The Move Toward Remote and Hybrid Work Schedules
A recent study produced by the World Economic Forum called The Future of Jobs reports that somewhere between 40-50% of people now have access to remote work. The events in 2020 pushed employers to allow temporary remote work, particularly in fields such as information technology, finance, law, business services, and customer service, while jobs such as those in accommodation and food services, retail, construction, transportation, and healthcare still all require a physical presence on site. People have become more accustomed to working remotely, which continues to fuel a growing trend towards long term remote or hybrid remote and office work. While it may be tempting for some business leaders to simply ignore this trend, they do so at their peril. They must create more employee-centric solutions to entice employees to continue working with them. Otherwise, since the number of employees seeking remote or hybrid work has more than doubled since 2020, the pool of workers willing to work on site continues to decrease.
The pandemic has shown that hybrid work is possible in a much larger scale than previously imagined. Out of an abundance of caution, millions of employees accustomed to coming into the office every day were suddenly pushed out of the office and into their homes to work temporarily. As the days of working remotely turned to weeks and then months, many people became used to the daily rhythm of the ‘new work.’ As employees experienced the many benefits of working from home, their perceptions of what they were willing to sacrifice for their jobs changed. Many are no longer content with the previous working arrangement requiring them to commute to an office. Leadership has been forced, sometimes against their will, to address the reality that to maintain enough employees, a remote/hybrid solution in no longer optional.
As stated in the Future of Jobs survey, “company adaptations to the newly remote and hybrid workplace are already underway.” Unfortunately for the unprepared or the uncaring, these adaptations only deal with the place of work. However, to be a successful and sustainable solution, companies must also address their processes and people. Seemingly arbitrary rules, such as requiring people to be in the office specific days each week and working on a predefined schedule, are not likely to be embraced, followed, or productive. With employees having varying hours and being spread in multiple locations, new work standards of communication and documentation must be established. Leaders must learn to be extremely clear about expectations. These expectations, which before may have been assumed, need to be made specific, measurable, non-ambiguous, and relevant to the individuals’ role.
As stated in a July 2021 article in the Harvard Business Review, “It is right for the company to expect its leaders to 1) know their work teams and the work performed, 2) understand how the team impacts other areas of the organization, and 3) run their piece of the operation as a small company that can flex to meet customers’ needs.” Leadership must focus extra efforts on the people of the organization. For years we have counted on the culture of the organization to help train and indoctrinate new hires into our culture. With remote work, there is less time for people to interact on a personal level and fewer opportunities to pass on the cultural norms that have made the company a successful one.
It therefore become incumbent upon the leader to involve the employees and collaborate with them to develop the appropriate hybrid work policies. They can start by learning how each team member is flourishing and how they may be struggling. When too little is expected, performance declines, and when more is expected, people will stretch in an effort to achieve this level (within reason of course!). Then the leader and employee must achieve a high degree of clarity around the business needs for meeting customer expectations. Schedules will become a byproduct of this understanding and an individual’s performance will adjust significantly to line up with the leaders’ expectations. And finally, effective leaders will seek insight into how schedules are working on a regular basis and adjust as possible.
Working remotely is here to stay, at least for a sizable portion of the workforce. As the saying goes, “resistance is futile.” It is the wise leader who begins to embrace remote/hybrid work and learns how to lead under a new set of guidelines. It is another chance to show exceptional leadership through empathy for people. After all, people aren’t simply doing the exact same job from a different location; the entire dynamics of coworker interaction has changed. We now must find new structures to aid in setting boundaries between work and home while at the same time facilitating the human interaction between employees who may no longer be seeing their fellow employees on a regular basis.