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The great hybrid workplace experiment continues - All the highlights without all the research

Uncategorized Nov 17, 2022
CHROPartners
The great hybrid workplace experiment continues - All the highlights without all the research
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 The great hybrid workplace experiment continues

Here’s what’s working now—and the best ideas we’ve heard about

 

You’ve successfully made the business case a hybrid workplace is right for your organization. Congratulations! Now, comes the interesting part: Making it effective.

There’s certainly no “right” way to create a hybrid workplace—and we’ve all been learning on the job over these crazy COVID years. But based on my personal experience and the mountains of research I’ve consumed on the topic, there is one thing that’s absolutely critical: getting your team connected. No, I don’t mean having lightning-fast internet, though that’s certainly table stakes. I mean building a sense of community among your people.

Offices = (largely) effortless connectivity.

When everyone came into the same physical space every day, connecting was easier. You crossed paths in the hall, or you invited your co-worker to lunch or a coffee. But that doesn’t mean in-person connections are the only way to build a sense of community.

As Seth Godin said, “The real magic of connections at the office was that we were having these connections without trying. It’s not that they were better, it’s that they were effortless.”

Now, they have to be intentional.

 

How can you replicate that effortless connectivity? Start here.

 

  • Rethink the idea of place

Before COVID, I’m guessing most of us would have said we couldn’t really feel connected to someone unless we’d met in person. But now, after nearly three years of virtual meetings, would you say the same? On numerous occasions I’ve met someone in person who’s watched a lot of my video posts and they tell me they already feel like they know me. That reaction highlights this thought from this Adam Grant podcast: “I love the vision of the office as a tool and the digital space as a place.” Stop thinking physical spaces are superior to digital; start recognizing they both have a role to play.  

  • Involve employees

To design the hybrid environment that best meets employees’ needs, make them active players in creating it. That’s a key principle for successful remote/hybrid work suggested by Josh Bersin and one of the five things successful hybrid work models have in common.

 

  • Fight bias against remote/hybrid workers

It’s not enough to offer flexible work arrangements, your company must show it values what they bring to your organization. If people with flexible work arrangements don’t get promoted and don’t get the plum assignments, employees can justifiably claim you’re not really making hybrid work.

 One thing that can help avoid challenges in this area: using the right metrics to determine project success. Check out this Harvard Business Review for tips on building visibility into a hybrid workplace.

 

  • Re-build connections among and between departments

Every organization has one—that co-worker who knows everyone at your company (and, even better, their superpowers). Connections within and between departments are critical to the functioning of your organization. But according to this article from HR Exchange Network and research from Microsoft, they’ve taken a big hit with remote work. Even more concerning? Organizations are increasingly faced with what’s known as the neighborhood effect, which happens when departments are detached from one another and the larger purpose of the organization.

 

Re-building those connections is imperative. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Bring all employees together once or twice a year. Don’t underestimate the power of occasional in-person meetings to build and solidify company unity.
  • Build unstructured time into your virtual meetings. The next time you book a meeting, intentionally allocate 10% of the time for a check-in. That check-in could be as simple as asking people how they’re doing today. This isn’t a “nice to do,” it’s critical to building trust and confidence among your team members.
  • Make yourself available after your meeting ends. How many times do you wrap a face-to-face meeting and find yourself staying to talk with a team member? Replicate this in the virtual space by simply announcing you’ll be around for 10-15 minutes if anyone would like to talk.
  • Set up a weekly social time. According to Harvard Business Review, even a 20-minute call can help rebuild connections (plus decrease loneliness and help prevent burnout).
  • Consider leveraging the Metaverse. We’re all looking for ways to recapture some of the fun, spontaneity and interaction of being with our co-workers without giving up the flexibility, productivity and convenience of working from home. Could the Metaverse be the answer? Learn more at HBR.

 

  • Recognize and address the impact hybrid work has on your culture

 

In the past most companies could rely on in-person interactions to shape a sense of “how we do things around here.” Now, that’s largely a thing of the past. This webinar from Gartner has some great insights about making your culture work in a hybrid world and stresses that cultural success depends on two things: alignment and connectedness.

 

Alignment requires companies to train leaders to model the culture, deliver culture communications, recruit for cultural fit, culturally onboard new hires and terminate those who persistently violate culture.

