5 lessons we learned from leading a hybrid organization over 8 years

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As the United States and other parts of the world begin to reappear blockages and other restrictions, much of the business community has engaged in one conversation – when and how should companies bring their employees back to the table. office, or should they bring them all back? While gallons of ink (or billions of pixels) have been spent discussing the subject, at the company I run, BetterUp, this has not been a problem at all.

We are constantly asked about our thoughts on hybrid workplaces, given that we have had a hybrid model since our inception, but also because we work in partnership with many large global companies. Everyone struggles with these questions. They reflect a larger trend and a long overdue conversation about flexibility.

Even before the pandemic hit, 40% of BetterUp’s workforce was remote, a larger block of our team than the one housed in one of our physical offices. A hybrid approach has been in our DNA from the very beginning, which has given us a unique perspective on the current debate. Here are five of the lessons we learned about the challenges and rewards of hybrid work.

Design from research, data and first principles

As an evidence-based human transformation company, we strongly believe in following science, wherever possible, and using research-validated best practices for the best results. When you are evaluating whether an in-person or hybrid model will work better for your business, there is a whole area of ​​work psychology that offers empirical answers to questions of whether employees perform better in the office or remotely, or if they are. they are more creative. or happier in their work.

Does this mean that the published research contains all the answers? No, but he is a starting point for thinking about what you’re trying to accomplish, how you’re designing to get the results you want, and what metrics you need to keep track of to make sure it’s working. For BetterUp, having a strong culture was important. We recognized that we need to be explicit about our values ​​and how they translate into behaviors, since people aren’t together every day. We have become very intentional about onboarding employees so that every part reflects our culture and reinforces our values ​​from the start.

Data suggests that distributed teams, flexible hours, remote working, and asynchronous collaboration may all work, but work practices, supporting tools and processes, and managerial skills all make a difference. Our own research has found that workers report feeling more efficient now in a remote environment, and report feeling 56% more creativity and innovative thinking. At the same time, a large-scale study recently released by Microsoft reveals that while productivity is on the rise, conversations are on the decline, which has implications for the creativity and innovation of teams. The mixed results are not surprising: neither going from a distance nor being in person, alone, stimulates creativity and innovation.

Running a hybrid model requires being deliberate and evolving everything about your business, not just once, but over and over again. You need to be more explicit about what matters. Since your priorities and considerations are unique to your business, you should use the data to help you create the best route to your particular goals.

Related: Why employee uncertainty should be a top priority for leaders

Make your decision

Different structures will suit different organizations and may reflect the personal beliefs and preferences of leadership. If you have a firm belief that remote workers aren’t as dedicated to their jobs or can’t collaborate effectively with their office colleagues, you’re unlikely to be able to successfully lead a hybrid team. At BetterUp, we decided early on that we didn’t want people to have to weigh career progression or interesting collaborative work with geographic flexibility. Make realistic assessments based on your particular situation, but whatever decision you make, take full responsibility for that decision.

Many banks, for example, have been adamant in telling employees, “If you don’t show up, you’re not going to work here, or you won’t be successful here. I respect the integrity of being open to this reality. As harsh as it may sound, honesty is preferable to staunch commitments of “flexibility” which management does not intend to support through equal treatment and opportunity for remote employees.

On the flip side, a lot of tech companies have been keen to say, “You can stay away. forever. We don’t care where you do your work. Some tech talent reacted quickly, settling in places that better match their needs, lifestyle and aspirations. Others simply sighed with relief that they no longer had to structure their lives around a long and expensive journey.

Either way, clarity is the key. The murky environment is what confuses and frustrates. This doesn’t mean you have to say “forever,” but develop a model that you are willing to commit to and be clear on the principles and parameters.

Whether you decide to take your organization entirely remotely, entirely in person, or something in between, you won’t be successful unless you believe in the model, commit to iterating your practices to make it work, and communicating clearly (and often). ) with your team (not only To them).

Follow the ‘little mermaid principle’

One of the main motivations behind BetterUp’s initial decision to go for a hybrid model was our desire to create a truly inclusive culture. It meant finding (or creating) ways to bring more diverse talent into our organization with opportunities that didn’t exclude anyone who didn’t fit a certain profile. With our head office in San Francisco, we have found it to be incredibly competitive and difficult to hire diverse talent – especially technical talent – in the Bay Area.

As Ariel sang in The little Mermaid, you have to go where the people are. One of the most powerful advantages of a hybrid model is that it allows you to both follow the strategic imperative and live up to your company’s values ​​by seeking diverse talent wherever they are. geographically find.

Related: 1 in 4 employees feel like they don’t belong: here’s why it matters and what to do about it

Create an “adaptive space”

While a hybrid model has been a strength for BetterUp, it also presents real challenges. If you design with the assumption that people are in the same office, remote workers can end up feeling like second-class citizens. Finding effective ways to generate ideas together can also be difficult.

At BetterUp, we rely heavily on frequent and intentionally designed off-sites to overcome these challenges. When you have more people far away, you save on real estate costs. We dedicate a portion of these savings to team and corporate retreats. About once a quarter (when travel and gatherings are possible), we bring our people together face to face.

Not only does this create personal connections and the feeling that we are all an equally valuable team, but it also enables the creation of what Amazon author and director Michael Arena calls “Adaptive Space”. These “free trade zones” for ideas provide opportunities for conversation and serendipity to spark innovative ideas. With the stronger bonds that form and continue to develop after the event ends, these sparks of ideas can be channeled into corporate structures that can turn them into concrete actions.

Remote work is ideal for focused concentration. This isn’t always good for connection and creativity, so companies need to be intentional when it comes to “adaptive space” engineering and team cohesion.

Related: Whether you are a professional athlete, or a professional, you need a coach

Middle managers are all important

When I hear leaders arguing from a distance or in person, I often want to tell them that the whole conversation doesn’t matter. Success depends less on the option you choose and more on ensuring that managers are competent regardless of your business paradigm. Being home or not being home will be just as poor if your manager doesn’t know how to handle you there.

Regardless of your business format, middle managers will be faced with the same set of questions: How can they generate peak performance? How can they develop effectively and include everyone? Create psychological security? Catalyze energy in the workforce? Choosing a hybrid or internal model will change the way managers answer these questions, but the end goals they aim for are the same. Whichever path they take, it will take training, coaching, and reflection. No less worrying about the distance to travel, and more about equipping your managers to be successful, whatever design you land on.

Eight years later and now with over 500 employees, BetterUp is living proof that a hybrid model can work for an innovative, fast-growing business. Managing both in-person and remote team members takes care, thought, and commitment, but done right, hybrid work can be a serious competitive advantage for your business.


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