April 1st, 2021
EPISODE 9: The Success of Hybrid Work Depends on Autonomy
There are millions of people that have tasted remote work and won’t easily let it go, and further, they’re expecting it at this point. And alternatively, there are others that would prefer to return to the office. We find ourselves on the precipice of yet another very important decision for many organizations. How much autonomy should we give our people about their work environments? We probably don’t have a choice but to face it head-on. In this episode Senior Client Strategist at NLI, Rob Ollander-Krane and Senior Director of Neuroscience Research and Dr. Kamila Sip will do just that.
[00:00:06] GB: 9:00 to 5:00 jobs may feel like the thing of the past, but that office life may be coming back sooner than we think. Over the past year, we asked people to make endless changes to their work environment, and the truth is, they didn’t really have a choice. Many organizations are stuck between two conventional approaches, bring everybody back to the office or continue and optimize virtual work. The common thread between the two, not exactly the employees call, and that’s where we could be mistaken.
There are millions of people that have tasted remote work and won’t easily let it go, and further, they’re expecting it at this point. And alternatively, there are others that would prefer to return to the office. We find ourselves on the precipice of yet another very important decision for many organizations. How much autonomy should we give our people about their work environments? We probably don’t have a choice but to face it head-on.
I’m Gabriel Berezin and this is Your Brain at Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday. This week, our panel consists of Rob Ollander-Krane, senior client strategist at NLI and Dr. Kamila Sip, senior director of neuroscience research at NLI. Enjoy.
[00:01:23] ROK: Let’s dive in. The traditional paradigm of 9:00 to 5:00 work that we have all know is certainly was the norm before 2020 was absolutely shattered by the COVID pandemic. As the pandemic starts to get under control, it’s time for us to evaluate what we’re all going to do going forward. Should we be going back to the office? Should will be staying remote? We have a point of view that we should actually be doing something that’s a bit of both, something we’re calling a hybrid work environment. Let’s dive in.
We want to talk about this new working paradigm, but let’s start by talking about our current reality, like what’s really happening in the world today, before we talk about what could happen in the world tomorrow. The pandemic forces to shut all of our offices. We all know that. This is not new news to anybody. Overnight, employees had to work remotely. There was no choice, we just had to do that. I remember when that first happened, thinking, “Oh my God! Are we actually going to be able to get our work done? We’ve never don’t this before. We’ve never r been entirely remote?” But what was amazing was that in 2020, we actually figured it out. Employees figured it out, managers figured it out, companies figured out, and our processes became shorter unfrozen.
We challenged all of these assumptions that we had about how we got work done and all those people who said, “Oh! You have to be in the office to get work done” all of a sudden were figuring out ways to get the work done remotely. This requirement to be remote made us really innovative. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and somehow, we were able to solve lots of problems, and lots of new ways to work even though we were remote. We became technology experts. I think maybe when I grasp, I was about to say, I wasn’t a Zoom expert a year ago, but all of a sudden, I’m kind of a Zoom expert.
Companies became more flexible. And one really interesting, flexibility, was that they could hire from anywhere, you don’t have to hire near your office. Your talent pool became much bigger and you didn’t have to pay relocation fees. Then finally, for some employees, I wouldn’t say all of them, some felt more work-life balance. They were able to work at home, take care of kids, take care of parents, take care of stuff around the house became much more balanced. The question is, what do we do next?
[00:03:34] KS: When it comes to decision time of whether to stay remote or go back to offices, there’s quite a lot of splits. Some really is more technology-oriented. Organizations think of going back to or staying remotely mostly to much higher extent. But we also have heard from across the globe, from Europe, from APAC, from North America that there is this need right now for everyone to return to the office. That both comes from employers, but also employees. I think it might be grounded in the fact that after 2020 and such a saturation of us being at home, we actually want to go back to the office to get some of the balance back to some extent.
What we know, that we shouldn’t actually fall for that trap in some ways, and we know from research that based on everything that happened last year, we should be thinking of designing a work environment to address the need for autonomy. The newly discovered autonomy. And after the first months probably when we kind of come down from the shock to our system of going back overnight to working remotely. The autonomy, the flexibility that we could actually start exercising has been quite profound. It would be a mistake to give it up or put it to the sides right now going forward in 2021 and beyond.
