The workplace is changing. As the space and location where we work is in a state of disruption, I wanted to interject a thought that is intended to challenge the perspective on the readiness of organizations to manage talent in a hybrid workplace.
Flexibility and the hybrid model are very likely here to stay. Productivity can remain high when people work from their home office and engagement has proven to remain strong. There are, however, some key strategic questions that leaders should be asking. Some examples include the following:
- Are managers and organizations truly ready to support the flexibility that the workforce is demanding?
- Do people truly prefer working from home or will they miss the interaction with others?
- Can a greater percentage of remote workers result in sustainable business outcomes?
- How will values, behaviors, and the culture of the organization be impacted?
- Are relationships, equity, and inclusivity inhibited or compromised with a dispersed workforce?
- Do our benefit and compensation strategies need to shift?
- Do companies have the agile technology infrastructure in place to support new workplace demands and the challenges they present?
There certainly are many other questions to be answered. What we did learn during the pandemic is that people can effectively work remotely, and productivity tends to be stable or even increase. The reality is that flexibility is needed and must be a foundational element of every human capital strategy moving forward. But my question is – are organizations equipped and skilled to be inclusive, collaborative, and engaging with people who are not always in the office? Are leaders ready to effectively manage their staff when they’re not in the room where it happens?
The whole idea of highly effective teams working in a hybrid environment creates unlimited opportunities. It also is a bit of a grand social experiment. How exactly it plays out will be tricky when remote workers feel left out because when not present in the room where it happens.
There is Risk with Virtual Workplace
A recent article by HowNow highlighted that it is easy for many to make the quick shift to a flexible/hybrid workplace, but there’s a level of concern expressed by several people who are still struggling to be away from the office. Their study found that nearly 20% of people believe working from home has been worse or much worse than the office for distractions, collaboration, colleague relationships, and the fear of missing out.
Many of these professionals prefer faster decision-making, more effective and efficient meetings, productive collaboration, and a reduction in the unnecessary delays and distractions we tend to see in virtual meetings. In this HowNow research, over half of respondents said “that 40% or more of the time spent on video conference calls was unproductive and wasteful. In other words, just under half of every meeting is a waste of time!”
One additional challenge we hear from our clients is they find it more difficult to track down relevant information when making or collaborating on business decisions with a dispersed workforce. The results – more siloed decision-making. This happens as people who are working independently tend to simply decide on their own with the data they have.
There are several other risks to consider as you move to a hybrid workplace.
Silos in organizations seem to be increasing as the hybrid environment continues to evolve. One of my fears when it comes to the virtual or the hybrid environment is the degradation of relationships. Many people struggle when working through conflict, disagreements, and challenging relationships with others. In environments where there are limited face-to-face interactions, those challenging situations can take longer to resolve, if ever.
Virtual interaction simply isn’t the same compared to in-person. People have to be very disciplined to avoid discounting or simply ignoring (even though unintentionally) those who are not in the room. Organizations must adapt and make certain there is a commitment to include others, regardless of where they are located. The key question centers on the skills of leaders and their staff to be intentional about including others in all decisions even if they’re not present in the room where it happens.
Creating a “Caste” Pipeline
The diversity of a talent pipeline should be a core element of any human capital strategy. Organizations spend time assessing and evaluating their emerging talent to populate succession plans and teams for special projects. Often, visibility, networks, and relationships are key to truly understanding the capability and capacity of people in the organization.
For this reason, leaders will have to be intentional so they don’t miss good talent who are not always physically present. A caste system is a class structure where access to opportunities are based on the family you are born into. Now, certainly, organizations will not be creating a caste system as part of their human capital strategy. However, I believe they need to be careful in a fully virtual or hybrid environment that they don’t create a “caste ceiling”
Think of the succession planning process that happens when we’re talking about potential candidates for roles or successors for roles. Are these processes and the leaders who assess talent skilled enough to make sure people who aren’t visibly there in person are equally considered as those who are in the room where it happens?
Compensation and promotions are being mentioned as large concerns for many remote workers. In a recent survey, BambooHR reported that remote workers estimate they lost more than $9,800, on average, in the form of delayed or denied promotions while working remotely as a result of workplace changes.
Maybe it’s not a caste ceiling so much as it may be a technology or a virtual ceiling, but organizations have to be careful not to exclude professionals in their plans whether it be career development, succession planning, key project assignments, or simply general people discussions when they’re sitting in a virtual environment. The reality is that virtual presence unfortunately doesn’t always have the same impact as in-person presence.
It’s All About Relationships
How many long-distance relationships result in a sustainable partnership? Although personal and professional relationships are different, humans truly are amazing and complex social beings. This certainly manifests differently in each person, so we must acknowledge that interacting directly with colleagues is essential to building and maintaining relationships – the foundation of trust in any team. Casual conversation among coworkers has been a casualty of remote work. Typing a message in a chat box is no replacement for sharing a quick thought with someone across the table. A virtual waiting room doesn’t allow sharing random ideas before a meeting starts. These unscripted, unfiltered exchanges take place constantly in the office, from the break room to the board room.
In the last two years, we have learned a lot more about the efficacy of synchronous and asynchronous communication and learning. Asynchronous communication can be a real benefit for a remote workforce as it optimizes individual productivity time, eliminates excess meetings, and can streamline communication via email and texts. However, there can be a downside when you’re interacting in person with teammates less frequently.
When individuals are physically separate from one another, the ability to build strong connections is limited. As casual or unplanned interactions are infrequent and random, casual conversations must now be more intentional. In addition, in the virtual environment, synchronous meetings generally require a defined agenda with limited social conversation time. Also, everyone but the current speaker is generally on mute, many go off video and most are usually multi-tasking. It becomes a transactional process versus a collaborative discussion.
This also leads to another risk, the fear of missing out.
Fear of Missing Out
In our conversations with clients, many express at least some concern about the fear of missing out on comradery with colleagues when working in a hybrid model. In a Gensler workplace survey they identified the following result:
“In tandem with personal growth, professional development thrives in the workplace. But during the pandemic, less than half of all workers — just 43 percent — have participated in mentorship and coaching. Today’s junior staff members are tomorrow’s leaders, but this group is particularly affected by the decrease in engagement with more senior colleagues. Younger generations also feel less productive at home, less connected, and less satisfied with the work-from-home experience.”
In MindEdge’s State of Remote Work-study, one-third of survey respondents say employees who work in person will do better in terms of raises and promotions than those who choose to work remotely. Perhaps significantly, members of management are somewhat more likely (39 percent) to say that remote workers will come up short in terms of raises and promotions.
These are just a few examples of how the fear of missing out on relationships, involvement in important projects, promotions, and development opportunities seems to be driving a greater desire to be back in the workplace with colleagues.
Now I certainly am not suggesting that organizations need to bring everyone back to the workplace. What I am suggesting is that the fear of missing out and being in the room where it happens is real. Organizations indeed must be agile and make certain that they’re inclusive of those who might not always be in the office, whether they’re in a hybrid model or 100% work remotely model.
The real question is are leaders of your organization equipped to handle adjustments that come with this new flexibility and are the cultural norms anchored to make sure all talent is included in decisions, projects, pipeline/succession planning, strategic planning, and everything else that benefits from multiple and diverse perspectives?
People may not be physically present, but organizations must create a space where everyone is in the room where it happens. Organizations that take the lead in this are going to be the employers of choice. They will be the companies that retain their people and build a diverse and sustainable pipeline of talent to succeed for years.
Explore talent management solutions to learn more about how LAK Group can help your organization improve its ability to attract, develop and retain a diverse talent pipeline and become an employer of choice.