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How Hybrid Work Can Enable Better Work and Happier Lives

How Hybrid Can Enable Better Work and Happier Lives

Going hybrid doesn't just define when people come into the office (or not). It's a different way of thinking about how work gets done. Hybrid opens up opportunities to rethink antiquated systems and deploy new approaches to work, technology, and human interactions.

During RedThread Research’s recent webinar, “How Hybrid Work Can Enable Better Work and Happier Lives,” firm co-founders and principal analysts Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson led a discussion about hybrid work that sought to recap and spotlight the best moments from the “Adventures in Hybrid Work” season of its ongoing Workplace Stories podcast. They were joined by Chris Pirie (founder and CEO, Learning Futures Group, LLC), Declan Fox (director of product and content marketing for Class) and Perceptyx’s own Emily Killham (director of research and insights).

Here are some of the key takeaways from their discussion.

An Amazing Slate of Podcast Guests

For starters, Stacia Garr recapped the exceptional field of guests from this season:

  • John Boudreau, senior research scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California
  • Dawn Klinghoffer, head of people analytics for Microsoft
  • RJ Milnor, head of people analytics for Uber
  • Michael Arena, formerly the VP of talent and development for Amazon Web Services and currently the chief talent officer (CTO) for General Motors
  • Phil Rhodes, head of learning and leadership development for WM
  • Lydia Wu, director of talent analytics and transformation for Panasonic

The core themes covered across the season were:

  • Rethinking work vs. strict policies
  • Collaboration vs. productivity
  • Fairness and DEIB

If you’re interested in listening to the individual episodes featuring these guests, click here to visit Redthread Research’s podcast site. To listen to this webinar in its entirety, click here to register with Redthread Research and receive access to the video recording.

How do we fundamentally rethink work?

Chris Pirie: “The idea of the podcast was to bring to life the stories behind the research. This season, we wanted to answer the question of how we might fundamentally rethink work. We wanted to bring nuance to the conversation at a time when companies are using sledgehammers to make these decisions. For example, Elon Musk recently told his employees they needed to be spending 40 hours or more in the office…and then employees returned to discover that there weren’t enough parking spots or desks to accommodate them. I don’t think we realized the importance of physical space in this discussion, or intentionality in designing how people can come back to the office successfully, rather than legislating it.”

Stacia Garr: “You can’t just have people come back to work and then hope they’ll bump into the right people or resources to do their work better. You have to redesign the office to make sure this happens.”

Emily Killham: “Employees have been doing their work in different settings for two years. When they come back to the office, how are we going to oversee that? Are we going to be checking badges? What is our enforcement mechanism? Are we really going to bring a sledgehammer to the party for our people? Another comment we’ve frequently heard from our customers is that managers say they find it much harder to judge productivity when employees aren’t in the office. Is it really harder to track this? Or is this a skill these managers are missing? What tasks does a manager actually need to see or supervise an employee doing, and what things can the employee do on their own?”

Dani Johnson: “Social capital is important. Will you be promoted if you don’t see the boss? Both RJ Milnor and Michael Arena talked about when work needs to be done in person as opposed to remotely. People might benefit from being together at the start of a project, but not necessarily while executing it.”

Emily Killham: “For jobs where 80% of the workforce has to be there in person, like healthcare, what does flexibility mean for each individual employee? Can you break a job down into their tasks? Are there elements of a healthcare job that don’t require a physical presence? Is there a way to keep manufacturing machines running while letting some people work in a hybrid way? Are there some tasks that can be done better remotely? These are things to think about when you’re fundamentally rethinking work.”

Will organizational strategies return to the status quo before the pandemic?

Emily Killham: “Organizations first and foremost need to be tracking data about employee preferences. We know that women want to be at home two days a week, whereas for men that number is three. We know that black women want to be at home more.”

Declan Fox: “I was struck by how RJ Milnor and Dawn Klinghoffer talked about the internal analysis they did. Organizations are realizing that people are changing the way they want to do the work and are figuring out the social bonds needed to create strong relationships across the organization.”

How should we think about space and place for frontline and essential workers?

