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Finding Balance in a New Hybrid Reality

Dec 12, 2022

From our Content Contributor, ISS

By Morten Fisker, Chief Consultant, SIGNAL ISS

Remote work is here to stay 

Today’s employees cite reduced commutes, increased flexibility and improvement in work-life balance as the top advantages of working from home. Most prefer to continue working remote even after the pandemic ends. According to recent surveys from international consulting companies such as Deloitte, Gensler, Leesmann and SIGNAL ISS, which is this author’s workplace, employees would like an average of 2.5 remote workdays per week if they could decide themselves.

However, there are some reported disadvantages related to remote work, which need attention. Results from SIGNAL’s recent surveys consistently demonstrate that activities such as learning from colleagues, spontaneous meetings and receiving relevant feedback from colleagues are, according to the employees themselves, more difficult from a distance.

Figure text: SIGNAL survey from May 2022 with responses from sample size of approximately 100 employees in a Danish company.

SIGNAL calculated the extent that remote work affects the probability of meeting close colleagues, and these results are surprisingly dramatic. For example, if employees work in a team or department where they work from home on average two days a week, the probability of meeting half of their closest colleagues when they come to the office will be less than 20 percent. 

Hybrid work arrangements show some negative implications for professional communities of practice 
The hybrid model can strongly challenge workplace professional communities of practice, where it is sometimes left to each individual employee whether they come into the office, or work from home. 

According to the Danish professor Knud Illeris, a leading expert in lifelong learning, communities of practice are characterized as the connection between the following three dimensions: 

– A common task – which binds the members together around a common understanding of what the task consists of and what the purpose of their community of practice is. 

– A mutual commitment – ​​which expresses the members’ establishment of common norms and values ​​for how one is and becomes part of the community of practice. 

– A shared repertoire – which is the collection of norms, values, concepts, narratives, discourses, methods, processes, etc. that the members have developed jointly over time. 

A balance of opposing considerations

If an organization wants to support collaboration, knowledge sharing and learning in  professional communities of practice, and it finds it difficult from a distance, it is clear to choose a solution where teams have coordinated team days in the office. Just as in connection with the organization of workplace’s seating solutions, it is important to support co-location of professional communities of practice through, for example, designated home bases.

How do clients balance utilization of free space capacity that arises when employees work more from home, while at the same time offer the workplace availability to all attendees that have coordinated attendance to meet in person on a given day? The obvious solution is to organize in fixed roles, which considerably reduces the probability of employees in two roles meeting in the office. This is undesirable for cohesion across teams and departments or for all employees and managers to experience and share a common mission. And if you believe that innovation thrives best in interdisciplinary cross-fertilization, then the innovation researchers’ famous “random meeting in the canteen” will also have extremely low odds.

Many readers will agree that for most organizations an “either or solution” is not feasible. New hybrid work solutions must accommodate considerations which at first glance seem contradictory.

There are no easy answers or quick fix solutions. The five areas below call for increased leadership focus:

  • Renewed focus on purpose 

In hybrid workplaces the creation of community and the cohesion that previously took place, for example, in connection with the daily lunch process in the canteen, will not be present to the same extent. Therefore, it is increasingly important that senior management regularly creates occasions to communicate the company’s overall purpose and to link ongoing activities, challenges and opportunities. It is more important than ever that leaders use this opportunity to reach all employees by speaking from the heart.

  • Renewed focus on interaction and co-creation 

Management in hybrid environments can work to improve the odds that subject matter experts and new insights meet to cross fertilize ideas. Townhall type meetings whose primary task is to keep everyone informed of strategic decisions, new ventures and an ongoing communication of corporate purpose and mission, must be supplemented with recurring development seminars, and professional presentations. This is where organizations can provide talented employees the space and time to contribute new insights, and the opportunity for informal and professional networking across units and departments. 

  • Renewed focus on the human behind the employee 

One characteristic of new generations in the labor market is their expectation of clear and quick feedback (and recognition) from management. They expect to be met and understood as whole individuals. In a more hybrid environment, it becomes important for middle managers not just to check in with their employees, but to really understand what motivates and drives each of them. One solution is to expand the formal scheduled development meeting or review, to an ongoing and more frequent conversation about performance and satisfaction with current tasks and the long- term development goals of the individual. This could also help better align the individual employee’s personal goals with the company’s strategy, goals and vision. 

  • Renewed focus on subject management 

In workplaces where remote work becomes the new normal, there will be a significant need to formalize and facilitate training and onboarding. This ensures something as basic as a shared practice of processes and methods that can no longer be learned and relearned through informal day to day training and coaching from colleagues in the office.

  • Renewed focus on cultural hosting 

Ensuring that employees will want to show up at the workplace, calls for an increased focus on the employees’ experience of being at the workplace. As a result, workplace hosting becomes a new and important management discipline and a critical employee function. This introduces the floor host who caters to the community of employees in the office, offering regular treats at their workstations, the invitation to a surprise trivia event, or a fun social event – all that enhance the workplace experience and company culture, and are significantly appreciated by each of the employees.

These are not easy decisions for organizations to make at this time or uncomplicated new management efforts that are needed. On the other hand, they are important. 

You can read more about SIGNAL ISS here .

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