Is the hybrid workplace here to stay? A behavioral scientist named Jon Levy wrote an article in the Boston Globe (gated access) that essentially said, “Nah, I don’t think so.” And the internet blew up. (As it does.) Whether he’s correctly called it or not remains to be seen. For now, leadership in the hybrid workplace definitely is a thing and here are my hot takes for your consideration.
The Hybrid Workplace Is a Thing – But Mostly for Knowledge Workers
For those of you who lead the estimated 70% of people who leadership development industry analyst Josh Bersin describes as “deskless workers” (those whose job requires them to be resident to perform their job), this may seem like “much ado about nothing.” But even managers who lead these types of teams will have remote work issues to address, such as dialing in for team meetings when some of the team is resident and others are on-site.
Upshot: This trend will affect you as a leader, no matter your team configuration, so it’s a good idea to get up to speed on it.
Concerns about Lack of Equity
Zillow’s CEO Rich Barton says the company supports the hybrid work model, yet he recognizes a potential downside: inequity. Like many senior managers, he faces concerns that hybrid workplaces will create a “two class system” in which employees who work onsite receive more attention, better job assignments and other perks. This is a valid concern, and one that leadership can address with a bit of forethought. Both employees and leaders have pushed back on the notion of the inevitability of an “us versus them” between remote work and onsite team members. For decades, organizations who’ve operated globally have had to find ways to foster teamwork with employees—some of whom worked down the hall and others living halfway across the world.
Upshot: while this could become an issue (and sadly, probably will for some companies), it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Leaders can get ahead of this one with proactive measures to include employees who aren’t onsite.
Cognitive Biases are Preventing Leadership from Seeing the Opportunity
Many leaders I talk with see the emergence from the pandemic as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to dramatically rethink the way work gets done. However, many of them are feeling discouraged by their senior management’s inability to break through some well-established thought patterns. For example, Dr. David Rock, founder of the Neuroleadership Institute described three myths that many organizational leaders are clinging to that impede a successful transition to hybrid work. Among them: “employees are less productive outside the office.” Rock’s organization has found that the reverse is actually true: there is a 20% improvement in productivity when employees are given the choice to work from home at least a few days a week.
Upshot: leaders should examine their thinking and ask themselves: how might the way I think about the hybrid work configuration be prohibiting us from capitalizing on a potentially valuable work configuration?
Leadership in the Hybrid Workplace – Implications for Recruiting and Retention
So let’s say that you’re still not convinced that the hybrid workplace is right for your organization. Consider this: according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Report, you might not really have an option if you want to attract the best talent. The Report indicates that 46% of office workers say they plan to move because they can now work anywhere. And, LinkedIn is reporting that at least eight industry sectors have increased their remote job openings listings up to 10X since May 2020. As Liane Hornsey, Chief People Officer at Palo Alto Networks observed during her comments as a guest speaker for the Neuroleadership Institute’s webinar on the hybrid workplace, the discussion needs to go beyond just hard dollars. “Really think about the cost of lost talent,” she cautioned. “What is the opportunity cost [to the company] if you can’t fill open positions because job applicants want to work in a hybrid environment?”
Upshot: It’s a job seekers market right now. Companies with leadership that can adapt to the hybrid work model have an edge in recruiting and retention.
So those are my hot takes on leadership in the hybrid workplace. Leave me a comment – how are you adapting your leadership to respond to this trend?
We are definitely looking at a Hybrid Workplace Model with one of the biggest concerns being exactly what you mentioned; The bias that remote workers could potentially be subjected to and the mindsets of leaders managing hybrid/distributed teams.
Nick Hester says
Hi Jennifer, great article thank you. The hybrid workplace ‘problem’ has to certain degree always existed, and we can draw many lesson from history. Many organizations have operated command a control structures where there are office based staff and field workers essentially managing and operating the same processes with the same objectives. The leadership challenges remain the same, how best to create a shared view of the problems and manage employees who have chosen to work in different environments who have different preferences, skills and knowledge.
Milton Campbell says
The hybrid workplace is very prevalent nowadays and causes a lot of different challenges. Great article.