How to make the hybrid and remote workplace better and more fulfilling

A new report by Gartner suggests virtualized, office-centric models are spiking fatigue, often decreasing productivity and causing low morale.

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When so much of the workforce shifted to remote and hybrid amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations worried the lack of in-person contact would hinder the well-being of workers, cause a decrease in productivity and an overall dilution of company culture. 

And the response to these concerns, according to a new report by Gartner, was to all too often copy "office-centric practices"--such as "virtualizing on-site practices, adding monitoring systems and increasing meetings."  

The result, Gartner says in the study, "Redesigning Work for the Hybrid World," was that these executions have often not been helpful for morale and have indeed worsened fatigue among employees in many cases. To address the situation, Gartner is proposing what it calls a "human-centric model."  

SEE: Remote work policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Back in January 2021, Gartner surveyed more than 2,400 knowledge employees about their hybrid or remote working situations. Gartner says the study revealed that using tracking systems, for instance, made workers almost two times more likely to pretend to be doing their job, and in turn, it aggravated the "always-on" feeling. And the result? Increased fatigue. 

Gartner goes on to say that when workers experience spiked exhaustion, performance can fall by up to 33%, feelings of inclusion plummet by up to 44% and they are 54% less likely to remain with their organization because of these circumstances.

Moreover, Gartner maintains its research shows that a mere 4% of employees presently working hybrid or remotely would want to return fully on-site if they had their choice. Making employees go back to the on-site environment, Gartner says, could cause organizations to lose up to 39% of their personnel.

"Force-fitting a design created for a different environment exacerbates fatigue, and fatigue impacts many talent outcomes," said Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice, in a press release. "When employees experience high levels of fatigue, employee performance decreases by up to 33%, feelings of inclusion decrease by up to 44% and employees are up to 54% less likely to remain with their employer."

To counter such circumstances, Gartner encourages companies to embrace the hybrid work model. In particular, the firm advises organizations to provide employee-driven flexibility--one where they can "choose where, when and how they work." And for such a policy to be successful, Gartner says "employers must destigmatize flexible working by making it the default--not the exception--and developing principles--not policies--around flexible working." Gartner goes on to claim that its study shows allowing flexibility leads to companies often seeing a three-times jump in high employee performance.

SEE: Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What's more, Gartner suggests management should adopt an empathy-based approach toward employees working in a hybrid environment. And the report says "while 89% of HR leaders agree managers must lead with empathy in the hybrid environment, Gartner research revealed that organizational investments in managers to enable empathy-based management are falling short." 

For example, according to the report, "while 68% of HR leaders agree that many managers are overwhelmed by their responsibilities in today's hybrid work model, only 14% of organizations have changed manager role design to reduce their responsibilities." 

In response, Gartner suggests that the notion of empathy among management needs to pivot from "performance by inputs toward performance by outcomes." Still, the analysis acknowledges that managers are often overwhelmed and overworked, so HR needs to respond by taking on "a holistic strategy that focuses on overcoming three common barriers to empathy: skill, mindset and capacity." 

Finally, Gartner suggests organizations ought to enable "intentional collaboration." Pre-COVID, it says the companies viewed the "[o]ffice-centric design" as a launching pad for those "serendipitous 'water-cooler' moments," which often ended in innovation. This idea, according to the study, has been a primary reference point for reasons given by companies for why employees should return to the office. Moreover, Gartner says its survey shows that HR employees "believe synchronous work--individuals working together whether in-person or virtually--is most critical to drive innovation." Gartner, though, rejects this notion, claiming its data shows that "asynchronous work" is equally important for striving for team innovation.

"Intentional collaboration democratizes access to all modes of working--focused not just on location, but time-spend – and is inclusive of both business and employee needs," said Cambon. "Progressive organizations are relying less on innovation by chance, and more on innovation by design. Among employees whose organizations have high levels of intentional collaboration, 75% also report having high levels of team innovation."

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