Working from home comes with its perks. I put my laptop down and that is my workday done. I can also control my diet and exercise a lot easier.

So, when you start to think about the possibilities and the things that you can do, working remotely has plenty of advantages.

The biggest challenge for working from home is maintaining energy and enthusiasm, because differentiating work from home is difficult and you can get cabin fever.

When does work stop and home life begin? Well the truth is, they don’t anymore, they coexist.

I think we’re still getting comfortable with that, not feeling bad about not working every minute of the day.

I appreciate the challenges are different for everybody but recognising and understanding the challenges of the individual you are working with is important.

How are they finding it? How are they feeling about it? What do they find personally challenging about it?

Then actively working with the team to find solutions and share ideas with people that might find work for them too.

How are we effectively introducing a changing working structure?

We are continuing to be malleable and flexible. We are constantly adapting. I think these are all important key points for a successful change in structure.

You need to communicate changes clearly and flexible to individual needs. If you’ve got a workforce who aren’t a part of the change, or involved in this new way of working, then you’re really going to struggle. The team are not going to suddenly change direction for you.

I’ve learned a lot about human nature. People want to help people.

I think remote management is no different to office management. It doesn’t need to be treated any differently because you manage people by whichever means you can. Working remotely has given me assurance about people in the environment in which we work.

When working in a flexible working environment, how do you avoid teams forming cliques or individuals segregating themselves? If there are members within the team who are introverted and more inclined to stay at home, or friendly groups that coordinate their schedules, how do you manage that?

The team have multiple channels of contact with the leadership team, for various projects as well as social interactions.

We have set up sub-teams based on market demographics, a specific client project, new initiatives, or marketing campaigns. Within these separate sub-teams, people can gain interaction with smaller groups of different leaders and people outside of their own teams.

I think this is what we do particularly well at Orbis, which prevents anyone in the team from feeling isolated. Otherwise team members tend to have one channel of contact to one leader, and to be frank, that would become very depressing for anyone!

Within these groups they are being held accountable to their peers, to their seniors and themselves to do their part of the job.

These small groups and pockets offer a sense of purpose, a key part to success and an addition to daily tasks. Otherwise, it would become a dull existence!

When working in a flexible working environment, to avoid teams forming cliques or individuals segregating themselves, these sub-groups help to manage introverted individuals, or teams coordinating schedules around each other, combatting diversity challenges and cliques forming.

As leaders, we have to make sure that there is the right balance, that we instigate the integration of different teams to different people.

We’ve been creating sub-teams, projects and workshops to ensure that people are involved in two or three different groups, not just their allocated team.

One thing to focus on in staff reviews is to ask the team what their purpose is outside of their day-to-day role, do they have another purpose?

Whether that’s producing a new piece of content with the marketing team, leading a new service offering, or D&I initiatives. I think that’s really important.

You’ve had new starters join the team on a remote basis, how did you ensure they had a fluid integration into the team, maintaining existing team morale and boosting culture?

Our new starters have never been to our London headquarters, they’re currently in their third month with us and their performance is high. I’m sure they want to meet us all in person at some point, but I feel my working relationship with them as a direct manager has been accelerated because of this way of working.

I’ve spent much more one to one face time with them, than I might have in an office working environment.

When I’m talking to my team one to one remotely, I’m not being distracted or pulled away. I’m focusing on them and I’m not hearing or seeing things that are going on around me. Nothing’s annoying me, getting me excited, or worrying me.

You’re not being distracted and therefore that time spent with the team is much more valuable.

We have built a close working relationship quickly, and I feel I know them better than I would do if we were still working consistently in the office.

The one to one time with the team is a safe place for them as well. Other people aren’t listening, they’re not being judged as the new person, they can be completely honest with what they’re struggling with. They can focus on understanding our expectations and what they need to do. I can then equally understand their wants and needs, and it feels a lot more effective.

In regard to the wider team, new starters have good interaction with them through sub-groups and various Slack channels. We have multiple day to day chats going on in various groups. There is a lot of encouragement and collaboration amongst the team that way. The new starters see what works for the existing team and vice versa. They’re not on their own.

With the recent new starters, the team have been nothing but a positive influence. We have lots of video chats, and other leaders will jump in on these to catch up in the week. They run through what they’re doing, discuss their challenges and successes, then get input directly from other leaders. I think that’s a really important part of allowing new starters to feel part of the business.

Do the wider group take part in video chats with leaders, does this continue through the team?

That’s what we’ve done really well, everyone gets face time with leaders. No one feels ostracized or left on the outside.

For instance, Wayne will jump on a call with a member of the team just to catch up and ask how they’re getting on. I’m sure in some businesses, there may be some anxieties when the ‘big boss’ is giving you call out of the blue.

You don’t have that anxiety here, because you know they’re only calling to help and communicate.

Ultimately, these calls are seen as a good thing and the team can be assured of their relationship with the senior leaders, because that relationship does exist.

Do you maintain a level of trust for your team when working remotely?

I know that I’m trusted, and I trust my team.

Why don’t we overview leadership and culture in the same way?

We all value trust and we all value a human approach.

I’m just being the best manager I can be and hopefully that’s good enough.

But, being an effective Team Manager is more than mentality. It’s got to be a position where you want to help and see people succeed, thrive and grow as professionals and people.

You can be especially effective to their progression if you’ve been on some of the journeys that they are going on, whether that’s in life or work. That’s the advantage of a few grey hairs…

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