When organizations decide to go and try to accommodate that more into this hybrid work environment as Rob was mentioning, we need to kind of also try to pull back from the need from us, from the natural approach that we would have, that we would focus on making the remote work very well and very effective, because that’s going to create quite an imbalance across the entire workforce in your organization if you just spend the time on umping up the capacity of working remotely, and not necessarily pay attention to the on-site or the corrections that need to be adjusted in that domain as well.
That’s where we actually say when we advise the research-based approach being to optimize both on-site and remote environments so they can complement each other. So they are creating a cohesive, one workforce, or one organization rather than the two things that go side by side. This is exactly what we are trying to actually advocate for, is not to think hybrid as this gluing one plus one equals two, because it’s really not the case. And instead of thinking of those gluing and combining the tools, we actually think that focusing on how to work effectively across the different domains is going to be much productive for you and your organizations, rather than concentrating on where to work, and location, and trying to pull the two levers of remote and on-site at the same time, which might be quite challenging for many organizations.
As Rob was mentioning, when we’re preparing this point of view of NLI, we’ve actually thought quite a lot with a lot of different advice, and we actually landed at the three main ideas, or three main factors that organizations need to take into account to make it work, and to push forward with creating and designing optimal hybrid working environment. The three components are clarity, autonomy and equity. We’ll go one by one with Rob as we go through it, to tell you a little bit more both from the science and also the practical application of what does that mean for us. What do you mean clarity in principles?
I think that that would be something that it’s a very simple three-step approach that you can implement and think about overlaying over the plans that you’re going to be having going forwards. Without further ado, let’s talk about what we mean by clarity, and creating the principles rather than rules, rather than creating more constrained obstacles. It’s more about understanding the higher-level principles and allowing for the autonomy that we’ll be discussing later.
The first thing that we need to think about when it comes to clarity and moving beyond 2021 is that understanding that 2020 was no just a remote work. It’s actually was a remote life. Overnight, we all went from offices to kitchen counters, and the dark corners of our bedrooms, and cats walking by during our Zoom calls. There was quite a lot of adjustments that we all had to do, and we really didn’t have a choice. There was a force fit paradigm that was imposed on us. Even in that paradigm, we actually could realize that the necessity that was there actually made us more inventive as Rob mention. We could still find satisfaction.
After the first two months of adjusting, and trying to figure out our way, and trying to figure out the routine, we actually see that a lot of employees, a lot of the workforce reported quite a lot of satisfaction with working from home, with the same or higher productivity. Which is the opposite from what their worries were initially, with dropping productivity in such a shift and sudden shift. But also, taking care of your health or things that you wouldn’t be paying attention to or you wouldn’t think that you have the time in the day when you were commuting. As somebody mentioned here, that they don’t miss commuting. I think the type of commute can be a time for a run, or a short gym session or even a walk, that actually, we started to exercising much more.
This actually confirmed that quite a lot of research that we’ve had from industry, from way before 2020, that the more flexibility we give to our workforce, it actually has a measurable correlation in terms of the greater productivity, engagement, discretionary effort, how much more work we actually are doing at home or in our virtual environments compared to what was expected of us.
The one thing that — before I hand it over to Rob to explain what do we mean by clarity is that we need to remember that we shouldn’t think of this one size fits all, and going back and transplanting the experience of 2020 and expectations to ’21 and beyond. Because as you can see here, not only from your polls, and the surveys that there has been quite a lot of variability in terms of who wants to work from home and who doesn’t is actually reflected in this survey from Stanford with 2,500 working professionals. That you can see that the spread is quite a lot. Nearly 40% says that they never really want to work from home in the post-COVID environment. There is the opposite side of about another 45% of those who seem to be wanting to work from home most of the time, five, four days. Then there is the midline, which is the two, three, one days working from home, which actually speaks to exactly what Rob is going to be outlining for us, like how to handle that, how to handle this they diversity in terms of the need that we are expressing across the board.
[00:10:20] ROK: Kami, before you move forward. How many companies are giving employees a choice on what they want versus telling them what to do? I know from the work we’ve done together and what I’ve seen is that, it’s kind of all over the board. I look at one study that says, “Everybody has to come back to the office.” I look at another study that says, “Companies are giving people the flexibility.” I don’t think we know yet. But Kami, is there anything you would add onto that.
