From “Am I audible?” to “I’ll be joining the meeting virtually,” the modern workplace has progressed beyond comprehension in the past couple of months. However, with that comes the complexity which has traveled from “Are you on mute?” to “Is XYZ even working today?!” – a misalignment many of us people leaders are not yet prepared to deal with yet.
It’s incredibly important to have in-person workplace interactions because they build a sense of community. However, the uncertainties spurred by the global pandemic have forever changed employee preferences regarding joining in-premise work.
A recent finding by resources.owllabs says, “In 2020 after COVID-19, 80% of workforce expects to work from home at least 3x/week. In fact, 23% of full-time employees would take a pay cut of over 10% in order to work from home at least some of the time, and 77% agree that after COVID-19, being able to work from home would make them happier.”
A Hybrid workforce comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. While the Operations Department rejoices with the possibility of reducing fixed real estate costs, the HRs are heard clamoring about employee productivity and engagement issues, and more so about having people leaders with the right management skills to handle a hybrid workforce. What we must realize that at the core of it is a mindset shift that business leaders need to adopt in the first place.
Let’s take the case of industry leaders like Google and Apple – at the former, a strong employee resistance along with a good turnover story forced the management to reconsider their decision of making the employees return to work; while at Apple, the company faced several high-profile walkouts and in-house opposition when they coaxed their teams to join back!
Speaking from my experience of leading a diverse team, I can strongly opine that it’s time we people managers take business-critical decisions on research-based strategies because the post-pandemic office demands a major realignment of the employee-employer relationship. As a constantly developing team, we don’t want to be caught up in that cob!
I was recently reading this fabulous piece by Brent Hyder, President and Chief People Officer at Salesforce, where he said, “As employers, we have an opportunity to create an even better workplace — one that allows us to be more connected to each other, find more balance between work and home, and advance equality — ultimately leading to increased innovation and better business outcomes.”
Indeed a noble thought! After all, in a remote or a hybrid work model, more than a ‘good wifi’, you need a ‘human wifi’ because other than technical challenges, you are most likely to face relational challenges. Talking about my personal experience at Radixweb, I always worked with an in-house team. A bunch of young minds brainstorming over a digital campaign – that gave me my daily kick! But things changed like a whirlwind when the pandemic stuck, and being a people-focused organization, as much as we were bothered about business continuity, we wanted to ensure the safety of our teams. Thus, almost overnight, we shape-shifted into a fully remote team! Almost a year and a half down the line, today, I lead a hybrid team. When the government restrictions relaxed at the beginning of the year, we joined back with a small percentage of the workforce, while the others worked from the comfort of their homes. Over time, we realized that being away from the desk hasn’t lowered the productivity in our teams, and now I even have team members who are hired as remote associates. If you ask me whether this shift was easy, trust me, it wasn’t.
However, evolution is a game we cant duck at! And gradually, as I managed a grip over a then remote and now hybrid team, I realized that there were a few things that clicked in our favor:
1. Soliciting the advice of all IT leaders and individual contributors: When we decided to open up with a limited workforce, we sought the advice of all people leaders to gain insights on what the individual employees feel about it. This solved two hacks for us – first, we generated a couple of wonderful remote team management ideas; second, because the team felt included in our decision making, they went ahead with our collaborative decision.
2. Redefining our work location rules: With 2 decades of operations as a software development company, We knew from the beginning that the norms which worked for our on-premise teams would fall short for a remote/hybrid workforce. So we clearly set some regulations for teams that went totally remote and those who came to our facility for defined hours. This proved to be immensely beneficial as our employees had a better idea of what was expected of them. A small example was installing a productivity measuring software in the systems of our employees for transparent work hour calculation.
3. Working with people leaders to execute our hybrid vision: From on-premise to work from home and then hybrid – this was one of the most significant organizational changes our firm faced in a while. Thus, our management ensured that all people leaders were on the same page and understood the rationale behind our new workplace policies. Gradually as we settled down into the new systems, we devised ways to realign individual employee KRAs and execute their organic growth plan.
4. Giving ample time to the employees moving back to the premises for settling into their new schedule: Radixweb’s C-suite is extremely involved in the employee satisfaction efforts. Hence, we people leaders were given clear instructions that our employees shouldn’t be hushed into an impromptu work schedule. Over 18 months of work from home schedules had altered the work pattern for many; we respected their space and gradually let them unwind their arrangements.
I won’t lie, there was indeed a phase in between when we observed that our remote employees were gradually distancing themselves emotionally. And nothing can be as disastrous to the team as the feeling of isolation! I believe we recognized the signs early and indulged in some motivational science – praising and applauding, individually connecting with team members to address their concerns, planning virtual events with the team on a weekly basis to rekindle the bond.
I believe the moment your teams feel undervalued and unsupported, that’s when you dig your grave. Our conscious efforts towards creating an all-inclusive space not only renewed emotional bonds in the team but ensured that we give back our due support to our firm in times of great chaos.