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What It Takes to Build a High-Performance Hybrid Workplace

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.

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