[00:10:44] KS: I agree. I don’t think we have a specific number, like 50%-50% split between companies, because there is quite of a variety when it comes to the type of organizations, different organizations. Different sectors give different level of flexibility depending on where is that they are actually producing, whether that’s within the healthcare, within pharma, within technology. There’s a spread across sectors, but not necessary across the board. Yes, the data is still coming in, so we don’t necessarily have a specific number I would say, yes
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[00:11:56] ROK: Gabriel, what I would say is, I don’t think we can look to trend to decide what to do at this point. What were trying to explain are some principles that you can use to make the decision for your own company and to be successful regardless of which path you take. Kami was passing the torch to me to talk about creating clarity through principles. One successful way of driving this hybrid work environment is to be really clear and sort of what are the operating guidelines, what are the barriers or the walls that you set up that people have to live within. This can help employees and teams know how to navigate sort of this new thing, this new paradigm, this new level of ambiguity. Some examples of possible principles are things like, we want to maximize innovation and creativity. That’s our goal in figuring out where people should be working. We want to maximize innovation and creativity. That principle could lead you to make a whole bunch of different decisions around hybrid.
Another one could be, we want to drive more autonomy. We really believe that our employees are adults, they can make the right decisions about how and where to work. We want to increase their level of autonomy. That’s what we want to design in our hybrid work environment. I think this is probably important for anybody who’s doing this. We want to create some kind of parity. So no matter where you work, whether you decide to come back to the office, whether you decide to work in some remote fashion, or whether you decide to do a combination of the two. No matter where you are, you feel you have equal access to opportunity and to resources.
But probably the most important principle and one that we strongly recommend companies do is to start by identifying the work that must be done in the office, to actually think, what does need to happen in a physical plant perhaps with other people around you or with specific tools that you need, that can’t be done anywhere else? Once you identify that subset of the work that needs to be done, then tell employees, you’ve got the autonomy to choose your path, to get the rest of the work done. But you have to start by understanding really what needs to be done in the office. That’s the starting place.
Now, there’s a couple of ways you can do that. You could do it by project or goals, so get very specific about a project or goal. You can get even more specific and say, “It’s fantastic.” Or a little bit more generic and say, “You know, it’s really more by function or by role type.” When I worked at The Gap for many, many years, we would want to bring all of our product development teams together, because there’s some magic that happens when the team is touching the product, when they’re looking at the color palette, when they’re feeling the density of the weave, when they see how the garment drapes on the model, and they can touch it and tweak it to make it better. Those functions probably need to spend more time in the office. Whereas I was in HR, I could do my entire job remotely.
Thinking about what work must be done either project, goal, task, function, or role type I think is a good way to think about this. There are other ways to do it, and your company might not be ready to take that big leap, leave and just identify a small subset of things that need to be done in the office and give everybody else permission to do it. You might want to give maybe some more generic guidance and that’s fine. You might be a little bit concerned about the level of autonomy you’re giving; you might want to be a little more directive. This is another way to do it. You can say, either by day, this group of people needs to be in the office, and these other days, they can be at home. Or by week, this group of individuals, this team needs to be in the office. These days, they can be at home. So you can be a little bit more generic in how you do it.
This is simpler, it takes less work. It’s easier to execute, but it does have some negative ramifications on employee engagement. Meaning, you’re taking away some of the newfound autonomy. How are you going to keep it down on the farm after this? You’re taking away some of that newfound autonomy by sort of dictating when they need to be in the office, as opposed to letting the work dictate that. Still, it’s an option. For your organizations that are considering this sort of hybrid model where you can work sometimes in the office, and where you can work sometimes at home, how are you doing that? Do your employees have complete control over their schedule? Is it within team guidelines, bigger organizational guidelines or you’re not letting people choose it all or you haven’t made a decision yet?
We want to take a deep dive into this concept of economy, the flexibility to work where you want to work, the power to do that. Let’s explore this a little bit. Now, the struggle for working in the office, and working at home, and the flexibility idea, this is not a new struggle. I’ve been in HR for most of my career and I can think back 10, 20 years, we’re having this conversation about, “Do we allow people the flexibility to work where they want, when they want, how they want” long before COVID. It’s a struggle for companies. Can we trust employees to work where they want, when they want as long as they hit their objectives? That’s holding employees accountable to meeting their goals, but giving them the autonomy to choose where they want to work.
