It’s no longer about WHY we need to change for the hybrid workforce but HOW we can support strong, modern leadership for high-performing teams

What’s wrong with the new Hybrid workspace?

It took two years for most companies to go through the change cycle and accept why the traditional workplace should evolve.

Organizations with remote work in their DNA are ahead. Among them, Gitlab and Automattic are new role models to support a remote workforce with exceptional values geared towards employees’ success and well-being. Meanwhile, other companies are forcing employees to return to the office more or less subtly.

But it’s a back to a human movement where humankind realizes the most important things in life: loved ones, good health, and meaningful work where people feel valued. Be aware that a power shift is occurring at the moment. The most exciting hours and years of leadership are yet to come with the aftermath of the pandemic.

It’s time to re-read the best leadership books and on top of them: “The seven habits of highly effective people” by Stephen R. Covey. You don’t force people, you start by building relationships with them, and your customers’ satisfaction will equal employees’ happiness.

The results:

  • A majority of people don’t want to get back to the office, with 75% of employees that would prefer working from home at least half the time.

People quit their jobs, fueling the great resignation phenomenon (or the great relocation), and the top two reasons for this are :

  • 54% of employees don’t feel valued by their managers or their organizations
  • 52% say they don’t feel a sense of belonging at work, according to a recent McKinsey survey (Sept 21).

There’s a lack of listening symptoms here.

However, the good news is that many companies have started working on the redesign while experimenting with new innovative solutions, even if it’s taking time.

  • According to MIT research: starting in 2020, the first technology investments for half the companies were about providing or subsidizing technology for remote work, collaboration platforms, home Wi-Fi, or furniture for home offices.
  • Overall, companies are working hard to adapt, and according to research by Microsoft, already 66% of employers are redesigning their offices to meet the new demands of Hybrid work.

Despite all these early and continuous investments, now is the time to be more strategic, stop acting like a firefighter for burnout or virtual team tensions, and start doing some prevention work by designing our new work-life prototype within the new hybrid work framework.

So, where should companies start and focus their efforts?

I — What’s wrong?

When you try to use old ways in a new, changing environment, it’s like forcing a millennial to write an email for work updates instead of a quick Slack message or a time-saver shared Google doc or a project management tool.

It doesn’t mean that a phone call shouldn’t be a better way to connect for a 1-on-1 meeting or celebrate achievements. But not for reporting, such a tedious task. It’s much more efficient to post updates to a shared doc before the meeting and only highlight on a 1 to 1 call when the team member needs help.

The art of communication in the virtual world is a big deal, and we’re just learning how to do it.

You want to use the most appropriate tool every time to avoid creating discomfort, friction, and ultimately damaging trust irreversibly. Knowing that building trust is all about credibility in the role, positive relationships, and consistency, you can lose your credibility and trust if you create friction using the wrong tool.

So how do you select the right tools to manage people in the virtual/hybrid workplace? What are some examples of old ways that won’t last in the new world?

1- Matching in-person communication with virtual practices doesn’t work

Under the first lockdown, there was a tendency to do everything we did in person, in the virtual world. It was all about reinventing the water cooler chatter behind the screen. It’ll sound vintage in ten years.

The ambitious idea was to recreate spontaneously — impromptu conversations, small talks — while hanging out — online.

A virtual coworking space with a community is very appealing, especially when living alone or feeling isolated.

And if we connect with new friends through social media without ever meeting them, why couldn’t we work with them for a chunk of time without procrastinating or escaping for a snack in the kitchen?

It was one of the first transitional innovations: coworking spaces for communities of freelancers or entrepreneurs. In the corporate world, it was there more as an attempt to recreate the water cooler conversations with many meetings. Until that is, the Zoom fatigue phenomenon reached its peak in early 2021.

After a year of alternate lockdowns, some highly talkative functions like marketing, popular among extroverts and butterfly people, resisted longer than usual.

They eventually acknowledged by the summer of 2021 that all-day meetings were unsustainable in the long run.

When you rack up project-oriented roles and team brainstorming phases (which is also the case in any design role), you’d better learn when you need to stop before burning out.

2- Burnout is the worst pain of the Future of work

Burnout has increased exponentially during the pandemic with the lack of boundaries between personal and professional life. This is the sad collateral damage of the work from home improvisations that most people had never experienced before.

The numbers are scarily-alarming, with a large majority of people across the US — up to 89% — reporting that employees have experienced burnout since the pandemic.

It might be one of the top main reasons for the great resignation phenomenon happening since the Spring, with the highest number of employees’ departures reported by the Labor bureau of statistics.

In the background of this social damage, data shows that the main reasons people leave their companies are lack of belonging, coupled with a poor relationship with the manager or, more simply put, a bad manager.

Knowing that one of the factors of burnout is the perception of a lack of support and overwork and that minorities prefer working from home to escape office tensions, it makes it clear that an old-world, only-in-person practice will fail to fuel long-term performance in most companies.

How can the lack of support not affect team performance, impacting the company’s bottom line?

And how can leaders and managers stop this collective burnout and collective pain for themselves to protect their teams?

