Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member, bestselling author and managing partner of Workplace IntelligenceDan Schawbel. An extended version of this article appeared in Dan’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe now to get the full article delivered straight to your inbox.

I recently interviewed my good friend Robert Glazer, founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners and the #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of four books, including his latest, How To Thrive In The Virtual WorkplaceHe is also the author of Friday Forward, a weekly inspirational newsletter that reaches over 300,000 people worldwide each week, host of the Elevate Podcast, and a top-rated keynote speaker.

In our discussion, we spoke about what the future holds for the hybrid work model, how to address fairness issues in the hybrid workplace, and what companies and employees can do to drive a high-performance hybrid work culture.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation:

Dan Schawbel: Much of your work and thought leadership revolves around the idea that face time and in-person interactions aren’t necessary for employee productivity and a great company culture. And your own company is entirely remote and has been for many years. But despite the widespread success of remote work over the past year, many organizations have announced they’ll adopt a hybrid model after the pandemic.

Why do you think companies are hesitant to continue with a fully remote model, and what are your predictions for the long-term success of the hybrid approach? How can businesses ensure that they’re set up for a positive outcome, whether it’s in a remote or hybrid capacity?

Robert Glazer: This is a nuanced issue because there isn’t one universal reason why companies are resistant to being fully remote, nor is being fully remote the right solution for every company. In some cases, a company has office space commitments and doesn’t want to have offices sitting unused — this is likely why many massive New York companies like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are leading the charge back to the office. Also, let’s remember, there are a lot of companies that have roles that really can’t be done remotely, for example, in manufacturing, retail, etc.

But in some cases, managers and leaders haven’t made the adjustment to managing outcomes. They still view productively through the lens of inputs and tracking. What these managers and leaders need to recognize is they are better off setting certain outcomes employees are expected to hit, and then measuring performance relative to those outcomes. If you have an employee who hits all the metrics you need them to hit to keep the business running effectively, then it shouldn’t matter how they spend their day. Managing to outcomes is always better than leaning on face time.

With that said, many employees do want opportunities to connect in person and there are certain aspects of work that really do work better face to face, including sales, training, and certain meetings.

At the end of the day, however, especially for knowledge workers, hybrid and remote work is here to stay. Employees are more likely to demand remote work opportunities going forward, and companies will need to adjust to meet that demand. As Mark Cuban likes to say, supply and demand are undefeated.

DS: Let’s talk about one of the main issues that could arise in the hybrid model: the fair treatment of remote versus office workers. We have to acknowledge that it’s human nature to trust and like people more if you spend time with them in person. But in the hybrid workplace, some employees may choose to work in the office more often than others — and that may mean they get more face time with senior leaders, which could make it more likely they’ll be considered for promotions or leadership roles. How can companies manage this so that people who prefer to work in the office aren’t getting ahead in their careers while those who prefer to work remotely get left behind?

RG: There are two key components to this. First, companies that adopt a hybrid model cannot use that approach to avoid setting a clear workplace strategy. Hybrid needs to be a strategy in itself, not the absence of one. A key part of this is setting clear norms and expectations for your company’s definition of hybrid. Few things are more stressful for an employee in a hybrid organization than getting pulled into the office at the last minute. Employees should know how many days a week they are expected to be in the office and what special meetings or projects will require in-person work.

The second piece is to create a level playing field for in-person and remote employees. You don’t want to create an environment where remote employees are passed over for promotions, recognition, and work opportunities. If there is a working group or cross-functional project that requires employees to volunteer, be sure that those opportunities are announced to remote employees — and perhaps even make a point of recruiting both remote and in-person people for those projects.

In a similar vein, if you’re holding a meeting between remote and in-person staff, consider having everyone join from their desks via their personal computers, rather than having remote employees awkwardly joining a video call with their colleagues in a conference room. It’s much easier to include everyone when you have everyone on a level playing field.

Picking a clear strategy makes it easier to design a system that ensures a level playing field for everyone.

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member, Natalie Bickford. 