HR leaders put up all sorts of obstacles to this. Business leaders put up all sorts of obstacles. I’ve lived it in real time in the companies that I’ve worked, and they say things like, “This gives the employee too much freedom. We have to focus exclusively in driving the business, maybe because business is soft right now, so we have a luxury of changing our paradigm. It’s not the right time to make this change.” I’m sure you have if you’ve been at a company heard leaders say things like this. It’s not the right time to become more flexible, but there are companies who have done it long before COVID who have been successful.
I think of the one in particular. In 2007 I believe it was. Best Buy, electronics company in the US. they created this thing called ROWE, results only work environment. It was like Nirvana for those of us who want to move toward a flexible working environment. What it said was, all you need to do is hit your goals, the rest is up to you. I remember one of their slogans was, “Every day is a Saturday.” You choose how, and where, and when you’re going to work as long as you achieve your goal. So it is possible to have this kind of environment happen. It was happening long before COVID. I think we need to leverage some of those successes as we’re thinking about what we’re doing.
I want to stop for a second and let you reflect on what might be preventing your company, what has prevented or could prevent your company from embracing a flexible work program like this hybrid idea that we’re talking about.
[00:18:12] KS: I think that the first thing that we need to tackle is the way we think about autonomy and flexibility that comes very natural to us and instinctively. Based on also the learning environment, and years, and years of being in a specific culture. Both in terms of the nation that you are, but also the organizational culture. The first thing that often come to mind when we, give your employees more autonomy, we actually have the knee-jerk reaction to thing. “But wait. So I’m going to give them the autonomy to the site whether to work.” And suddenly like, they will know be doing and fulfilling on their projects, and tasks and deliverables.
But there is a mind shift that needs to happen and almost mitigating the immediate pushback on autonomy, and re-shifting that to thinking about, it’s not about whether to work, it’s more about how to work effectively. Which goes back to what Rob was mentioning earlier that, it’s not necessarily about the autonomy, it’s not a control over somebody who’s doing or not doing the work. It’s much more about giving them autonomy and keeping them accountable for the deliverable, for the product, for anything that they need to accomplish in that specific timeframe all within their role.
There’s also another component that is really profoundly, especially right now heightened for a lot of managers. That we think that there is a lot of threat of letting go, that we all experience as human beings. But when it comes to autonomy and letting go of the control, especially in the virtual environment, there is a natural imbalance that is coming up for us. Meaning that the more autonomy we feel, that the more autonomy we give to our employees, so we increase their autonomy. That somehow that comes as an experience of perceived loss of control, as a manager can have over the team, over the product, over the deliverable, loss of ownership. And some level of certainties also getting taxed to some extent, because again, it comes down to this level of feeling that there is a control, rather than coming from the perspective of accountability.
[00:20:18] ROK: One of the recurring themes was, CEO wants control.
[00:20:21] KS: That’s an interesting part, because that’s exactly what I’m going to talk about it in here. Those are the immediate challenges. But the reasons for why we struggle for flexible work, why we struggle with flexible work arrangements, and giving our workforce more autonomy is actually three folds to some extent. They probably are more, but we think that those are the three that are the main drivers, or the main roadblocks for us. One is the biases that we have. Meaning the cognitive biases that are going to kick in, but also the implicit biases and the way we learn to operate in specific cultures. Because we know from a lot of NLI research and everything that we’ve been discussing about cognitive biases, that they do shape our perception unconsciously. Before we even process the information fully, we already get into the pattern of thinking based on our past experiences, and what worked, what is the easiest, what is the default way for us to work.
The other one is actually the power dynamics, as Rob has mentioned and somebody mentioned that in the CEO. The importance of understanding that the higher we go in hierarchy, and we gain more power, there are measurable cognitive effects of power that shape how we perceive everything around us. Including decision-making, including the perception of how we perceive goals versus details, workforce meaning people versus actually task, then deliverables. All of those things inform our vantage point. In here, we actually specifically chose the graphic to show the difference between when you look up from the bottom of the mountain up to the mountain in terms of when you think you’re reflecting that as a hierarchy, you have a very different point of view, and you see different obstacles, and different lens, and different landscape. Then those who are looking from the top down, meaning that the same piece of information can be perceived very, very differently and it’s going to impact, and hinder some of the decision-making, and some of the processes.
The last one, I call it the autonomy’s tug-of-war, because it’s not just that one size doesn’t fit all, also, that we internally as human beings, we want both autonomy to have a control and have a sense of control over our environment, both as a manager but also as an employee. That’s across the board. But also, we want some level of structure. Meaning that’s just like there is no innovation happening, there is no boundary. So we need some boundaries to be broken for the innovation to happen. We also like to have some structure, and certainty, and predictability about what is the scope within which I can exercise my autonomy, which goes back to the idea of principles rather than rules, so to have some guidelines for us.