3- Team dysfunctions keep coming from inexperienced managers

As a manager, you can learn over the months on-site, how critical it can be to do your weekly 1 on 1s with your team members. If you skip one, you can still catch up at the water cooler.

But, in the virtual world, that’s another story: you can lose your credibility as a manager if you don’t know how to maintain a good level of communication, and that’s the most frequent story for losing trust and credibility for a manager in the virtual world. I keep hearing that one.

You learn to be a good manager the hard way, and most of the time, after one or two resignations, you get it.

Including all your team members in your team is the first step to building a better engagement and stopping the great resignation or polarization standup (for or against coming back to the office phenomenon).

However, we need to go beyond that and start working on new solutions.

Also, retaining the workforce is a prerequisite to avoid the replacement cost of attrition. Remember: the average replacement cost remains twice the salary of the leaving employee.

In this context, the weight of management has shifted to become overweight against the environment’s constraints.

Before, an inexperienced manager could count on office interactions, spontaneous mentoring for himself and his team, and the support of the office culture and friends and co-workers or the talented HR facilitator.

From now on, he must first be a good manager at the risk of contributing to The great resignation, burnout, or some team dysfunctions.

4- Poor management is a double penalty in the virtual world (and HR troopers can’t be the savers anymore) which creates a trust crisis

Managers have more than ever a direct impact on employee retention and engagement. HR people have a unique and critical backstage role, and they often compensate for managerial mistakes while doing their best to limit people’s damage (the firefighter approach).

But it’s way more critical (and interesting) to work on strategic topics like upskilling people or including a diversified workforce to increase the talent pool quality.

Because of this, managers will have an increasingly diverse workforce to manage, and not just like-minded people.

Instead, they must acknowledge the specificity of every generation with empathy, whether it can be isolation or busy households taking care of elders, kids, or pets.

That’s why the number one value of the hybrid workspace is trust or empathy.

The management upskill is the new must-have, and with it, the processes redesign so that all team members cooperate as effectively as possible.

But if we face a trust and workforce crisis at the moment, how is it possible to rebuild trust with new behaviors and tools?

II — The transition phase is about picking up the right tools to help design a new culture of trust

1- Reinventing a culture of belonging that fits the company’s needs

Only high-performing teams have a high level of trust which smooths cooperation between team members to increase productivity.

And it starts by helping people get to know, respect, and support each other even in stormy times. Good managers know how to deal with conflict and maintain a positive climate in the team when the pressure is super high and inevitable tensions arise.

They know how to build trust with empathy by listening to their people. Then, fairness and the feeling of safety become logical outcomes.

From there, people expect equal treatment and transparency across the board as an ongoing framework. In this case, the trust factor has continuously increased employee engagement as a proven key factor.

So how can we translate high-performing behaviors in a digital environment without meeting in person?

To do this, the first step is to stop postponing the process redesign.

Old processes in a new environment can hurt people. Also, only pushing on virtual work can be counterproductive if it’s still possible to meet at the local office to make crucial decisions, do some coaching meetings or negotiations.

Many companies have surveyed their people to better assess the situation and design the best hybrid model. They are on the right track.

2- Reinventing new tools

Employee engagement is the traditional space that started a decade ago with a new category of HR software first introduced by Success Factor. The vision was to help HR people become more strategic and save time by automatizing their transactional tasks throughout the employee lifecycle.

It was the era of employee self-service.

Unfortunately, HR people have been overwhelmed over time, and employees have become discouraged by impersonal processes and sometimes counterproductive processes.

The most stressful process across the board for both employees and managers is the old performance management appraisal done annually (or quarterly at best).

You LOVE your dentist session when compared to your painful appraisal process and its fake game of false objectivity. At that game, the 360-degree overview or peer evaluation, if not perfect, is significantly better.

Then came the era of easy-to-use employee survey tools, heralding the transition toward the new employee experience market. By surveying employees’ moods, we gained a much more accurate picture of engagement levels and job satisfaction.

It’s always beneficial, but the reasons people are unhappy or leaving their companies are still missing, making it impossible to resolve issues behind personal feelings. Without follow-throughs on reports, things don’t improve. Even if, against all expectations, individual productivity has never been higher since the pandemic.

Still, the engagement level after all these years is declining and not improving.

In this new context, the new market is now more about Employee experience with a bet that a great experience will make employees happy and increase customer satisfaction in return.

Inventing how to build virtual trust, empower managers and engage their teams are the new stakes.

3 -The rise of the Employee experience market

The Employee experience market (a $15 Billion Market in early 21) mirrors the Customer Experience market with the same operational marketing, workflows, tools, and tactics. The goal is to foster a high-performing culture for a better experience, more engagement, and productivity.

And while metrics are not optimal for measuring employee experience, there’s a consensus around identifying the main components of an excellent employee experience.

And guess what? Trust in leaders comes first as criteria to lead to a great employee experience and a positive culture with no or few toxic behaviors.

A better experience is also about creating easy-to-use and intuitive tools with a great design. Over the past decade, employees have been overwhelmed with the flood of new tools for every job function. “Software is eating the world”, the mantra of Tech entrepreneurs (I’m the new generation trying to make the eating more digestible), has inundated employees with new tools to learn.

