Many CEOs still see hybrid working as a problem that they may be able to fix. They get great joy from other firms mandating staff to the office and use it as justification themselves. The recent news that “even” Zoom was mandating employees to come back was certainly greeted with too much glee. While we have yet to get our heads fully around hybrid working, lets be clear it is here to stay. I never see a situation where on average we have more than 20% of the workforce in on a Friday anymore. Therefore, here are some thoughts for leadership teams to hopefully help them lean into the new world of work.
Performance Management: People may not be working when you cannot see them, but we also know that employees have been pretending to work for years when you can see them. It’s not about presenteeism it’s about management by objectives. Let people work where they want but hold them accountable to their actions, their targets, and their deadlines. In many ways when you cannot be seen working it means excuses lessen and you must deliver. Build a strong performance management culture and when you have employees hitting or exceeding expectations, you won’t worry about where they work. Trust is one of the most powerful employee benefits today so ensure you demonstrate this to your employees.
The office set up and design: Examine your office and see how it is being used now that we are all working in a new way. Have you just set up a few more meeting rooms and video calling stations, or have you reconfigured the office? Look at behaviours when people are in the office. Are people essentially operating as they would if they were at home or are they working a different type of day, meeting people, perhaps going to lunch with colleagues? Understand the important activities that can only be done in person but ensure the office culture is set up for this to happen.
Stop looking at things from your perspective: Are you a single parent, do you have a child with who needs extra support, are you caring for an elder, do you live over an hour from the office because of rental prices? All these examples may be reasons why hybrid working is so valuable for them. Looking at things from your perspective or starting sentences like “in my day I never had to…” is not helpful. Inclusion and diversity are about seeing things from other people’s perspective, the best way for you to do this is for the leadership team to work from home sometimes and embrace the new technologies on offer. This can be uncomfortable as you may be a novice compared to the new intern, but you need to start seeing how this world works. Many companies are now trialling closing the office on the odd Friday so nobody can come in so that everyone must be at home. An added benefit is that you also save on lighting and energy which will become a more an important consideration in the future.
Start again with video meetings: Video calls are terrible in most organisations, I hear constantly about people arriving late, no agenda, half the participants actively working on something else in clear view of everyone. How meetings work is vital. Most of the standard meeting rules get broken meaning that your meetings become a huge waste of time energy and motivation. It is the leadership team that needs to take this on. There are many examples of companies doing this right, but they are in the minority. This is before we even address the volume of meetings or the dreaded hybrid meeting and what a horror show that can be without due thought and preparation.
Mandatory in workdays: Have mandatory “all in” days which are flagged well in advance and have a real purpose for connection and relationship building. Perhaps even shut down Slack, email etc while you are all there together! It is getting harder and harder for people to disconnect, and they may need help in that regard. Spend time and energy devising these days, otherwise they may end up being a “town hall” meeting with everyone listening to one or two leaders and not feeling an active part of the day.
Embrace the new technology to support you: The work expert Nick Bloom highlighted that venture capitalists, startups and technology firms are racing to build the next hybrid-working app. An indicator of this is filings with America’s patent office, the share of new filings mentioning words such as “work from home” or “remote work” spiked after the world went into covid-induced lockdown and is still at double the pre-pandemic level. While the technology is not yet perfect, it is continuing to evolve. Therefore, have small teams’ pilot some of this new technology coming on to the market.
The global talent marketplace: Organisations are appreciating that while there is a greater ability to hire from anywhere you still need structures in place to build a consistent mission and vision for all. It is hard to do. Hiring community managers, heads of remote work to manage freelancers, gig workers will help with motivation and retention. Many struggle with the meaning and purpose of their job as they are being used for tasks but rarely see the big picture. This may work for efficiency, but it is not effective in the long term as employees want to know that what they do has a meaning for the organisation.
Help employees understand the benefits of in-person work: We all like the status quo and after covid getting people back in the office was noticeably difficult. However, the way to do it should not be mandated but it should still be explained to employees. Clearly senior employees need to show younger employees the ropes and they benefit from shadowing more senior employees. Younger employees may not yet understand the key role of work relationships to help ‘grease the wheels’ and to help them navigate an organisation better. While few find networking easy, it can pay huge career benefits but often in the long term and certainly not overnight. Employees need to understand some of the key reasons why being in the office some of the time is of benefit to them and not just the employer.
Lean in to the hybrid working positives: Working from home has reduced global commuting by a staggering 80 billion kilometres a year from the pre-pandemic level. Have you worked out how much commuting time has disappeared in your organisations? Society is gaining by allowing parents to spend more time at home, easing the burdens of childcare, and being more involved in raising our next generation. Employers should shout this from the rooftops and be positive about these things. Employees can commute less, be with their family more and want to work hard and do a great job. Some would say it’s a reason why they will do a better job!
Peter Cosgrove is Managing Director of Futurewise and advises companies on how to navigate the new world of work.