There is quite a dew few different components why we struggle with these biases, power dynamics and the autonomy tug-of-war that we have on a cognitive and emotional level. Regardless of all this, what we need to do right now is realize that’s flexible work arrangements are no longer a perk. They are right now an expectation. We faced the sweet taste of autonomy in 2020, despite the fact that it was challenging at the beginning, but it open up a window for us as human beings, and employees, and workforce to see that there is a different way of working. That we realized that the jobs that we thought we can’t just do remote. we actually can. And some level of flexibility is actually quite beneficial, and we can find way to do that. Progressively, it’s one of the thing to consider, that because it’s no longer a perk, it’s now an expectation, it’s an advantage. It’s something that is differentiating factor for organizations and workforce.
We want to make sure that we rethink and reframe the perception of autonomy that we have as more of a powerful lever for engagements for our employees. Rather than thinking of autonomy as the zero sum. “I might be giving you the freedom to do whatever you want, and you don’t show up to work. Oh! I’m controlling you on the very end of the spectrum in doing everything and exactly the way I wanted with all the emails and interjecting in conversations.” There is definitely five different ways we can think about autonomy, and five different domains to pull that lever to enable our workforce to be more engaged in the organization.
[00:24:37] ROK: Before you go to the SCARF Model. We really struggle about whether we just wanted to talk about what we typically talk about when you’re talking about flexible work environments, which is people who exclusively work in offices, as opposed to people who are in jobs that don’t have a choice. When I was at The Gap, all of our salespeople in all of our distribution centers, employees had no choice. They had to physically be in those locations, and we were trying to figure out, “Well, do we want to talk about it? Do we not talk about that?” We ultimately decided not to, but one thing that I will say about people who don’t have a choice, who have to be physically in a plant in order to do their jobs is, you want to give them some kind of flexibility.
For us, in stores, it was giving sales associates as much autonomy in choosing when they work. I mean, they had to be in the store, they had to work a certain number of hours. That’s the way our work process was structured. But when they were physically there, we wanted to try to give them as much autonomy to choose their actual schedule. Give them a methodology for swapping hours out with other people, so that they felt a little bit of control in their world where we could give it to them. But we ultimately decided that this conversation was really only going to be about people who are working in office spaces, and it is a challenge there to be parity.
I’ll spend a little bit more time at answering just a minute. Kami, what would you add to that?
[00:25:52] KS: That’s one thing we will be discussing. There’s also a level of reframing for us when we think about — instead of think those who work on-sites that they don’t have a choice. I think that we need to also rethink that they don’t have a choice whether to be off-site or on-site. But from an organizational standpoint and equity standpoint, we need to think about what are the other things that we can level the playing field, as Rob, you’ll be discussing later, to help offset some of the imbalance. Because it’s not about creating everything in exactly the same axis, because the different types of work, and the different roles will have different consequences and implications.
But thinking about it from our human needs when it comes to actually going through and thinking from an equity perspective is thinking back to the core psychological needs that we have that are not bound by the location, but that are not bound by where you are and whether you have to be on site or not. And actually designing principles, and guidelines, and all the structures to accommodate, and inform, and send the positive signals across the five domains of SCARF. SCARF, for those of you who don’t know. It’s the five psychological domains of needs that we all have as human beings. If they are not addressed, they are creating quite a lot of threat response, that we may have stress, and confusion and sometimes disengagement if they are not met repeatedly.
I think that that would be an important component to think about making it equitable based on psychological needs for development, for growth, for stretch goals. Those should not be not available to those who work on site, they should be equally available. There will be different type, but they should be equally available when it comes to actually translating that principle to the hybrid world, rather than the one versus another.
[00:27:37] ROK: If given too much choice about where to work, does that make the workplace more homogeneous? For example, will more women decide to stay at home to take care of children? Meaning, more men will be in the office, unless women will be in the office. What are your thoughts about that?
[00:27:53] KS: I think that there is a cost and benefit to that. We need to think that in those terms, because right now, what we know from a lot of research is that the shift from working from home, essentially means quite of a setback for women in professional domains, because they are actually taking careful doing multiple jobs at the same time. So we want to make sure that we don’t over correct, and actually take care of those like the setback that are inevitable with the change in context to make sure that we troubleshoot this, the setback, and kind of offset with more equitable approach.
