Updated: Jul 17
Do you want to return to the office, do you want to continue to work remotely? Or do you want to be hybrid and do a little of both? Which side are you on?
Wait, is this about what you want or what your employer wants?
Oh no, maybe this is not about ‘wants’ at all, but instead it should be about ‘needs,’ but whose are more important? How do we figure this out and get it right?
First, pause, and take a few deep breaths.
Let’s start with taking a moment to be grateful for those who didn’t have a choice, but who had to get up everyday and go to work in places like hospitals, stores, and fire stations. These folks had to stand in the face of danger, often, armed only with a flimsy mask. And they did this so the rest of us could stay at home where we were much safer. A huge Thanks! to the front-line workers.
The pandemic has proven that many people can work virtually, something many of us suspected but it wasn’t “proven” until this pandemic. So, the fallacy of “you must do your work in the office” has fallen in a rather hard and fast way. Or has it?
Managers often ‘label’ workers in the office as higher performers and give them bigger raises and promotions. Those same office workers may also be given the choice of cherry picking the best assignments and development projects. If this behavior is allowed to persist, then certainly in-office workers will have the upper hand, while remote and hybrid will be forced to play second fiddle. It certainly does not have to be this way. There seems to be a lingering lack of trust among managers that people will focus on getting their work done if allowed to work somewhere other than the office.
In fact, the data tells a different story. In a survey done by Gartner, that included in-office, hybrid, and remote workers, they looked at the percentage of employees that were “highly engaged” as shown below:
Clearly from this data, the hybrid model is preferred. Now, some of you are thinking, “but what does ‘highly engaged’ mean in terms of productivity? I need a team that gets their work done!”
I discovered some interesting statistics that relate engagement to productivity based on data from Bain & Company. They examined how much more productive employees were depending on their engagement level. The results are astounding, a 45% productivity improvement between a satisfied and engaged employee. And an incredible 55% productivity improvement between an engaged and an inspired employee. An inspired employee has a profound personal connection to their work and/or their company.
This data indicates an extremely high correlation between engagement and productivity. So, the more engaged, the more productive.
Maybe the question we should be asking is:
Who Should Decide?
Many CEO’s have made their positions clear. Goldman Sach’s CEO called working from home an “aberration” while Microsoft has clearly endorsed remote work. But should CEOs even be deciding? Top-down approaches are usually less successful than collaborative efforts. The top brass might want to set up the guidelines, but the day-to-day decisions should be pushed down as far as possible. Particularly in collaborative work environments the team themselves may be in the best position to figure out their own work and collaboration schedules. In fact, a given team might have members who are hybrid, in office, and remote, all on the same team. They may choose core hours when everyone agrees to be available for collaboration and discussion. This creates a hybrid system that works for everyone and has the needed collaboration time built in to encourage innovation and build relationships.
One of the conclusions from Harvard Business School Professor Raj Choudhary, is:
“Never seeing teammates creates really bad outcomes”
I think we can all completely understand that statement. I’ve spent my career in Tech and rarely is it the ‘technology’ that brings a company down. Most issues start with poor communication and then snowball downhill from there.
Since we know communication is a persistent problem, we should also take some pro-active steps that drive us to be mindful about how we communicate in these new environments. George Bernard Shaw was not kidding when he said:
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Protocols to Modify
Some companies have gone as far as creating meeting rooms where the individual’s video is displayed ‘life size’ in the office meeting room, but most companies do not need to go that far. However, when people are remote you do need to remember to dial into the virtual meeting and send out the meeting agenda, so people know why they are needed.
Teams should consider agreeing up front on how you ought to handle remote and hybrid participants so they feel included, especially when a hallway chat turns into a discussion and perhaps, they should be included. You’ve got to be able to hold onto the “let’s just walk down to her office and see what she thinks!” And prevent people from tripping over, “Oh, he’s working from home today. Let’s not talk to him right now, we’ll catch him up with him later.” We all know our follow-through on these thoughts is suboptimal. And often these are exactly the discussions where something they know could be of great value in terms of the direction of the conversation.
The conversation with the team needs to extend beyond just getting tasks completed. How will the team offer feedback to each other so they can learn and grow from each other? These are more difficult conversations to have and remote participants may make it even more so. And by the way, how is performance being evaluated in this environment? What about promotions? Developmental assignments need to be distributed amongst team members as well. These are important areas that managers and employees need to discuss.
Your on-boarding process may be the most important one to get right. One of the trends that is now showing up in the data is the highest “quit rates” are occurring for people who were hired during the pandemic. I have spoken to numerous people that were hired ‘remotely’ and this appears to be a weak link at many companies. Take a look at it from new employees’ perspective. How will they learn to do the job? Or even figure out who might be the right resource for this? How will they get to know other people? Perhaps beyond their job responsibilities. What about a buddy who does introductions and sets up discussions during the first few months? New employees need to understand so many things that are learned by osmosis in the office environment. Now we need to make these more visible so people can fully engage. This will take some effort, but it will also have a fantastic ROI for new employees.
There are three categories of people who you should still be watching over:
Women, Minorities, and Millennials
Women have been leaving the workforce in droves during the pandemic. I discuss the reasons in a previous article: The Shesession – The Trouble with Women. These factors are all still there for women. I expect to see many more women quit, to take better jobs, start their own business, I expect to see a lot of career pivots in the next few years. The pandemic has really made people take stock and many have adjusted their life priorities. It will take some time for these people to realign their lives around these new priorities, so expect to see more changes.
Minorities have been hit worse by the pandemic than women. This was mostly because the hardest hit industries included high proportions of minorities. Companies should put priority on minority hiring and programs that allow people flexibility while returning to work. Keep in mind that unwinding the knot of childcare, eldercare, shifting schedules, school, and transportation needs can take some time for families and will probably not happen without a few hiccups.
Millennials are quitting at higher rates than any other demographic as indicated in: I Quit – The Great Resignation. This generation is rejecting the current construction of work. They want more meaning, purpose, and agency in their lives. And they are going to keep moving till they find what they want. The data from this generation has been clear and consistent. They are … on the move!
 Feintzeig, Rachel. “The Uneven Odds for Promotions with Hybrid Work”, Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2021.  Garton, Eric; and Mankins, Michael; “The Pandemic is Widening a Corporate Productivity Gap,” Harvard Business Review, December 1, 2020.  Rosenbaum, Eric. “Biggest risks in return to offices: Harvard remote work guru,” CNBC, April 19, 2021.