Two years ago, knowledge workers were forced into a new global experiment called ‘remote work.’
A year ago, we had (mostly) adapted and realized what we were experiencing might just be a new ‘future of work.’ Some rediscovered the joys of working without the constraints of a commute, while others bemoaned the loss of the connections found in an office.
Now with offices reopening worldwide, we’re figuring out how to make hybrid work, work.
But in all these scenarios, I think we’ve been so focused on the short-term situation – survive and adapt at all costs – that we haven’t asked how those doing the work feel about two years of working differently. To use an idiom, we can’t see the forest for the trees.
This is why I was so pleasantly surprised by the recent study Webex by Cisco commissioned with MIT Sloan Management Review around hybrid work. The results are somewhat antithetical to the hand wringing, sky-is-falling narrative we’ve been hearing for two years.
Instead, this study has now corroborated what we’ve suspected and experienced for two years, namely that hybrid work, works. And it’s going really well!
The study found that hybrid work improves corporate culture. Feelings of inclusion and diversity have improved. Location doesn’t drive a sense of belonging – human-centric leadership does. Managers actually can manage remote workers remotely. And younger generations are not suffering by working remotely – in fact they are thriving!
Pre-2020, the topic of the future of work was on everyone’s mind, although it had the moniker ‘digital transformation’. We were all hard at work developing and improving the technologies to make remote and mobile collaboration a reality. But this work was secondary to creating ever more exotic office spaces with perks designed to keep employees in the office.
The pandemic changed all that, and as Jeetu Patel, EVP and General Manager, Security & Collaboration at Cisco, wrote in his analysis of this study, there’s “no turning back from the hybrid work future.”
The fact that so many respondents confirmed that hybrid work improves corporate culture says a lot. The worries people had about fracturing the solidarity of an office-based workforce seem to have been reversed. We are seeing that people can stay connected without having to be in one place. And being distributed may actually be helping clear away some of the barriers to an inclusive culture.
As the expression goes, you can’t see the forest for the trees. Now that people are outside the ‘forest,’ they have a clearer perspective on how to make workplace relationships work better. Both employees and managers are using this new perspective to address changing needs and explore new behaviors.
At the same time, and in a way that further improves things, the survey found that “leadership, not location, bolsters feedback and a sense of belonging.” Remote work has given executives and senior leaders an enormous opportunity to develop new levels of empathy and connect with employees. This is a marvelous discovery! It does away with the misperception that successful leadership is based solely on physical presence.
Another of my favorite discoveries from the report is that 67% of respondents believe that their companies’ leaders believe that individuals working at home will get their work done well and on time. I love this – as a leader myself, I’ve worked hard to measure success based on output, not time worked. This experiment reinforced what I know: employees want to do good work; they take pride in a job well done and seek to expand their skills whenever they can.
People have spoken at length about the Great Resignation – employees quitting their jobs in large numbers in search of something better. Now, we are talking about the Great Renegotiation – employees looking to renegotiate the terms of their employment – specifically about where they work, how they work, and when they work.
But this study shows that maybe we are now in the more optimistic throes of what I would like to call ‘the Great Revelation,’ in which managers, employees, and executives alike are creating a better, healthier working relationship.
Smart leaders and organizations will recognize that the new social contract for work is an opportunity. And they will use all the advantages that hybrid work brings, including better technology, redefining what the ‘new normal’ looks like, and committing to innovative and empathic leadership.
Now that’s seeing the forest and the trees!
Hybrid work pulse check: insights into what employees are feeling [MIT study]
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