After two long years of being immersed in digital environments, we are finally in a position to go back to the office. The excitement of a reunion with our colleagues at work, who we had only seen on Zoom or Teams screens, reveals a powerful reality: the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the beliefs and expectations of what work should be and, as a consequence, most employees expect greater flexibility in where and when they carry out their tasks, that is, a combination of face-to-face and remote work – or a hybrid work plan.
This revelation about the new work reality confirms that, at least in the short term, hybrid work arrangements are going to be the norm for many organizations. In their fifth annual report on the state of remote work, published in late 2021, Owl Labs and Global Workplace Analytics indicated that 75% of employees prefer a remote or hybrid workplace after the pandemic. The data also reveals that 82% of U.S. workers believe that hybrid or remote work improves their mental health. Other studies point to similar conclusions: hybrid is the future of work. This year's topic will no longer be adapting to remote work, but rather to hybrid work, and defining what this means for teams.
Although many companies and employees are enthusiastic about hybrid work, numerous organizations are still reluctant to implement it. To explain this resistance, organizational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic puts forward four main reasons why some leaders reject the hybrid approach: first, the natural resistance to change; second, leaders’ lack of trust in their collaborators and employees; third, many leaders find it difficult to clearly measure collaborator and employee performance; and, fourth, hybrid work increases complexity, and complexity is a pain.
In my opinion, to overcome this resistance and lead a hybrid work team effectively, leaders must follow three steps that will allow them to create an environment that works for everyone:
1. Set clear policies and objectives
Ambiguity is a common problem with hybrid teams. Every team member must understand his or her role and responsibilities to avoid confusion and disorientation. The foundation of team collaboration is clarity. Firms that lack this element will find that their employees are stressed or anxious, fertile ground for potential conflict.
2. Create interpersonal time with the team
I recommend scheduling regular group video conferences where the team can discuss work-related tasks, but also holding virtual coffee breaks, an initiative that can encourage non-work-related conversations. Furthermore, it is very important to avoid dealing with conflict between team members through text messages; these cases should be managed through calls or video calls.
3. Acknowledge that each team member has a unique hybrid work plan
Everyone is different and, therefore, each member of the team has different abilities, skills and, above all, different needs. There is no single approach that works for everyone, so we should not make the mistake of creating a one-size-fits-all scheme. Your job as a leader is to identify each person's strengths and then identify the challenges they are likely to face.
The takeaway from these two years of living and working is that leaders can be more flexible, meeting every day in the office is not a requirement to be productive, while we still value the experience of being together physically, and, as leaders, we have a huge responsibility to build hybrid work environments that promote productivity and harmony.
The author is Director of the Strategy and Leadership Department at EGADE Business School.
Article originally published in Revista NEO.