And for a while, the software didn’t have the best design and all employees had to go through boring training to use only 25% of the tool’s capacity.

No wonder employees hated any new tools introduction.

I remember one exclamation from a VP of HR peer a few years ago:

“Why would we use a Limousine (pick here your dream car here) if we only needed a Toyota to do the job?”

Huh, pretty good question, right?

The future of work is to improve the bad experience and turn it into a source of inspiration.

Stopping burnout, reducing stress while doing the job, is a combination of two things: making the most of Tech innovations with automation to reduce or simplify the number of tasks while making the experience as easy as possible and …. maybe fun.

We aim for the last level at Good4work. So, what’s the name of that optimistic future? It’s called the Work Tech market, and it’s already here.

II — The new way

1- Heading toward the Work Tech market with team communication tools and HR add-ins or add-ons

When you think of remote work, even renamed in the hybrid workspace, it’s hard not to think and remember all the pioneers: Zoom, Slack with now SalesForce, Microsoft Teams, or Atlassian with Jira, to name a few.

The new Work Tech market is the aggregation of all the communication tools with the vertical jobs that complete the core of the application.

In other words, it’s a way to put communication at the center of the workflow.

Think of communication platforms (marketplaces) adding specialized bricks (called add-in or add-on) in work processes to perfect the work.

For example, Microsoft has recently launched Microsoft Viva, an employee experience tool that combines employee development, internal communications, well-being (such as meditation sequences), and employee analytics, all connected to Microsoft Teams.

You get it. With the exception of the name, the Work Tech market is not yet mainstream. Today, it’s still called the employee experience market for the sake of all the customers using traditional HR solutions and trying to plug everything into a complex IT architecture overhaul. Hard and complex work.

But this is the solid start of the new Work Tech market where all the latest team communication tools are leading the way.

And there, the missing piece of the puzzle is an HR/talent management brick to fit talent recognition into team performance processes.

What if you could use team tools (individual engagement only, no longer makes sense) to foster that culture of trust and engage all team members?

High individual productivity needs that alchemy to transform a team member’s performance into team magic. In this context, the solution is not individual engagement but TEAM engagement and performance.

2- Upskilling management with Good4work promotes the best impact at the team level

What do managers need? All the studies mention a solid managerial approach will be the cornerstone of the Future of Work.

For this reason, managers must learn how to be a great communicator, a coach to develop their team members, and a trusty leader fostering a positive climate across teams. By building positive relationships and growing with fairness to all team members, the leader can foster this sense of belonging and safety.

A positive climate is the most crucial driver of psychological safety, and for this, the leader must learn to demonstrate supportive and consultative behaviors before challenging the team.

In addition, at the organizational level, leaders increasingly need to work across teams and focus their work around projects or functions for better results. It means moving beyond silos within the organization and building positive collaborations, relationships, and trust in a broader way.

This is a vast transformation that can’t be done without intention and setting up new processes.

What if a tool could help in this transformation by empowering managers and team members to create trust with routines to change behaviors?

3- Good4work combines strong leadership, automation, and a high-performing culture of trust into one Team engagement tool

In the workplace, the intention is embodied in the core values defined by companies. These values become — at the individual level — soft skills or behaviors — to make sure people behave every day in accordance with the company’s culture.

Within the team, the best practice is to formalize the values and expected behaviors in a team contract. For example, showing respect or giving the benefit of the doubt are compelling values creating a feeling of safety.

Changing a culture to adapt it to the virtual world is about defining new values, creating new processes, selecting the right tools, and creating a framework for implementing the right behaviors.

As with individuals, you can change over time by creating a new identity (culture for companies) that requires new habits carried out daily with consistency.

And in order to create a habit — or new behavior — you have to (as bestselling author James Clear of Atomic habits would put it): make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

This is precisely what we do with Good4work team engagement routines.

We make it obvious and easy-to-use:

Good4work is accessible directly from the Microsoft AppSource or the Slack app directory.

We break down the essential leadership and team routines with talent recognition through a beautiful kudos library, simple categories of messages to send meaningful thank you notes, to coach people, or give feedback directly from Microsoft Teams or Slack.

In addition, we provide analytics through a transparent team dashboard that reinforces fairness to stop the broken process of performance reviews.

With attractive routines:

Our early adopters love the positive effect of kudos on their team collaboration and engagement. They enjoy being recognized for their impact and finding out what other teams may think about their work impact, which is a powerful way to break silos.

They like that Good4work gives access to all the teams and individuals’ profiles without excluding access to specific roles. Want to check on a team’s profile now?

Easy and satisfying:

We wanted to make it as intuitive and straightforward as possible for the managers to become the great virtual leaders of the Future of Work and for any team members or teams to connect across the board. The tool is so easy that you can send some team recognition from Microsoft Teams or Slack. Messages are also integrated with corporate email.

We want to create a fair, highly productive, and inspiring workspace with team engagement routines, trust, and automation.

We, therefore, have an optimistic vision for the Future of Work.

And we hope that you believe in a better future for work too.

Geraldine Woloch-Addamine – Founder and CEO, Good4work

This article was originally published on Medium