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What It Takes to Build a High-Performance Hybrid Workplace

publishedabout 1 year ago
5 min read

For this week’s newsletter, I interviewed my good friend Robert Glazer. Robert is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners and the #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of four books, including his latest, How To Thrive In The Virtual Workplace. He is the author of Friday Forward, a weekly inspirational newsletter that reaches over 300,000 people worldwide each week, host of the Elevate Podcast, and a top rated keynote speaker.

In our discussion, we spoke about what the future holds for the hybrid work model, how to address fairness issues in the hybrid workplace, and what companies and employees can do to drive a high-performance hybrid work culture.

Robert, much of your work and thought leadership revolves around the idea that facetime and in-person interactions aren’t necessary for employee productivity and a great company culture. And your own company is entirely remote, and has been for many years. But despite the widespread success of remote work over the past year, many organizations have announced they’ll adopt a hybrid model after the pandemic.

Why do you think companies are hesitant to continue with a fully remote model, and what are your predictions for the long-term success of the hybrid approach? How can businesses ensure that they’re set up for a positive outcome, whether it’s in a remote or hybrid capacity?

This is a nuanced issue because there isn’t one universal reason why companies are resistant to being fully remote, nor is being fully remote the right solution for every company. In some cases, a company has office space commitments and doesn’t want to have offices sitting unused — this is likely why many massive New York companies like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are leading the charge back to the office. Also, let’s remember, there are a lot of companies that have roles that really can’t be done remotely, for example in manufacturing, retail, etc.

But in some cases, managers and leaders haven’t made the adjustment to managing outcomes. They still view productively through the lens of inputs and tracking. What these managers and leaders need to recognize is they are better off setting certain outcomes employees are expected to hit, and then measuring performance relative to those outcomes. If you have an employee who hits all the metrics you need them to hit to keep the business running effectively, then it shouldn’t matter how they spend their day. Managing to outcomes is always better than leaning on facetime.

Managing to outcomes is always better than leaning on facetime.

With that said, many employees do want opportunities to connect in-person and there are certain aspects of work that really do work better face-to-face, including sales, training, and certain meetings.

At the end of the day, however, especially for knowledge workers, hybrid and remote work is here to stay. Employees are more likely to demand remote work opportunities going forward, and companies will need to adjust to meet that demand. As Mark Cuban likes to say, supply and demand are undefeated.

Let’s talk about one of the main issues that could arise in the hybrid model: the fair treatment of remote versus office workers. We have to acknowledge that it’s human nature to trust and like people more if you spend time with them in-person. But in the hybrid workplace, some employees may choose to work in the office more often than others — and that may mean they get more facetime with senior leaders, which could make it more likely they’ll be considered for promotions or leadership roles. How can companies manage this so that people who prefer to work in the office aren’t getting ahead in their careers while those who prefer to work remotely get left behind?

There are two key components to this. First, companies that adopt a hybrid model cannot use that approach to avoid setting a clear workplace strategy. Hybrid needs to be a strategy in itself, not the absence of one. A key part of this is setting clear norms and expectations for your company’s definition of hybrid. Few things are more stressful for an employee in a hybrid organization than getting pulled into the office at the last minute. Employees should know how many days a week they are expected to be in the office and what special meetings or projects will require in-person work.

Hybrid needs to be a strategy in itself, not the absence of one.

The second piece is to create a level playing field for in-person and remote employees. You don’t want to create an environment where remote employees are passed over for promotions, recognition, and work opportunities. If there is a working group or cross-functional project that requires employees to volunteer, be sure that those opportunities are announced to remote employees — and perhaps even make a point of recruiting both remote and in-person people for those projects.

In a similar vein, if you’re holding a meeting between remote and in-person staff, consider having everyone join from their desks via their personal computers, rather than having remote employees awkwardly joining a video call with their colleagues in a conference room. It’s much easier to include everyone when you have everyone on a level playing field.

Picking a clear strategy makes it easier to design a system that ensures a level playing field for everyone.

In your new book, How to Thrive in the Virtual Workplace, you talk about creating a high-performance remote work culture. How does your advice differ when it comes to creating a high-performance hybrid work culture?

There’s actually not much difference between an effective culture in a fully remote organization, a hybrid organization, and an in-person organization; great cultures are built upon a similar foundation. All of these workplace models require the same principles, tactics and norms. You need a clear, consistent vision, reinforced core values and goals for your team. You need leaders who communicate and delegate well. You need to be careful, precise and scientific in your hiring, rather than hiring by instinct. You need to set clear outcomes for your employees and effectively hold them accountable for those outcomes. You need to ensure your employees have the equipment and technology they need to work comfortably and effectively — whether that’s office tech, or home-office tech.

The only difference is that in a fully remote organization, it falls apart much faster when a company lacks this cultural foundation or these best practices. Most of the attributes of a high-performance remote culture are the attributes of a high-performance culture, period.

What’s your advice to employees regarding how to optimize their productivity and effectiveness within the new hybrid model?

First, it’s crucial to have a physically separated workspace in your home. Whether it’s a spare room, a corner in your living room, or even a designated “office chair” at your kitchen table, you need a physical space that is exclusively for work. This will help you stay in the right mindset while you’re working and will serve as a notice to the people you live with of when you’re working and when you’re not.

I’m also a big proponent of setting a clear schedule and routine, and sticking to it. We recommend that our employees have a reasonably consistent bedtime, wakeup time and workday hours. This is a great way to keep home life from bleeding into work life — and vice versa. It’s a lot easier to keep yourself from answering emails late into the night if you make it a habit of stopping work at 5:30pm each day.

For hybrid employees, it’s important to keep this same schedule whether you’re working in-person or from home. If you’re getting up at 7am and commuting into work by 9am on Monday, then rolling out of bed at 9am on Tuesday and jumping straight into work emails is going to create stress over time. By contrast, if you begin your work-from-home Tuesday by waking up at 7am, just as you would to commute to the office, then using that full two hours for a workout, some reading, and a leisurely breakfast, you’ll start the workday much more relaxed — and you won’t be messing with your sleep schedule.

I hope you enjoyed this week's Q&A, and I’d love to know your thoughts — will companies and workers struggle to succeed within the hybrid model, or does it just take careful planning and putting the right strategy in place? Let me know in the comments on LinkedIn.