Hybrid model: keys to return to the office after the pandemic
Let's reflect… as the pandemic begins to subside, companies are considering a new combination of remote and on-site work, a hybrid virtual model in which employees alternate between working from home and working from the office. This new model promises potential benefits such as increased productivity, lower costs, more individual flexibility, greater access to talent, and better employee experiences.
However, in a large-scale remote work model there may be disadvantages associated with organizational norms that sustain culture and performance, that help create a common culture, generate social cohesion, and build shared trust. To lose sight of them is to risk eroding trust in the long term, what it raises the question of whether the model adopted so far will be functional in the immediate future.
Associated with a hybrid model such as the one that arises, there is also the risk that two organizational cultures will emerge; on the one hand, workers and leaders who work "in person", benefiting from joint location and collaboration, on the other hand, remote workers who may feel isolated, victims of unintentional behaviour. Consequently, organizational performance can be affected and deteriorates, thus losing the sense of belonging.
The sense of belonging
Organizations thrive through a sense of belonging that gives us a common purpose and shared identity, inspiring us to do our jobs better. This sense of belonging can easily be lost if two different cultures are created. When this happens, logic tells us that it is the culture itself that will dominate the environment.
Some things just get more difficult when working remotely. An example of this may be the difficulty of culturalize new members, the loss of learning through practical training, or the loss of new ideas due to “creative collisions”. Team experience in this regard is a critical culture driver in a hybrid model and here, team leaders have a huge impact.
As a general rule, the more dispersed the team is, the less effective the leadership becomes. Going further, not necessarily an effective leader in in-person management is going to prove himself in a hybrid approach. The challenge for leaders now is to define and adopt new behaviours that facilitate social cohesion and build trust in their teams.
Doing a military simile, the commanders of the armies review the troops instead of sending an email and there is a reason for that, the hierarchical leadership thrives in person. The famous American writer Tom Peters used to call this approach Management By Walking Around: “Looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand, laughing with them when they are in person, creates a very different kind of bond than you can. achieve virtually…”.
In a hybrid work model, the dependence on these forms of hierarchical relationship decreases, remote employees require new behaviours to compensate for the loss of socio-emotional signals, characteristic of digital channels. Creating these new behaviours will be one of the great challenges facing current leaders.
Informal vs virtual interactions
Meeting a partner in the hallway and learning something new right in that moment. Informal interactions and unplanned encounters encourage the crossing of ideas and provide a starting point for relationships in which people collaborate in areas of shared interest, strengthening socialization and trust within the company.
Informal interactions take place more naturally between employees sharing location and not so easily in a virtual environment. Leaders need new approaches to create an environment where remote and face-to-face employees feel like they have access to these kinds of informal interactions. Holding virtual private chats, without any structured content and creating a forum for less formal interactions in the style of “virtual cafe” can be a starting point to cultivate that habit of “informal connection”.
But let's face it, despite of technological advancement over the past few years and considering that technology helps us to be closer to each other, nothing can completely replace face-to-face. Because an important part of the communication is non-verbal, but also because many times the topics to be discussed can be difficult to convey or it can be a controversial topic. With face-to-face interactions we create more opportunities to make an emotional connection that can be the vital element in generating trust, collaboration and culture because, after all, we are Spanish.
As a conclusion, we can say that, if we approached correctly and considering the challenges we face, the new hybrid model can help to take advantage the most of the talent of people wherever they reside, while reducing costs and creating a stronger organizational culture than before, but this will require changing current approaches.