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Navigating the new normal of hybrid work

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Dean Glass is CEO of SalesXa modern sales platform that connects businesses with an on-demand elite remote sales force to increase revenue.

In February, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon stated it was time for the company’s 10,000 employees in New York City to return to the office full-time. Only half that amount showed up for work. Since then, junior bankers publicly complain and have posted on anonymous forums seeking more flexible engineering jobs. Solomon’s rationale is that Goldman’s “special sauce” is his culture and the network of relationships that can only be built through personal experience.

As companies around the world are now dealing with the new normal of hybrid and remote working, Goldman Sachs is an outlier. At the other end of the spectrum, Airbnb recently announced it will join the companies that are going first remotelya list that already contains well-known names such as 3M, SAP, Nationwide, Fujitsu and PwC

In the extreme opposite of Goldman is a tech startup called Levels. Not only is Levels completely remote, it has no office at all – and the CEO is nomadic, living out of a backpack as he moves from one location to another. In a fascinating case studyshows Mario Gabriele how CEO Sam Corcos assembled a team of world-class talent and created a high-quality corporate culture – not despite being completely remote – but thanks to it.

Since most companies plan to adopt hybrid work models, it’s important to be intentional.

Goldman and Levels are unique cases: Harvard Business Review estimated that 90% of all companies would adopt at least one hybrid work model by 2022. This is the ‘messy middle’, where managing hybrid workers, fully remote workers, and freelancers presents complex organizational and cultural challenges. In a hybrid world, questions about why and when employees come to the office become crucial. Issues of fairness, in terms of compensation versus flexibility and other benefits, arise. Should employees who are completely remote, saving office costs, be helped with daycare costs? Can managers overcome prejudices that lead them to promote employees they see every day more than those they don’t? How can a strong culture be maintained with less face-to-face interaction?

Borrow a phrase from a recent report by Microsoft, business leaders will need to approach this new normal with “radical intent.” Communication, especially about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ the company does business, should move from implicit to explicit. This is one of the most important lessons for making hybrid models successful.

Document everything.

For companies that offer hybrid work styles, it is important to document everything about the company, from minute workflows to core strategy overviews. Levels, for example, maintains a huge repository of content in the form of documents, video recordings, and blog posts. Goldman Sachs’ acclaimed corporate culture is the unwritten collective know-how and expertise that is passed on and disseminated in a multitude of shared personal interactions. Look for ways to create an equally powerful culture through radical transparency and a living library of information accessible to everyone in the company, anywhere, at any time.

Minimize synchronous interactions.

Another important lesson is to minimize synchronous interactions. This means that you have less meetings (via video) and are no longer dependent on instant messages. Levels found that these constant interruptions can distract from the “deep work” of coding, writing, designing and building. By limiting meetings and enforcing a discipline of asynchronous communication, you can give high performers maximum freedom to do deep work and avoid what Microsoft calls “digital exhaustion.”

Use the office to foster and deepen social ties.

Microsoft’s research supports David Solomon’s claim about culture in one way: Social capital, or the strength of employees’ personal relationships in an organization, has suffered somewhat for hybrid workers and more importantly for fully remote workers. This social capital—having friends and mentors—is crucial to employee well-being and makes them more productive and less likely to leave the company.

Companies with hybrid employees would do well to use the office to foster and deepen social ties. One idea would be to have managers and senior executives provide open office hours where everyone can schedule one-on-one time. Building social capital with fully remote workers will require more creativity. An idea that is gaining traction, including in my own company, SellX, is meetings in VR – an environment where everyone is an avatar sharing the same experience.

Despite Goldman Sachs, the genie is out of the bottle for most workers. Especially for Gen Z they demand more flexibility how and where they work. Managers will need to find ways to maintain the culture, adopt digital work best practices, and provide employees with ways to build good relationships, even when working remotely. While it may not be easy, the companies that are already having success with hybrid and remote workers are showing that it can be done.


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