It’s tempting to think that the pandemic is over, even though the Delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly through the U.S. and only 45.3% of all American adults are fully vaccinated. Offices are slowly reopening, but it’s impossible to know what the second half of the year will look like. Uncertainty is still with us and managers should plan for a bumpy ride.
Findings from a new survey of knowledge workers can help company leaders set new expectations and guardrails for navigating this latest work challenge. Slack’s research group, the Future Forum, recently released the results of its latest knowledge worker survey. The Pulse survey found that “Flexibility is now a core benefit—it ranks second only to compensation among factors that employees value in their jobs.” The survey found that employees want more flexibility about how they get work done across the board:
- 76% want some form of flexibility where they work
- 93% want flexibility when they work
Future Forum Pulse is a survey of 10,447 knowledge workers in the USA, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the U.K. conducted by Qualtrics April 26–May 6, 2021.
The report authors recommend rethinking behavior and mindset changes, not just figuring out “how many days a week employees are expected to come into the office or a narrow focus on real estate strategy.”
This advice drawn from several Future Forum reports recommends seven tactical and strategic shifts that will help leaders and workers adjust to a mix of in-person and remote work.
Give two types of feedback frequently
The “Moving from retrofit to redesign on diversity, equity and inclusion: a how-to guide for leaders” report recommends starting your attitude adjustment by thinking about how you evaluate employee performance. In a hybrid environment, the focus should be on skills and outcomes, not outdated ideas about how work should be done or how employees should act.
Also, managers should evaluate how they give feedback. Sheela Subramanian, the author of the report, recommends that conversations about employee performance should happen frequently and cover two types of feedback:
- Performance feedback about how an individual is doing relative to performance expectations for their current role
- Career feedback about how one is tracking relative to achieving their career goals
Future Forum’s research found that Black, Latinx and other people of color tend to get less career feedback, such as specific discussions about skills, accomplishments and relationships individuals should develop to move up at work. Subramanian recommends that managers should be “career collaborators” with employees and schedule career conversations on a regular basis.
Track who gets opportunities for advancement
In another recent survey, people looking for a new job named a lack of growth opportunities as a big motivation to move. Fixing this problem requires offering these opportunities to everyone equally, according to the “Moving from retrofit to redesign on diversity, equity and inclusion: a how-to guide for leaders” report. Managers need to be deliberate in making sure everyone gets equal access:
“It’s the role of the leaders to track and equitably distribute who they’re selecting for stretch opportunities and cross-functional assignments, which are critical for professional development and career advancement. Employees of color often feel excluded from consideration for these opportunities, which can lead to lack of satisfaction, engagement and confidence one can succeed at the organization.”
Give ERGs financial and logistical support
Future Forum research found that 65% of respondents said that employee resource groups have been helpful in a hybrid environment but among 50 ERG leaders surveyed, only 10% said their resources went up during the pandemic.
As the report authors note, “If diversity, equity and belonging are a key part of your business strategy, then your ERG leaders are your core advisors and should be compensated and recognized accordingly.” In other words, simply establishing an employee resource group is not enough–your company has to walk to the talk and support the groups with time, money and moral and logistical support.
Learn to delegate authority
In addition to the diversity report, the Future Forum also published a hybrid how-to based on advice from a working group of senior executives across a range of Fortune 500 companies. One key tactic is to “give team-level autonomy to achieve goals rather than top-down directions.” Helen Kupp recommends providing big picture guidelines for work arrangements and then letting teams decide the specific rules that suit their needs in the Hybrid How-To report.
Micromanaging has never been a winning strategy, but the destructive tendencies of that particular management mistake have even bigger implications in a hybrid work setting.
Plan time together
The report recommends scheduling monthly or quarterly events well in advance to bring teams together in-person. This gives people plenty of time to plan to be in the office and schedule activities best done in person. Kupp also suggests creating a consistent experience for both in-person and remote workers. This means making sure remote workers can participate equally in all meetings by using a digital whiteboard instead of a physical one or selecting a hybrid meeting moderator. This approach will ensure a level playing field and avoid “in-person favoritism,” according to the report.
Orchestrate “curated collisions”
Many reports on the downside of remote work include the loss of water-cooler conversations. Future Forum research suggests that another casualty of working from home is fewer opportunities to connect with people on other teams and to find sponsors. Managers will have to deliberately recreate these random conversations and opportunities for people to network. Gensler, an architecture, design and planning firm with offices around the world, has studied this office dynamic and suggests “curated collisions” as a new approach to try:
“Imagine an app that prompts you to meet five new people in the office for lunch. An office app could curate diverse profiles across seniority levels, age, ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation to promote social meetups. These triggered connections could be applied to book clubs, affinity groups, and other safe spaces within the office to authentically create connections and interactions between diverse groups of employees.”
In the retrofit to redesign report, Subramanian suggests testing these digital tools to randomly pair individuals and build one-to-one ties and create opportunities for meetings without agendas or business-related conversation. Subramanian writes that “by investing in human moments in the office, whether through hoteling or desk swaps or activity-based design, the office can be used to build relationships outside of one’s immediate team.”
Develop a new set of rules of the road
Researchers at Future Forum spoke with Melanie Collins, the chief people officer at Dropbox, to write a case study about how the company has changed its operations as a result of the pandemic. Before the shift to 100% remote work, only 3% of employees worked at home. Collins said that the company made a deliberate shift in culture and moved away from office-based perks and entitlement to flexibility.
To set the new rules of the road, the Dropbox team took data from the engineering product lifecycle, company and financial goals and employee engagement data into consideration. The new guiding principles for the company are:
- Support the company mission: to design a more enlightened way of working
- Provide flexibility and freedom for employees
- Preserve human connection while maintaining a level playing field
- Support long-term business health
- Maintain a learning mindset by being flexible and adaptive
The company also developed a Virtual First Toolkit to guide the shift.