Around 70% of Americans are currently working from home (WFH), according to a recent PEW study. That compares with around 20% before the pandemic. So, what does the future hold? Will workers be returning to the office in their droves in 2021? Perhaps not. The same study indicated that over half would prefer to work from home all or part of the time. In another study, most respondents said being able to work from home for some of the time was the equivalent to getting a raise.
At the very least we can presume that the future is all about hybrid working, with some of us working from home and some in the office. But what does this mean for productivity? Not much apparently, with three-quarters of respondents saying they are at least as productive performing individual tasks remotely and half saying they are at least as productive at performing collaborative tasks. Hybrid working may enable leaders to have the best of all possible worlds, with more productive, happier employees. Not to mention the potential to reduce office running costs.
We got used to the WFH challenge, and we’re only now waking up to the blended challenge. So, what can leaders do to adapt to the hybrid working model?
A major point for consideration is inclusion – or rather, the potential for excluding remote colleagues. There’s the potential for favoritism, privilege and accelerated advancement for those who are visible in the office. There is a need for transparency and positive actions to ensure that remote workers don’t feel like second-class citizens. Doubling down on inclusive HR practices will help, and so will visibly shining a light on those who work remotely.
One of the main things to consider with hybrid working is equity of participation in team meetings. If those in the office are around the table, they will experience things very differently from those dialing in. A strong suggestion is to have everyone call in from their own workstation, even if it is possible for some to sit around the same table. It may seem strange and may be a less engaging experience for those in the office – but separate dial-ins make it equally strange for the whole team.
While we’re on the subject of team meetings, it might be worth considering how meeting technology plays out – thinking particularly of cameras and super-sensitive microphones. Rather than making things more remote, the technology can make micro-behaviors and micro-aggressions seem even more apparent. The saying goes: “We cannot not communicate” – and your close-up may betray some psychological leakage. You are not remote; you are under a microscope.
Many leaders are finding they have to police or monitor behaviors that may not be altogether inclusive; hard to do when you are trying to run a productive meeting. The antidote for some has been to rotate a ‘Yoda’ or sage role on the team – someone to keep an eye on the climate of the meeting, to wisely and kindly ensure that the ground rules are observed.
You might also take a tip from the world of lean and agile working and make your meetings shorter and sharper. Scrums, huddles and stand-ups were once the preserve of the shop floor but 10-15-minute morning check-ins are becoming fashionable in banks, insurance houses and regular commercial settings. Virginia Woolf spoke of the cream of the morning brain – pour that over an espresso shot morning meeting and you may be onto a winner.
Above all, it’s time to consider how best to motivate your people. Many employees feel that their career, development and progression has been on hold as organizations focused on adapting to new ways of working. Can we seriously wait any longer to get people’s progression back on the rails? A renewed focus on development for in-office and remote staff is sure to be welcome. The hybrid is here to stay and it’s time to re-engage with bench-strength and succession planning with renewed vigor.
One final thought. Let’s not pretend that there will be much choice as to whether staff are working from home or in the office. The fact is that authorities and HR departments may well be setting the pace. Choice may also not be available for some team members, depending on their personal circumstances. And lack of choice can mean a huge hit to motivation. A recent HBR article suggested that lack of choice in where we work can severely dent motivation. Bad news. The good news is that meaningful problem solving can help to overcome that dent. In fact, creative, collaborative, meaningful challenges can more than compensate for the lack of choice in working environment.