Declan Fox:Phil Rhodes at WM talked about people who couldn’t not be in a physical workspace. Some of the WM organization, such as the support staff, could be at home, but a higher percentage of the workforce had to be out gathering garbage during the middle of a pandemic.”

Chris Pirie: “Phil Rhodes had a large portion of his workforce going out into the world every single day, and he talked about the cultural journey that WM went on as an organization to show support to their front-line workers.”

How did collaboration change over the pandemic?

Dani Johnson: “One of the things we heard in our initial roundtables was that leaders need more one-on-one meetings with their direct reports, we need more collaboration, and we need everyone attending every meeting. Something that came out of this was over-collaboration, Zoom burnout, and Zoom fatigue. With hybrid work, there can be too much collaboration. Maybe you can communicate information without being on Zoom meetings all the time. Maybe we can carve out time for ‘deep work,’ including blocks of time when no one bothers each other.”

Stacia Garr: “Redthread has blocks of time in the workday when you don’t ping people, hold meetings, and so on. Dawn Klinghoffer offered some similar ideas in her episode as well.”

Dani Johnson: “We also saw many [organization-wide] networks shrink during the pandemic, as people doubled down with their specific teams instead of working across the organization.”

How has the role of the manager changed?

Declan Fox: “During the pandemic, we saw managers moving into being the connection point between the organization and its workers. Skills for managers have changed. You can’t just send out the manager manual and expect execution, because that brings up its own challenges. How do you equip managers with the skills they need? Phil Rhodes talked about how WM introduced a new frontline leadership development program that provided managers with digital coaching tools they are seeing managers actually use 2-3 times a month.”

Chris Pirie: “Microsoft open-sourced its manager values curriculum, elaborating on a ‘duty of care’ that goes far beyond donuts on Friday. This is something that managers haven’t been well prepared for in the past.”

How should we rethink DEIB in organizations?

Emily Killham: “We need to be ahead of this from a data perspective. As I mentioned earlier, the groups that want to be remote the most often, such as black women, are also the groups targeted for DEIB advancement. We won’t want to look back in five years and discover that we lost them because they weren’t in the office. We also have to look at the diverse workplace cultures in our organization. WM has its support staff – 20% of the organization – at home and 80% of the organization on the frontline, collecting trash. Are we creating two separate organizations on different tracks? How do we create one culture?”

Stacia Garr: “Organizations are looking at engagement scores by where people are located, using badging data to determine time in office. They’re comparing this with recognition data. Is there a bias in recognizing people in the office? Then you can have conversations like, ‘Hi, Stacia, I see you recognized Chris, but what about Dani? She hasn’t been in the office very much.’”

Chris Pirie: “When you remove the shackles that bind you to hiring in a specific place, you have a golden opportunity to recruit among diverse populations in diverse geographies. For example, Google didn’t have a corporate office in Atlanta, but there is a substantial talent pool there. Also, when every person is a 2-inch window on your Zoom screen, there is some degree of equity in terms of how people show up. Distinguishing characteristics are minimized. But will these benefits disappear in a hybrid context? That remains to be seen.”

Final takeaways?

Dani Johnson: “We’re entering a time of financial concern and confusion. We’re seeing some things in the data, but we don’t know the extent to which our organizations will be affected by this economy. As worker power decreases during the recession, workers may lose the ability to demand reforms to the way we think about work. We have a fleeting moment to address some of these equity issues. That moment could go away.”

Chris Pirie: “We really hope there can be a thoughtful re-architecting of the work experience, though the evidence doesn’t look promising. I’m still hopeful though, and as I do interviews for our next podcast season which launches on July 19th, I’m hearing about a need for connectivity and belonging. Also, remember that COVID isn’t gone, either.”

Emily Killham: “I’m interested to see who will be the winners and losers over the long-term. We iterated this return to work and rethinking of work perhaps more than we should have. Maybe we should have just let off a bomb and just started again.”

Perceptyx Can Help You See the Future of Work

As this webinar makes clear, the future of work is an ever-changing, ever-evolving process. Shifting circumstances can necessitate quick pivots in workplace strategy. During these times, a listening partner like Perceptyx can prove invaluable. Together, the functionality and customizability of our platform coupled with the expertise of our consultants can transform a lagging status quo into a world-class employee experience. To learn more, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.

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