 

Creating connectedness means embracing a new intentionality that diffuses culture through work, not a physical location, connects through emotional rather than physical proximity and leverages smaller, more intensified relationships to create a sense of culture. For instance, Virgin Money created employee personas on a spectrum of most/least flexibility when it came to where and when an employee worked. This helped align employee strengths with the roles that suited them best.

 

The results of focusing on this one-two punch? An impressive 37% increase in employee performance and a 36% increase in employee retention.

 

  • Embrace radical flexibility

According to Gartner, in the post-pandemic world 25% of the global knowledge workforce works primarily at home and 45% works from home two or three days a week. This reality demands a more flexible approach to work.

 

Here’s how Gartner suggests embracing radical flexibility:

  • Survey managers and employees about workplace expectations, preferences, requirements and limitations and use this information to shape your work environment.
  • Say goodbye to your old remote work policy—which was likely based on the assumption that remote work was temporary—and design a new policy that reflects an employee’s ability to work from home or multiple locations.
  • Recreate your space to reflect your new workplace reality. For instance, perhaps workstations disappear, and you transition to collaborative workspaces.

 

There’s evidence to show there are big benefits to this type of flexibility—for instance, this study found working from home two days a week benefits employees and organizations. And even the definition of flexibility can vary. See this article from the Harvard Business Review for more on the different types.

 

I lived a lot of this approach more than 15 years ago when I was working in a mid-size Midwestern town with a limited talent pool. Because of the talent constraints, we were forced to embrace part-time, off-site work long before it became the general norm, especially among our senior employees. While we did have traditional office space during this time, if I were running the business today and faced with what to do with our workforce now, I’d create a coffee shop space instead where people could collaborate in a low-key setting.

 

One last thought around flexibility has to do with people whose job can’t be done remotely—like healthcare providers, retail employees and those on the manufacturing floor. Finding ways to treat them fairly is one of the most vexing issues we face. This Adam Grant podcast has a great suggestion: offer them remote learning days. He suggests giving people 10-15 remote days a year they can use to learn, upskill and experience the flexibility that everyone else is.

 

A few final ideas that can make a difference

Limit communication during typical off hours. Don’t expect your remote workers to be available 24/7—that leads to stress and burnout. Try to limit your communication to “on hours.” And if find you’re routinely sending messages at 4:49 on a Friday afternoon or the wee hours of the morning, consider adding something like the following to your signature line, “My working hours may not be yours. Please don’t feel the need to respond outside your working hours.”

Don’t schedule hybrid meetings

Raise your hand if you’ve attempted to do hybrid meetings. In my experience they’re awkward and painful. If everyone can’t be together in person, just meet virtually. I think you’ll find you feel more connected if everyone is experiencing the meeting in the same way.

Leverage a variety of communication tools

When employees don’t have the typical in-person interactions to build connection, you need to find new ways to create them. This Harvard Business Review article suggests leaders try sending out regular written newsletters or recorded messages to their teams. And encourage team members to do the same—mini updates on recent projects can help everyone feel in the loop. Microsoft hosts an internal “radio show” between employees and their EVP and Chief

 Marketing Officer. I recently saw an interesting LinkedIn post that suggested employees share a quick self-report daily on Slack to let others know what they’d accomplished.

Train leaders to overcommunicate and to be better listeners

Remote employees often feel out of the loop and when they do get to connect it’s all too easy for conversations to reflect workplace hierarchy—i.e., for the person with the most authority to hijack the discussion. Your foundational leadership development needs to focus on teaching leaders to over communicate and to be better listeners—two skills that many leaders could benefit from getting better at.

What has—or hasn’t—worked at your organization?

Drop me a note and we’ll continue to add to our research. Getting to a better place with remote/hybrid employees isn’t going to happen overnight. But, as always, I have faith in our ability to learn from each other.

 

In conclusion, let me share this thought from Adam Grant:

 “I think this is the most important tip that comes outta your research is I work with so many leaders who are heavy on opinion but light on data and they're rushing in to make commitments about what the next year or two or five are gonna look like without having any clue how do people feel about hybrid, what's gonna work for them? And I think what you're calling on us to do is to think more like scientists and say before making a premature commitment, run a series of experiments and then track the effects and learn. You would never launch a product without AB testing it. Why are you rolling out an office plan and a structure and a culture to hopefully work for people without doing that same disciplined AB testing?"

 
 

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