Keeping at-home workers engaged is essential, but it can be difficult
The workplace is changing. Flexibility and the hybrid model are probably here to stay. What we did learn during the pandemic is that people can effectively work remotely, and productivity tends to be stable or even increase. Flexibility is needed and must be a foundational element of every human capital strategy. However, workplace leaders need to keep the following risks in mind:
Inclusion. Silos in organizations seem to be increasing as hybrid environments evolve. Many people struggle when working through conflict, disagreements and challenging relationships with others. In environments where there are limited face-to-face interactions, those situations take longer to resolve.
Virtual interaction simply isn't the same as in-person. People must be very disciplined to avoid discounting or simply ignoring (though unintentionally) those who are not in the room. Organizations must adapt and make certain there is a commitment to include everyone, regardless of where they are. Leaders and their staff must be intentional about including others in all decisions, even if they're not in the room where it happens.
Anchoring a diverse talent pipeline. The diversity of a talent pipeline should be a core element of any human capital strategy. Organizations spend time assessing and evaluating their emerging talent to form succession plans and teams for special projects. Often visibility, networks and relationships are key to understanding the capability and capacity of people in the organization.
For this reason, leaders again will have to be intentional so they don't miss talented workers even when they are not physically present. Succession planning, development, compensation and promotions are being mentioned as large concerns for many remote workers. In a recent survey, BambooHR reported that remote workers estimate they lost more than $9,800, on average, in the form of delayed or denied promotions while working remotely as a result of workplace changes.
At this point, unfortunately, virtual presence doesn't have the same impact as in-person presence.
Casual conversation a casualty. Humans are amazing and complex social beings. This manifests differently in each person, so we must acknowledge that interacting directly with colleagues is essential to building and maintaining relationships — the foundation of trust in any team. Typing a message in a chat box is no replacement for sharing a quick thought with someone across the table. A virtual waiting room doesn't allow sharing random ideas before a meeting starts. These unscripted, unfiltered exchanges take place constantly in the office, from the break room to the board room. As casual or unplanned interactions are now infrequent and random, casual conversations must become more intentional.
Fear of missing out. In our conversations with clients, many express at least some concern about the fear of missing out on camaraderie with colleagues when working in a hybrid model. From architecture and redesign firm Gensler, which conducted a workplace survey: "In tandem with personal growth, professional development thrives in the workplace. But during the pandemic, less than half of all workers — just 43% — have participated in mentorship and coaching. Today's junior staff members are tomorrow's leaders, but this group is particularly affected by the decrease in engagement with more senior colleagues. Younger generations also feel less productive at home, less connected, and less satisfied with the work-from-home experience." The fear of missing out on relationships, involvement in important projects, promotions and development opportunities seems to be driving a greater desire to be back in the workplace for some workers.
The fear of missing out is real. Organizations must be agile and make certain they're including everyone, whether they are in the office or working from home.
People may not be physically present, but organizations must create a space where everyone is in the room where it happens.
Michael Grubich, MBA, is the president of the LAK Group. Marcella de la Torre, EdD, teaches courses at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.