The other thing is that, when we think about creating more flexibility of where to work, and also making sure that we are allowing for more equitable access to resources in organizations on sites is that we want to make sure that we don’t deepen the diversity, and inclusion, and access to resources between different groups, different minorities. When you think about those who need to be on site or those who work on site versus those who work from remote in HR offices, we want to level the playing field across the board. Actually, not to create this inadvertently deeper setback across both women and minorities when it comes to allowing for autonomy for some groups and not the others.
Does that answer the question? And Rob, do you have anything to add to that?
[00:29:12] ROK: I think you hit the nail right on the head. I certainly don’t want to create an environment that doesn’t feel equal, but I’m so much an advocate of treating people like adults within some guardrails. I think too often, companies have this mentality that if they don’t use sort of a command-and-control approach, where you’re seen that you’re not doing your job, and then you’re not effective. And we know from all the research, old and new, that people are not motivated by being micromanaged. That’s just not how people operate. From a brain perspective, it’s even worst. The brain shuts down when you have an autonomy threat.
I would rather air toward the side of giving a little bit more autonomy within some guidelines, and figure out how to tweak for the negative ramifications that might come up, then to be really conservatives and not give people the chance to actually work the way they feel they want to and need to.
Our last chapter speaks to sort of this idea of a level playing field. If you really are going to do hybrid and do it well, as Kami mentioned earlier, it’s not one plus one equals two. You really need to maximize and build a structure that works for everyone no matter where they are. It can’t be that the people who work in the office have an advantage over people who work remotely, or an advantage over people who do both. You have to level the playing field.
Kami already said it too, alluded to this. You need to give everybody the same access to resources. And by resources, I mean like everything. Access to time off, access to professional development, stretch assignments. Regardless of where you work, you should be able to be eligible for stretch assignment. There are highly visible project opportunities for everybody, regardless of whether they’re sitting next to you in the office or a thousand miles away should have that same access to resources.
I’ll throw in technology as well. Often, it’s easier to work in the office because the technology is better there. When you’re remote, you’re dealing with all sorts of dial-up issues years and years ago, or VPN issues now, or Zoom issues. Companies need to make it easy for employees to work no matter where they are, so access to resources.
The second is going back to our first chapter, principles that are clear and you’ll need to decide for your organization what those principles are. Are you driving autonomy? Are driving equity, parity? Whatever those principles are, but that they’re consistently managed. So no matter again where you sit in the organization, you’re applying those principles the same way. The third is that, everything becomes hybrid and just reading that you’re probably going to, “What the heck does that mean?” I’m going to give you one example that I think will illustrate what we mean by that.
I remember before COVID when I was working remotely, and I was in a decision-making meeting with my peers, and they were all in the office. They were in a conference room and I was that one remote person on the TV in the corner of the room that nobody paid attention to, they forgot about me. Really hard for me to get my voice heard. Maybe once in a while, there was a good facilitator in the meeting who said, “Oh Rob, what are you thinking?” But it’s usually at the very end of the meeting.
If you really want to do hybrid well, in those kinds of meetings were decisions are being made, were everybody’s voice is important where it needs to be parity, everyone needs to be out on their own laptop, regardless of whether they’re in the office in a conference room, or they are remote. That starts to make hybrid equitable across the entire organization. There are probably hundreds of examples we could come up with, but you have to do that. Because otherwise, there will always be a deficit for working remotely and if you really truly want to drive a hybrid work environment, you need to do those kinds of things and make those things equal.
The next thing is about leaders, and I pointed out that in the chat, CEOs were one obstacle toward rolling out flexible work arrangements. I think leaders in general are more traditional, not all of them, but in my experience. Where I usually need to influence in my organization is leadership. Often, there are more on the traditional side, and I have to, in a sense, sell them on the idea of something that’s different, show them new research, influence them. Getting leaders to reinforce this new working paradigm is critical to the success, and leaders are strong source of normative social influence. What I mean by that is, people look to them. They watch what they do, they listen to what they say, they look at the decisions that they make. When leaders adopt these new habits, the habits can become contagious within an organization.
