By Dale S. Rose, Ph.D.
Twenty twenty-two will be the year when hybrid work becomes the norm and companies across the globe learn to optimize their operations to accommodate this new way of working. Implications for hybrid work are manyfold, but none are more challenging than learning to lead a group of employees who are only sporadically occupying the same physical space. Throughout 2020 and 2021, leaders and employees navigated remote work successfully with good faith, extra effort, and a lot of patience.
Leaders and their human resource partners should consider the last two years as practice runs because 2022 will be the year when hybrid work comes fully online. While formal policies and procedures will be in place to provide guidance, leaders will bear the brunt of making sure employees can remain productive and happy while working in this new way.
Overcoming Challenges of Hybrid Work in 2022
Team-based work and Innovation. The shift from a fully remote workplace to hybrid will allow leaders to make surgical decisions about when the team must be together in person to succeed. For example, I am working now with a leader whose team is re-building the technical architecture in support of a new workflow in a critical part of his company’s operations. Every manager in this multi-national organization will be impacted by these changes. His team of 20 engineers and product managers is in Dubai, Holland, and Mumbai. They have a total of two hours overlapping work time to sort out significant differences in opinion. In 2019, for projects like this the team typically spent a week together in Dubai sorting out the plan face-to-face in a room where every wall is a whiteboard. They would finish the week with clear direction and purpose and in a few short months of work the system would be built. Without the ability to work in person, the team has taken three months to get mostly aligned and they are still struggling. The total project will take two or three times as long to complete now than it would have in 2019.
In a hybrid work environment, leaders will need to be much more intentional about when, why, and how they bring teams together. Time sharing the same physical space will be precious, but if put to good use it will radically accelerate productivity and decrease frustration among employees and this is likely something with which HR practitioners will have to contend and assist leaders in managing.
Creating culture and onboarding. With the ability to meet in person for at least a few days per week, onboarding new employees will be easier in 2022, but it won’t be as easy as it was prior to 2020. HR leaders will need to revamp their onboarding processes and be very selective about which elements require face-to-face time and which ones are best done remotely. Nothing builds culture more than being in the same space. Eye contact, body language, and little one-on-one anecdotes connect employees during onboarding in a way that video chat cannot. These little moments help create essential elements of trust and connection between team members, leaders, and the organization.
Performance feedback. One of the hardest aspects of leading in 2020 and 2021 has been the difficulty in giving helpful feedback to employees over video chat. Leaders lost their informal moments at the water cooler or the quick walk by for informal talks that start out “while I have you here, can we take a moment to discuss your last…”. This kind of casual encounter is highly valuable because it is low pressure so it can be both supportive and can instill accountability. Leaders in 2022 will need to use onsite days to intentionally give this kind of informal feedback to employees. The best iteration of this will be to use a formal feedback mechanism on a periodic basis (360 Feedback, Performance Appraisals, or regular structure e-mails) so that the informal moments can be put into context for the employee’s ongoing development.
Executive team alignment. Executive teams have been re-shaped over the last two years in meaningful ways, and they are frequently struggling with alignment. When done well, executive team retreats get the full group on the same page and allow individuals to sort out small, but meaningful disagreements or points of friction. In person meetings of the full team can bring people together, clarify misunderstandings, build trust, and align priorities in ways remote work does not allow. Executive teams have been struggling through the remote world and are itching to get together, literally and figuratively.
The good news. While it will be difficult for leaders to navigate the change to hybrid work, leaders who embrace the change and truly partner with their HR teams will find they are more efficient and more effective. Employees will be in office with a purpose, and so this time will be focused and more productive. At the same time, retaining remote work capabilities will likely lead to retaining top talent. In survey after survey, employees across the globe have messaged loud and clear they want the flexibility to manage their personal lives and work in a way that supports both.
Article originally published in HR.com.
Dale S. Rose, Ph.D., is the president and co-founder of 3D Group. He is an expert in leadership development and assessment-based human resources solutions. He recently co-edited The Handbook of Strategic 360 Feedback and authored the 2020 study, Current Practices in 360 Feedback, 6th Edition.