Someone said, “Be stubborn about your goals, and be flexible about your methods.” The pandemic taught us many lessons, the noblest among them is that remote working is a possible solution. Many organisations have taken this reality in their stride and revamped their workplaces to be hybrid.
What are the implications?
Employees get the flexibility to work from their homes or whichever place they are comfortable with and come into offices occasionally or whenever their job role demands. As a result, they save time and money which would have been spent commuting and working out of the office. Many of them find it less distracting to work from their homes and feel proud of having reduced their carbon footprint on our mother earth. Employers also save some costs in office infrastructure and get higher productivity in many cases.
While there are positive implications in many cases, organisations are worried about the decline in the social capital they had built by bringing people together under one roof. Employees could actively participate in building the company culture and following the norms around the culture. In the remote-working situation, employees tend to lose touch with the company norms and develop their styles that suit their tastes. They tend to dissociate from their colleagues and hence, in the process weaken the linkage with the team, its objectives and purpose. The propensity of walking the extra mile gradually declines. Leaders are worried about it and see the impact on the horizon in terms of a drop in employee engagement scores, customer satisfaction levels and hence, sustainability in the long term.
What can be done?
Our world has changed in many ways after the pandemic. However, human beings have not changed their preferences and instincts yet.
We continue to look for belongingness to a range of social systems; we stay hungry for challenging work; we seek trust from others; we need successes and achievements from time to time; our motivation is linked with the recognition and rewards we receive from people who matter. Organisations had their ways of fulfilling all these aspects when work happened in the physical workplaces.
Given the change in the world of work, we have to re-examine the relevance of the old methods such as celebrating successes, conducting events, holding stand-up meetings to showcase successes and plan the activities for the time ahead, giving away certificates and awards to the achievers, holding classroom training programmes, using scoreboards and so on.
Leaders hold the key
In our new way of work, colleagues are mostly connecting over digital channels rather than the traditional practice of in-person connections. Digital platforms aren’t yet able to match the effectiveness of in-person communication. Leaders have to take cognizance of this limitation and plan methods that can bridge the gaps.
Firstly, we have to review the communication methods, style and frequency if they are serving the purpose. In most organisations, there is a need for change such as using new methods such as the use of videos, short messages, use of platforms that promote expression and collaboration, increasing the frequency and encouraging employees at multiple levels in the organisation to actively post updates, reactions, suggestions and questions.
Secondly, we have to realise that the current methods of virtual meetings cannot generate the level of camaraderie, energy and friendship employees experienced in the water-cooler conversations, chats over lunch, sipping tea or stepping out for snacks together. So, the least that leaders can do is to lead by example in driving a change in the newfound hybrid workplace. They need to regularly catch up with their direct reports or one level below one-to-one or in very small groups of three or four people. The catch-up needs to focus on building personal networks and connections.
Last but not the least, work has to be structured well with clear goals and metrics. Feedback on regular basis must be offered to people so that they do not meander, waste efforts and feel frustrated later due to the unavoidable rework or a sense of underachievement. This is easier said than done.
Leaders have a task now and they must challenge themselves to meet the expectations. They have to ensure value delivery for all stakeholders in the business.