Getting leaders on board, aligned, communicating the right story and modeling behavior is absolutely critical. Hybrid work environments will not succeed if the leaders are not wrap around and being the role models of that. But again, there is a unique challenge here, and that unique challenge is that most leaders are traditional. I won’t say they all use a command-and-control model, but many do, and you’ve got to get them to move away from that in order to make something like this effective, or else, it’s not going to work. It’s going to backfire.
Get them involved in a principle making part of your work. Let them help decide what those things are, because that will give them the buy in to make this work. I don’t think we can have a conversation about working remotely or this hybrid world without talking about culture. I’m sure somewhere in this presentation already, you’ve heard the word culture, but some believe that you can’t keep a culture alive by working remotely, or at least it’s harder if not impossible to maintain a company’s culture. The culture is what’s inside the walls of the organization that you’re working in, and 2020 shattered that myth.
The company I’m working in right now, the culture feels exactly the same as it did before COVID and I would bet for most of you, you could probably make the same statement. Culture is not about where you work, it’s about how you work. Culture is the shared everyday habits that show up in the organization, the things that are said. It’s about how we work with each other, how we interact with each other. So it is possible to keep the culture of your organization alive, even if you use a hybrid model, because it’s not about where you work.
Our CEO, David Rock recently published an article in Forbes about this. If you need to convince your leaders that culture can continue on in its current state, even in a hybrid world, this article might be helpful for you in doing that. Kami, what would you like to add?
[00:35:23] KS: You are right on the money when we think about culture. In many ways, like the simplest way for me to think about culture is, the culture is about behavior. It’s not about location. Because the way we behave, the way we talk to people, the way we execute on processes, the way we engage in conversations, in decision-making, that’s where culture comes in the most. That goes back to how people behave, not necessarily whether they sit in the same office. I think that for me, the simplest is behavior, it’s not location that when we think about culture.
With that, we can actually make culture work across many different modes. We are going to miss some of the social behavior, like we do like hanging out with people and we miss a lot of cues when we are not seeing each other physically. But there is still a way to actually sustain culture, and open up the culture across the board without actually creating more of the pocket and clicks that are technically showing up for us as human beings when we are in offices. Some people go out for drinks, other don’t. But when everything is hybrid, or when we are spread out, we actually even it out quite a lot when it comes to creating that behavior, and following what others are doing, and how they’re acting.
When we want to create more networking and relationship building, that activities should be done within work hours. Because I think that the moment we think of, “Oh! You can network after workouts, especially when we have hybrid, and especially if we introduce the new decision about went to work. What that create is sometimes that we would expect people to do it after work hours, which is no longer a culture. It’s more of a social engagement. I think that that would be one of the things to think about, doing the things within agreed work hours. Not necessarily 9:00 to 5:00, but within the time when everybody’s available to do that.
Then a lot of relationship building, and networking within the organization is actually happening through meeting. Sometimes it’s a one-on-one, sometimes it’s a group, sometimes it’s meeting and talking not about work. Talking about something very different that actually enables to build some of the similarity with everybody and create the in group that we actually learned about the other person from a perspective of not what they are doing, but who they are, what do they like, what is that we have in common that is different from us being on the same projects. It’s depending on what we want, what we are aiming for, whether it’s relatedness, meeting this belonging then we should go for more of the things that I’m not work oriented but more about our humanity oriented. Like who you are as a person. and do we have anything else to discuss, and I’m sure we do, so let’s do that. Let’s explore those options.
[00:37:57] ROK: It’s really interesting. Maybe I’m unusual here, but I felt that I built really incredible relationships in the last year and they were all virtual. The intimacy of Zoom, I’m using that word deliberately. I feel like when I talk to someone to Zoom, especially one-on-one, I can’t be like disappearing and going somewhere else. They’re looking right at me, I’m looking right at them. I have built really strong relationships, and I currently work for the NeuroLeadership Institute. I only started working there in August, so I had to build all those relationships exclusively in a remote environment, and I think Zoom helped me do that, because I met with people, I reached out to people. We have a chat function. I’ve built really strong relationships and I’ve yet, in some cases, I have never met some of these people in person. I don’t see it as a difference. I think you just have to realize, it’s not the same as being in an office. It isn’t that drive-by, that casual thing that happens by the water cooler, but you can build really strong effective relationships even electronically.
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[00:38:54] GB: Your Brain at Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producers are Cliff David, Matt Holodak, and Danielle Kirshenblat. Our executive producer is me, Gabriel Berezin. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky, and logo design is by Katch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.