Companies are shifting their business continuity plans into the next gear as hybrid working models gain popularity. With more time to prepare for the shift (compared to the abruptness with which lockdowns were imposed), managers are charting out new ways to keep teams engaged, productive, and collaborating while meeting safety protocols.

Still, expecting employees to deliver at the same efficiency, productivity, and performance levels as before is unrealistic, as employees continue to balance work-related tasks with their roles as parents and caregivers, or deal with limitations of the home office environment. As employees adapt to the new normal of hybrid working arrangements, managers can expect requests for non-availability to continue.

What can managers do to minimize non-availability requests?

  • Understand that tasks will take longer as distractions persist. Set realistic timelines, factoring in delays and technology glitches. While this may appear counter-productive at first, in the long run, it will ensure things proceed smoothly, albeit at a slower pace.
  • Avoid unnecessary group meetings, update requests, and calls as all of this detracts from time spent actually doing the work! Instead, choose the right tool for your team to collaborate and report individual progress so that you remain on top of things without disrupting efficiency.
  • Create an atmosphere of trust among your team to ensure everyone is pulling their weight. One way of doing this is by sharing responsibility among team members and encouraging open communication about challenges, limitations, and strengths.
  • Establish expectations on what performance and productivity look like and how they will be measured. This not only avoids ambiguity but gives employees clear markers on practicing self-discipline.
  • Instill appropriate breaks and rest periods during the day, so that employees have time to recharge.

Despite this, if non-availability requests do surface, here’s what you can do to ensure fairness and accountability.

  • Gather and record pertinent data about the reason for non-availability (personal versus work). If the reason is work-related, assess whether the employee is spending time on non-productive tasks or silently struggling with a particular skill or tool. In such cases, offer help or additional training to boost their skill and minimize the potential for further delays.
  • If the reasons for non-availability are mostly personal, encourage them to list out personal and household priorities and then set boundaries to minimize multi-tasking for maximum efficiency across home and work. For instance, if an employee consistently asks for time off because he has to monitor his child’s online classes, re-allocate his working hours around these classes to keep him focused on the task at hand – whether supervising his child or meeting work targets.
  • If the timelines seem reasonable and sufficient flexibility has already been offered, but delays persist, have an honest conversation about the impact of this with the person concerned so they are aware of the consequences.
  • Create a back-up plan to allocate resources for emergencies like illness. In these cases, too, it is important to prioritize tasks before delegating them, so that the additional resources are not over-burdened.

Being flexible and responsive while clearly articulating expectations simplifies employee confusion, helping them meet their targets and manage daily disruptions more effectively.

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