Many people in the United States and around the globe have had to adjust to an entirely new way of doing business while working from home. Those who are not working remotely due to a variety of factors, have had to deal with the changing world around them. Some have even considered changing jobs or industries to benefit from the hybrid work options available to others.
Challenges of Hybrid Work
Let’s recognize that people are experiencing different challenges depending on their specific role, seniority, organizational culture and personal life situation to name a few. So all challenges are not created equal. Likewise, employers are facing different issues based on the nature of their products and services, the profile of their workforce, the makeup of their customer base, their industry and geographic location, as well as exposure to other issues such as raw materials shortages and logistics, among a host of others.
In this environment, one size certainly does not fit all. Each organization needs to stand back and assess the essential elements that are critical to their success, and evaluate how hybrid work will or is already affecting them. To help with the unique assessment that each organization needs to perform, we offer a general framework that we refer to as the 3 Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Culture. In this piece we’ll discuss each of the 3 Cs and offer a sampling of ideas that may be helpful in each case.
Since an organization is defined as “an organized body of people with a particular purpose, especially a business, society, association, etc.” (Oxford dictionary), it follows that communication is an essential element of any successful organization. While we have all gotten used to technology tools and alternate means of communication, the jury is still out with regards to their effectiveness and unintended consequences that may emerge over time. Here is a partial list of potential issues with communication in a hybrid workplace that various team members may be experiencing:
- Availability of reliable internet services and technology tools
- Comfort level with using technology tools
- Air time inequity for remote participants vs those physically present in hybrid meetings
- Differences in oral communication skills
- Missing cues from body language in virtual meetings
- Lack of opportunities for “water cooler” and impromptu or spontaneous conversations
Most of the challenges above can be addressed by ensuring that managers are paying attention to team communications and reaching out to individual team members to identify and provide solutions to help resolve specific issues. More generally, all managers should be expected to have information sharing routines established, so that important information is communicated to everyone at regular intervals, and especially after key meetings, milestones or events.
Communication challenges are especially important in global and multinational organizations where differences in cultural norms and language barriers can further complicate matters. In these situations, special care is needed to explore specific needs of different groups and accommodate them via tools such as providing subtitles in different languages to facilitate communication across the organization.
A key issue that is starting to emerge occurs when some of the team members have the benefit of working together in a physical space, while others are mostly remote. There are two sides of the coin to watch out for in this regard.
The first issue can emerge where those who are mostly working remotely are inadvertently left out of team discussions, key assignments and even promotion opportunities. A second important and opposite effect can occur when those who are working in person feel over-managed and burdened with too much oversight, and may also feel that they are missing out on the benefits of working from home and enjoying better work-life balance.
In both these cases, organizations need to review and update their career development processes and employee benefits to ensure they are equitable and appropriate for the new normal. Specifically, managers need to assess their approach to assignments, mentoring, performance management and succession planning, as well as their flexible work hours, parental leave and family care policies.
Effective collaboration becomes even more important in workplaces where group problem solving and innovation are critical to the organization’s success. In these cases, periodic in-person get-togethers of the whole team needs to be considered to provide the necessary boost in the collaborative energy that can lead to significant spikes in creativity and breakthrough ideas. New hybrid-first design principles also need to be considered in facility designs to enable and promote a culture of belonging and team spirit when teams do come into the office on a part-time or full-time basis.
While culture has always been important, hybrid work and changing employee expectations and priorities, coupled with the influx of new team members who may have never met face to face have made it significantly harder to sustain a great workplace culture, let alone to build one from scratch. Meanwhile, over 80% of all candidates place culture in their top 3 priorities when evaluating new employers.
One of the key recommendations we always make is to start by getting a holistic sense of the organization’s culture by conducting culture-focused surveys, group listening sessions, and one-on-one interviews with employees who are representative of the workforce profile, especially those from underrepresented communities. An example of the culture-focused questions you can consider in these conversations is to ask if an employee feels safe to report a mistake and how they feel a mistake would be addressed by leadership. Once the gaps and opportunities in the workplace culture are identified, leaders need to engage the team in developing solutions that will help with improving the culture. To ensure high engagement and willingness to offer real insights, there is a certain level of psychological safety that is required. Providing anonymity and using technology to give access for employees anywhere to engage in the conversation can go a long way towards developing a set of actions to begin and/or maintain a culture of inclusion and belonging.
We realize this piece only scratches the surface on this important topic, which is only now emerging and will continue to evolve. Please let us know if you’d like to share your challenges with hybrid work and discuss solutions that may work for you. We look forward to hearing from you at DEIintheWorkplace@ouroffice.io.
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