Recent news that the impact of the omicron variant forced 44% of surveyed companies to again change their back-to-office plans was a reminder about the mercurial nature of the Covid pandemic, and the importance of having plans in place to respond to new developments in the two-year old crisis.
For many organizations, those plans include remote and hybrid work arrangements for employees.
The Washington Post reported on January 15 that, “Corporate leaders attempting to coax employees back to the office have largely accepted the inevitability of the hybrid work model — a strategy buttressed by the reality of raging coronavirus rates, a tight labor market and the nation’s more than 10 million job openings.
The newspaper observed that, “….the downside of remote work—particularly the deleterious effects on mentorship and person-to-person interactions that shape company culture—still trouble corporate leaders. More than a third of the executives polled in Deloitte’s 2021 Return to Workplaces survey said the biggest concern about hybrid or remote work was preserving company culture. Maintaining performance and collaboration also were top concerns.”
Business leaders and managers need to use different strategies, tactics and skills to help ensure the success of hybrid and remote working arrangements at their companies and organizations.
The First Question
“Start with the question: what do people need locally? How can we help them stay connected? When we first began working virtually, I surveyed my team about their needs and came up with five different options for flexible schedules. It was important that we encompass everything from childcare to elder care to self-care. “
“We also recognized the needs of singles who might be feeling particularly isolated while working remotely. So we organized virtual group lunches and happy hours and regular check-ins with leaders and teammates. Once we fully transition to a hybrid work environment, we will be even more strategic about catering to people’s needs because we’re in it for the long haul.”
She said, “We learned that we can be just as productive and innovative in a virtual environment—and that it’s all about people—your customers and employees have to come first.
Adjust As Needed
“We’re in a period of constant change and must adjust as needed. For example, my team declared one day a week we’d have ‘no video’ calls to combat Zoom fatigue. Our Tech organization also introduced Invest in Yourself Days once a month so associates could take time to recharge and innovate.”
“We also learned that leadership matters and preparation is key. Capital One’s 9-year tech transformation journey—hat began long before the pandemic—allowed us to be nimble, modern and flexible when we quickly shifted to working virtually and that’s what enabled us to succeed.
“We also had a lot of dialogue and cross-industry conversations with our peers, colleagues and competitors to learn from each other.”
Test And Evolve
Jules-Perez said Capital One, “…. will continue to test out practices and technologies that support hybrid and remote work and seek out input from our associates and customers to enable us to iterate on culture. It’s essential to look at what’s working well and what we need to adjust to inform the best path forward for the future.
“It’s important to continue to test the hybrid model and when in doubt, evolve. Don’t try to solve everything at once.”
She outlined several best practices for ensuring the success of hybrid and remote working arrangements at companies and organizations.
Put People First
She said that, “Building work systems and technology with a ‘people-first approach’ is more important now than ever. Hybrid work isn’t where you work, it’s how you work. We need to remain flexible. We can’t just ‘set it and forget it.’
Focus On The Experience
“It’s important to build the same experience for virtual workers as those in the office, especially when it comes to belonging and collaboration. In other words, companies need to offer an experience where everyone is on a fair playing field.”
“Companies should focus on getting the right data and reporting in place to have a clear sense of what changes are needed and how they are working.”
Be Open To Feedback
She said it is important for tech, HR and other corporate leaders, “… to be open to employee feedback regarding personal and individual needs, new methodologies on how to work (including flexible schedules, team norms, etc.) as well as applying new productivity technologies like collaboration tools in the new hybrid workspace.”
Take Advantage Of Technology
“Consider how technology can help support social distancing and safety measures in the physical workspace. Since applying new tools and tech will require change management, it is important to approach implementing new solutions in a more open and collaborative manner.”
“In any group of people, 5% are early adopters. We want to allow those people to opt in and let them give feedback, experiment and adjust before rolling something out more broadly.”
Advice For Business Leaders
Remote work arrangements require a different set of management skills.
Johanna Lyman is the principal consultant and practice leaders for culture and inclusion at Kadabra, an interdisciplinary team of leadership and culture experts. She told me in September that, “With in-person work, managers tend to rely more on ‘sticks’ than ‘carrots.’
“To effectively lead a remote or hybrid team, you have to understand the intrinsic motivations your employees have for getting their job done. They also need to think about implementing continuous feedback loops vs. annual reviews so there’s not an “out of sight, out of mind” for those who remain remote,” Lyman said.
Monitor—But Don’t Micromanage
Gilles Bertaux, co-founder and CEO of Livestorm, a video engagement platform He said that, “The hybrid work situation is a new way of working for the vast majority of companies. Monitoring from a distance and virtually is the new normal post-pandemic.
“But there is a fine line between monitoring and micromanaging. Monitoring should come from managers by coaching their team, be present to answer questions and show support. Many tools are available now to work the asynchronous way: Slack, webinars, recorded meetings, ASANA, Lattice.
“[F]find the right balance between monitoring and…giving enough space to the team to feel valued and empowered,” he concluded.