As the world is preparing for life post pandemic, organizations are preparing for the return to the workplace. While some are advocating for a wholesale return to five days in the office, and others are moving to fully remote flexibility, the majority are aiming for some form of hybrid working model. On average, companies are outlining policies requiring employees to be in their normal place of work two to three days per week, with the remainder of the time at a location of the employee's choice.

Eighteen months ago, we would have been heralding this as a major breakthrough in moving to an agile working environment, with a particular advantage being seen through the diversity lens of benefiting (in particular) women with caring responsibilities. And indeed, there is a lot to be said for allowing knowledge workers to have more control over where they spend their time. 

What we also knew, however, and what has arguably become even more visible during the Covid-19 crisis, is that women take on the significant majority of family and household responsibilities. While there has been much progress in the equality of women in the workplace, this is not necessarily the case at home. I personally saw this in 2020, where a disproportionate number of women in my previous workplace opted to be furloughed because of the pressures of home schooling, whereas their male colleagues continued to work full time, albeit remotely. 

As employees prepare to return, there is arguably a significant risk that men and women's attendance at the physical workplace will be unbalanced, with many more women choosing to work remotely than their male counterparts.  Why should we care about that? Hasn't lack of flexible work arrangements for women at certain points of their careers been seen as the greatest barrier to female progression? 

My supposition is that by working more remotely than men, women will fall behind on promotion opportunities, and if anything, the pay gap will start to widen further. While it is certain that some attitudes towards physical presence will have started to evolve as a result of the last 18 months, even Covid-19 will not have been able to over-turn some 70 years of embedded work culture. 

Being physically present, observing long hours, working the water cooler politics, and being available for a quick coffee or a drink after work, have long been the underpinnings of career progression. Being there gets you noticed, and however diligent your output is from home, dependability and conscientiousness allow you to keep your job, rather than necessarily creating opportunities for promotion. 

So what can we do to reduce the potential risk around growing gender inequality in the workplace? The first place to look is at home. Dual career families should take this opportunity to reset the division of labor. Arguably for the first time, men and women will have the same opportunity to work flexibly, and now would be a good moment to divvy up caring and home responsibilities in a more balanced way. 

Business leaders and managers also have a key role to play. Company policy is one thing, but company culture is quite another. If male and female leaders role-model modern agile working practices, then managers and team leaders will follow suit. If they work away from the office for a couple of days per week, and speak of the positive benefits, then it will become an accepted norm, thus encouraging more male employees to take the same opportunity. 

If we can get this new work agility right, and at the same time rebalance the caring responsibilities for the family, then we might just be able to super-charge our progress in workplace gender equality. If we get it wrong, we might just set ourselves back another 20 years. 

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member and HR Bartender Sharlyn Lauby. 

As we're hearing more about vaccines, it's only natural to talk about people gathering together. Of course, that leads to a conversation about employees coming back to the office or similar workplace.

It reminded me of an article published on Business Insider a couple of months ago about how ”œZillow is adopting a hybrid model of work, but its CEO says it's trying to prevent one major downside: a two-class system where those who come into the office are viewed as better employees. It's true that hybrid workplaces could perpetuate inequities. However, organizations have the ability to create hybrid workplaces that don't. It will take a lot of hard work and resources to do it successfully.

Many organizations entered the pandemic with a small number of remote workers. The reasons those workers were remote varied greatly. For some, it could be related to parental or caregiving responsibilities. Or maybe it was a high-performing employee who relocated, and the company didn't want to lose them. Possibly both. It would be interesting to know how many employees (prior to the pandemic) were told that working remotely would severely limit their career opportunities. My guess is there weren't that many ”“ if any at all.

In many cases, remote employees were told that they could work away from the office as long as their productivity didn't suffer, and they would be available to come into the office as needed. While there was a bit of a learning curve, managers were able to manage one or two remote employees without too much difficulty.

The challenge with the hybrid model is that it means large-scale change. It's a new way of thinking about the workplace. There are three areas that organizations need to address:

Creating a hybrid workplace is a big job. Think of it as creating an employee experience strategy. Or changing company culture. But it can be done. And it can be done well. The organizations that make the commitment to creating equitable hybrid workplaces will be the ones that are able to attract, engage, and retain the best talent. Because those organizations will have figured out how to maintain company culture with a hybrid workplace.

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