Reimagining the Way We Work Today and Post-Pandemic

Yahoo did it. So, too, did IBM, Aetna, and even Bank of America. In what seems eons ago, the companies mentioned have canceled their remote work programs. Why? Performance. It was believed that people who can work shoulder-to-shoulder generate better ideas and are more cohesive.

Fast forward to today. COVID-19 threats are not going away and has ushered in a forced remote work arrangement. How long companies are keeping the flexible arrangement is unknown. Some are keeping employees remote until the end of the year or longer. Meanwhile, some are exploring bringing some employees back to the office.

One adaptation to the initial rollout of remote work is the hybrid virtual work model. In this model, some employees are remote, and others are going back to the office. What makes remote work different today compared to Yahoo’s program are safety and health concerns due to the virus. While fears abound, employees and their bosses are also seeing how remote work is practical. Pandora’s box is busted open, and it cannot be closed.

Adopting a hybrid work model isn’t a temporary change. It’s a transformational change that has long-lasting effects on the culture, the business, technology, and employees. If employees’ work in this era is treated as a temporary adjustment to a pandemic, companies will disrupt their culture, results, and negatively undermine employee engagement and morale.

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It is a significant effort to coordinate a transformational change during a pandemic. To help make sense of this change’s enormity, here are the essential areas for creating a successful hybrid virtual work program:

  • Keep your eye on company culture
  • Adapt your leadership
  • Adopt new rules for technology
  • Redefine productivity
  • Remember rewards and recognition matter

 

Keep Your Eye on Company Culture

The trouble with culture is its elusiveness. It can be hard to define, too.  However, in my conversations with executives who have successfully led their company to this “next normal,” culture played a pivotal part in their success. Here’s what David Ritterbush, CEO of Quest Nutrition, said.

 

Find ways to replace cultural traditions once done in person and create a virtual version of it.

Build and Deepen Trust

Most companies advocate a culture of caring. This is specifically important for those employees who are returning to the office. Build upon the trust reserves that you have created by showing employees how much you care about their safety. In whatever manner you plan to show that employee safety is paramount, continually communicate your safety measures. What’s more, be sure to listen to employees’ concerns without being defensive of your safety protocols. This is a time to listen and learn together. These times are already anxiety triggers.

Focus on Team Cohesion

The difficulties with a hybrid virtual work arrangement are the disparities: information, in-person gatherings, and access to equipment and supplies needed to do one’s job. To mitigate the impact, focus on team equity to help unify the team.

In this case, equity is about fairness and balance. Here are some examples of how equity works:

  • When hosting a team luncheon, make sure the remote team members join and order them lunch, too
  • Share breaking news in team stand-ups or weekly meetings. Information is power. By sharing information first with in-office team members, remote employees may feel less important. They will likely believe they don’t influence decisions and outcomes.
  • Focus on belonging—feeling valued, wanted, and welcomed—to uphold the value of team unity.

Culture is how things get done in your company. Culture influences—policies, traditions, values, mission, purpose—serve as guides to keeping a vigilant focus on preventing employees from feeling disenfranchised and unengaged.

 

Adapt Your Leadership

In our recent study, we asked management what their biggest challenge is when working from home. 47% of respondents said adapting their leadership style to a remote workforce.

Leading in a hybrid work model, leaders must flex new leadership skills.

Focus on Connection

Intentionally reach out to employees and inquire into how they are doing. When remote employees don’t hear from their boss, it can cause anxiety and doubt about their performance. In-office employees also need to know how they are doing.

Increase Communications

A recent McKinsey article says leading in these times requires more inspirational leadership. Share company, individual, or team wins. Bring people together in virtual meetings in an uplifting manner. If you think you’re over-communicating, you’re likely not. With a hybrid work model, you don’t want the rumor mill to be louder than factual information.

Be Vulnerable

The leader sets the tone of the team’s culture. Executives set the tone for the company culture. Hard decisions have to be made right now. These times are ambiguous. Showing compassion when communicating good or difficult news makes leaders look human and relatable.

Focus on Purpose

It is challenging to keep people focused on the why. It’s even more of a leadership challenge when the team is a hybrid one. So, incorporate discussions about the team’s purpose in meetings. Don’t overdo it, however. Initiate conversations around why the team exists and how everyone helps the company.

Model the Way

Leaders are the shadow of the company’s culture. What you do, don’t do, say, or don’t say matters to employees. Your role always includes making things clear. Gallup, a research firm, finds that their immediate boss shapes 70% of employees’ work experience. Know the impact your actions have on employees. These times are fraught with ambiguity. Do what you can to provide clarity in these confusing times.

 

Adopt New Rules For Technology

Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab (and a panelist in our upcoming virtual panel), aptly pointed out that technology can help remote employees acclimate to a virtual reality. With the right tools, teams, regardless of their location, can connect in synchronous (at the same time) and asynchronous (timing doesn’t matter) ways. This gives teams the power to communicate in ways that fit their work styles. It also helps accommodate time zone differences.

Alter how you hold meetings. When using video, require that everyone turns on their camera. However, be mindful that people are in video meetings all day. Fatigue from video meetings is a thing. It’s a good thing that the telephone still works.

Use a virtual work platform, like Bluescape, to help people work on projects in one workspace. This keeps projects on track. It reduces the need to hunt for files because a project’s content is stored securely within Bluescape.

With a hybrid work model, when you have meetings with on-site employees, be intentional to pull in remote colleagues. It’s natural to focus on those in front of you in the same room. To counter this inclination, directly ask those on video or phone for their input. You want your meetings to be inclusive.

Redefine Productivity

The beauty of working from anywhere is that it accommodates employees’ preferences for when they work. This is also a significant shift in thinking for managers who are more traditional in their leadership style.

This is the shift: focus on results, and not time. Productivity should not be defined by the amount of time spent working on a deliverable. Instead, the deliverable itself is what’s important. Naturally, quality is also essential.

In one study, remote workers indicated that they consistently work over 40 hours per week. This is 43% more than on-site workers. Therefore, concerns about remote employees being lazy or not engaged is a myth.

However, the rub here is that in a hybrid model, on-site employees are expected to be in the office from 9-5. This needs to change.

Without considering any safety protocols for when in-office employees can arrive, leaders need to adopt a different mindset. Let on-site employees come into the office at times that help them be most productive. What’s more, don’t expect these employees to be in the office five days a week. Ultimately, your goal is to establish some level of parity in expectations for both virtual and local employees.

Remember Rewards and Recognition Still Matter

In my conversation with David Ritterbush, he reinforced how important maintaining his companies practice of recognizing employees. Check out what he said in my interview with him.

 

Employees leave their company because they don’t feel valued. This is a result of dysfunctional leadership. So, be intentional about recognizing employees. And when you do recognize employees, make sure everyone is on video, even those in the same room.

A hybrid virtual work arrangement will be commonplace for at least another year. But managers and employees are learning that virtual work is effective. These leaders will leverage the lessons learned and improve upon them. Work will never be the same. It’s up to company leaders to wisely transform their companies to adapt to this “next normal.”

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About the Author

Shawn Murphy
Shawn Murphy
Director of Organizational Behavior, Bluescape
Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes is out now. Shawn's first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.

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