Hybrid work has existed long enough, and in large enough numbers, that researchers have identified why some organizations are more successful with it than others. It comes down to three things: tools, training, and team building.
Pre-pandemic, only 8% of the 60 million U.S workers whose jobs could be done remotely worked exclusively at home, while one-third worked in a hybrid fashion. Now, 39% work exclusively from home and 42% work hybridly, with most companies acknowledging that hybrid work is the future.
But the future is not without significant challenges. How do you ensure equity, inclusion, and equal opportunity? How can you maintain a strong culture, engagement, productivity, and a sense of belonging when workers are reduced to little boxes on a screen?
What makes hybrid work work better?
The Association of Talent Development (ATD), which conducted the research, defines high performers as organizations that perform as well or better than their peers in financial performance, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and five-year growth potential. They identified three attributes that hybrid leaders invest in and prioritize, but laggards do not.
Zoom and its ilk became indispensable communications tools overnight when offices closed in early 2020. But video conferencing apps only scratch the surface of the digital tools required to make hybrid work successful.
Tools that enable people to collaborate in a shared digital workspace, especially asynchronously, are key. Tools like Slack have video, audio, and automated workflow capabilities that make it easier for remote teams to work together and track projects. According to ATD, the vast majority of organizations use chat and screen sharing apps, but only 25% use knowledge management tools. That is, a system of shared files and information where all team members work on and comment on each other’s work. Only 35% use workflow management tools.
All these tools, and more, are needed to support digital-first, hybrid organizations. Project management systems like Trello, for example, are a great way for far-flung teams to manage projects and tasks, stay on schedule, and maintain visibility.
Finally, organizations need to provide training for these tools and demonstrate specifically how they make employees’ hybrid or remote work lives better. After all, there’s no point in investing in and rolling out technology if no one uses it.
As we noted last year, if the number of new management books, conferences, and executive education programs are any indication, senior leaders and team managers are going to need a whole new set of skills to excel in the hybrid model.
But 31% of organizations studied by ATD said they did not provide any management training to managers of hybrid teams. While 52% provided general management training, only 23% provided training specifically for managers of hybrid teams.
If you’re a manager, you need to understand and champion the overall value of each person’s contributions, which requires a deeper level of intentional communication. You need to ensure work gets done, but you also need to put extra care into managing issues that crop up for remote workers, like trouble communicating with colleagues, accessing information, or getting face time with more senior leaders.
This represents a sea change in the way managers manage, and is redefining effective leadership. Without proper management training, it’s easy for people to become disconnected from the organization, its goals, and their role in helping to achieve them.
Let’s face it, building teams and maintaining camaraderie in a virtual world is hard. It’s just not the same as having face-to-face interaction. That means people leaders need to be extra thoughtful about how they bring teams together.
There are dozens of virtual team building activities that managers can try, but it’s important to know your audience. A round of “never have I ever,” for example, might be fun for some people but might make more reserved colleagues uncomfortable.
And there are new guidelines for bringing teams together in person. As Ariel Hunsberger, senior manager of people leadership development at Salesforce told us recently, “It’s the best possible investment we can be making right now in helping people feel connected to their teams.”
Some tips: set clear objectives for why you are gathering; make sure offsite events stay true to your brand, as they now speak for your culture; don’t overschedule meetings; and allow for plenty of downtime.
Setting people up to work remotely was the easy part. Companies are discovering that it takes much more than ring lights and high-def cameras to thrive in the new world of working from anywhere.