By Isaac Kohen, VP of R&D at Teramind, provider of employee monitoring, insider threat detection and data loss prevention solutions.
As companies begin to emerge from the recent pandemic, there is a growing debate about the efficacy of pandemic-inspired work arrangements. Some organizations are committed to continuing workplace flexibility, while others insist on bringing people back to the office. Of course, many are taking a hybrid approach, allowing people to work remotely and on-site.
In July 2020, Gartner, Inc. surveyed company leaders across several sectors and found that 82% planned to allow remote work at least some of the time, maximizing flexibility while introducing new complexity to operational norms. Notably, for a hybrid workforce to be successful as a long-term arrangement, leaders will need to learn how to get the most from their teams regardless of location.
However, some leaders are already undermining those efforts, creating a schism between on-site and remote employees. JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon recently described remote work as an option not well-suited “for those who want to hustle.” Similarly, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani categorized “uberly engaged” employees as those who are in the office at least two-thirds of the time.
These comments underscore a growing challenge for business leaders who risk alienating significant swaths of their workforce. More than half of workers already fear that remote work could hinder their career advancement and future opportunities, requiring leaders to recalibrate their leadership approach to optimize and activate their teams. For leaders navigating newly hybrid teams, here are three priorities for ensuring equity and excellence for on-site and remote employees.
1. Know Workers’ Worth
When companies abruptly embraced remote work in response to the pandemic, leaders were uncertain if their employees could maintain the pace and rigor that often defined the on-site workday. In reality, workers were often more productive than ever. Even while juggling childcare, homebound students and a global health crisis, many companies found that employees were more effective at home, working longer hours and achieving better outcomes.
What’s more, an employee survey conducted by Gartner found that 75% of remote workers and 70% of hybrid teams reported that they had the capacity to pivot their efforts to address shifting priorities, nearly 10% more than their on-site counterparts. Meanwhile, remote and hybrid workers reported being more empowered to take risks and test ideas.
In addition, the National Bureau of Economic Research identified a meaningful increase in the number of workplace commitments, including meetings, emails and calendar events during the past year. That’s why, in many cases, leaders should be more worried about employees maintaining a healthy work/life balance and personal well-being than lacking initiative or effectiveness.
2. Measure What Matters
Employee monitoring became a ubiquitous business entity during the pandemic as surging software sales reflected leaders’ desire to better understand their teams. This highly capable software category provides businesses with insights into employee behavior, making it possible to measure what truly matters.
Mouse movements, app activity or “time-on-task” can be enticing ways to ensure that people are busy. However, activity-based monitoring likely provides an incomplete picture of worker contributions, conflating busyness with productivity. Companies should want more than busy employees — they want and need tangible outcomes, and this should drive their monitoring initiatives.
Monitor and measure outcomes as one way to evaluate employee effectiveness while maximizing flexibility and inclusivity in a rapidly shifting workplace.
3. Develop Collaborative Relationships
A management survey during the pandemic found that 40% of leaders expressed low self-confidence in their ability to lead and inspire remote or hybrid teams. In other words, many managers may misconstrue the efficacy of remote workers with their self-perception as leaders.
This is a growth opportunity for today’s managers. For example, a Gallup survey found that only one in three workers strongly agree that “they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days.” Therefore, leaders need to develop effective communication and collaboration strategies to accommodate their teams, including producing opportunities for public recognition, private praise and reward incentives. Leaders should challenge themselves to be better, improving their skills and approach to meet the moment.
For companies relying on hybrid teams to help them emerge from the pandemic effectively, balancing leadership responsibilities will be critical. Businesses can’t afford to have two classes of employees: one on-site and the other remote. Rather, they need everyone to work together to build better outcomes moving forward, something that is not inherently contingent on physical location. These priorities are a great first step toward that important goal.