As offices begin to reopen across the United States, today’s leaders face the challenges of a remote workforce while considering opportunities for in-person collaboration. Many of them can speak well when it comes to supporting employees and their career development in our hybrid work reality, but how many can actually follow suit?
Probably less than you think. Let’s start by examining this phenomenon through the prism of two contradictory tropes.
Managers and employees generally agree that productivity increases with remote work.
A number of surveys and studies over the past few years have supported this idea, and for the record, I’ve heard many employees say the same. Working in the office certainly has its perks, but when it comes to creating an efficient, distraction-free machine, remote working is hard to beat for many people.
Teleworkers are seen as less dedicated to their careers and therefore less likely to be financially rewarded than those who work in the office.
A study of more than 400 technical workers from February 2020 found that remote workers received as many promotions as office workers, but their wages were increasing at a slower rate. Interestingly, when telecommuting was highly prescriptive and when they engaged in higher overtime work, remote workers received a larger pay rise.
COVID-19 has forced employees to leave their desks and return home overnight. Over the past year and a half, organizations have been exploring working remotely, using collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to stay connected; but as they call back employees in person, many of the challenges facing the hybrid work model remain, both professional and personal.
So where do things go? Why the disconnection? Much of it is a matter of human psychology.
Disconnecting from remote work … it’s a matter of trust
Extensive research on this topic came from a UC Davis research team several years ago. Speaking with nearly 40 management professionals, they found that managers tended to be biased toward workers who were frequently in meetings or physically at their desks. One study participant put it this way: “If I see you there all the time, okay, so much the better. You are a hardworking and reliable person.
In their research, the study’s creators also asked 60 professionals to read a fictional short story about someone who spends a lot of time working in an office. After the reading, participants were given a list of words (none of which actually appeared in the story) and asked to remember which words appeared in the text. People were more likely to remember words like “dedicated”, “committed”, “responsible” and “reliable”.
Words which, for lack of a better expression, speak for themselves.
Ensuring that employees feel supported, seen and rewarded for the work they do is vital, perhaps even more so in a hybrid work environment. It is also extremely important that managers express their confidence that the work is being done, regardless of the location.
Staying Connected – and Five Tips for Tech Leaders
As a society, we are taught that “burning the midnight oil” is inherently a positive thing, that showing up early and staying late should be the norm, and that “remote working” is for the lazy who don’t want to. not leave the house. Together, we must work to undo those prejudices and institutionalized prejudices that managers and workers are essentially trained to do.
Here are some best practices that I have compiled based on my conversations with top executives and managers:
- Find ways (virtually or not) to create team meetings that keep employees connected and engaged, so no employee gets an unfair advantage.
- Interact with employees to find what makes them most productive, whether remotely, in the office or elsewhere.
- Design offices to serve a purpose, adapting them to creativity, collaboration, community and focused work.
- Make sure a flexible and trusting workplace is the norm, not the exception.
- Create workplaces that prioritize inclusiveness, sustainability and health.
The real work begins now
This conversation shouldn’t end with reading an article about it. Leaders need to be engaged consistently and consistently from top to bottom, every day, in order to successfully create an environment designed to excel.
Ultimately, the math is pretty straightforward: If we can get the right people doing the right things day in and day out, our customers will be successful. And if our team is happy and our customers happy, well, what more could you ask for?
Steve Baird is Managing Director of SAP North America Midwest.