The future of work is hybrid. This has been the catchphrase of the global work world as we began building the post-pandemic workplace. This future of work, however, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been under construction for quite some time now, with remote work, digital workplaces, and employee-centricity being noteworthy workplace practices even pre-pandemic. What is new, though, is our collective approach to the notion of work. As a society, our understanding of work as centered around a place where colocated individuals performed tasks has been upended by the pandemic-enforced social distancing norms. Our rather sudden and global shift to remote work established that the workforce can be productive and successful irrespective of their location of work when equipped with the right digital tools and thoughtfully defined processes.
As we slowly recover from the intensity of the pandemic – with the deployment of vaccines, a focus on health and better lifestyles, and renewed hope, companies are evaluating how best to design work and the workplace of the future. An understanding of workforce preferences to work flexibly in and out of physical and digital workplaces combined with the undeniable benefits of technology-enabled work models has led to a more digitally-enabled, flexible, and equitable structure for the workplace – We call this a hybrid workplace.
What is a hybrid workplace?
A hybrid workplace provides employees with the choice of where to work from, when to work, and how to deliver their best work. It is a powerful infrastructure of tools and processes that allows people autonomy to design their work and life in a structure that enables productivity, purpose, and happiness. The hybrid workplace essentially is location agnostic, providing an option to work from home offices, or company offices, or even coffee shops, with processes in place to enable optimal collaboration, engagement, and business success. Essentially, it is a combination of remote work and in-office work, where the employees and their employers come to an understanding of who works where and when.
In practice, the hybrid work model allows employees to go to an office space at will or whenever needed, perhaps to meet clients or to experience an office setting. Some organizations are also offering the flexibility to work a select few days or a select few weeks from the office, depending on safety norms and social distancing measures.
future-ready organizations will offer intelligent workplace solutions that can seamlessly combine the progress made in fluid digital workplaces along with the stability and structure offered by physical offices.
What’s causing unfair practices in the hybrid workplace?
The global shift to hybrid workplaces happened as a consequence of circumstances rather than a deliberate effort by companies. This sudden change caught several businesses off-guard, creating a cascade of concerns around visibility, communication, async work, and strained relationships – all lending to the lack of fairness and transparency. These concerns have the potential to destabilize a hybrid work environment and the sooner businesses resolve these concerns, the better their shift to hybrid work models.
Imbalance of visibility
In a hybrid work environment, where team members may be located on and off-site, there is a concern that remote individuals, their efforts, contributions, and challenges might go unnoticed by the rest of the team that is co-located. This problem is magnified when only a few individuals work remotely in a team or when the manager or decision-maker is co-located with a majority of the team. This lack of visibility snowballs into many problems for the remotely located teammates that are forced to adopt unsustainable work practices such as staying always digitally plugged in, or seeking high visibility projects that might not be their area of expertise.
For people managers that are managing a partly remote team alongside a colocated team, there is an issue of not having enough data or factual knowledge of the bottlenecks or challenges faced by remote team members.
Within such hybrid teams, people’s personalities and backgrounds play a significant role in their efforts to being visible. Most often,
digital introverts, junior or new staff, and women and other minority groups are at increased risk of having their efforts go unnoticed because the management team lacks data and knowledge to make objective and fair work assessments.
Strained communication and collaboration
A number of hybrid teams include teammates working in multiple locations with probably differing time zones leading to strained communication and collaboration. Since most of these teams are only now adapting to working in a hybrid model, there are increasing instances of information lags, incomplete information and resource sharing, and ineffective communication, particularly between colocated and remote teammates. Also, within a shared space, teammates are adept at working with colleagues, making collaboration feel natural. However, when dealing with a subset of remote teammates, there is increasing difficulty in coordinating, facilitating, and documenting collaboration efforts. This strained communication and collaboration most often result in management and colleagues choosing to communicate or collaborate amongst colocated peers, leaving valuable remote resources out of the loop.
Flawed adoption of async work
Hybrid teams bank on async work (workers complete tasks when they are most productive rather than in real-time or in sync with colleagues) in order to flourish. This is because of the nature of the distribution of teammates and also because of the move to tech-enabled modes of communication and collaboration. For example, several successful hybrid engineering teams adopt practices such as async stand-ups and retros to facilitate seamless workflows. However, the hurried and ad-hoc shift to hybrid work left many teams without the right tools, processes, or workflows to facilitate seamless async work. The haphazard adoption of async work has caused many teams to work synchronously even while working in distributed locations. This sync work is adding immense pressure to the digital well-being, productivity, and effectiveness of remote employees. The stop-gap solution, unfortunately, has been shifting critical projects to on-site teams, leaving valuable resources untapped.
On-site teammates enjoy the advantage of standardized technology and infrastructure, whereas remote colleagues often face technological and workspace disadvantages. This inequality in infrastructure availability doesn’t allow remote teammates to perform optimally, earning them a bad rep. Additionally, due to the extra planning and logistical effort needed to collaborate with remote staff alongside the pain of jittery video calls, teams often delay or avoid pulling in remote team members into discussions. This often gets flagged as remote teams being less collaborative and consequently less engaged. This problem is amplified when their performance is compared with that of onsite teammates. All these contribute to management being unable to fairly judge employee performance.
The paradigm shift to hybrid work has brought into focus the many biases that a majority of the working world adheres by. One of those being the notion that people will not work without a manager monitoring work within constrained physical locations. When the world made an almost overnight shift to remote work, and worker productivity soared, it surprised every established bias prejudice. However, even with proof of productivity, bias and preconceived prejudice are problems that are deep-rooted and that need an intentional redressal. The immediate concern, however, is that managers and management teams continue to stay within the mindset of distrust, sometimes stemming from an unconscious bias that leads them to believe that remote workers might not be fully engaged or committed to their tasks. This prompts management to take extreme steps such as monitoring remote employees, thereby leading to dangerous implications for team cohesion, well-being, and productivity. This also places remote teammates at a disadvantage when it comes to management reviews and assessments, leading to several long-term issues such as employee churn, burnout, and loss of engagement.
In-group and out-group psychological dynamics
Most often, teams are strengthened by the teammates’ ability to develop a cohesive working environment. This cohesion is a result of several factors such as the familiarity arising out of shared locations, opportunities to connect outside of the context of work, office chatter, and even water cooler conversations. In hybrid teams, there can be a mismatch between the cohesion amongst colleagues that work from a shared space and those that are remote. This lack of cohesiveness leads to long-term challenges in group dynamics with the onsite and remote teams becoming siloed in operation and in forming connections. These dynamics lead to increased bias and lesser visibility.
Work analytics as a solution
Organizations are spearheading the adoption of fair practices in the hybrid workplace by anchoring their strategy and decision-making on data-driven insights from work analytics. Technology-native companies that succeed at managing hybrid teams are increasingly leveraging on the wealth of data generated as exhaust from their existing tech stack. This de-identified and aggregated data offer insights into several aspects of employees’ day-to-day work activity, giving leaders much-needed visibility into how they can best help their teams to thrive.
- In a majority of hybrid environments, the most pressing concern is the lack of visibility, wherein managers and leaders are unable to quantify and qualify the effort of their remote or distributed teams. In such cases, work analytics that provides a comprehensive snapshot of every team’s work effort, task progression, and contribution, allows managers to acknowledge and recognize team members to create more fair and transparent management. Factual visibility can also help managers to avoid cohesion and power imbalances within their dispersed teams by allocating fair workloads and providing equal opportunities to all team members using data logs and visualizations.
- Often, a factual and comprehensive view of a team’s work can provide managers insight into the productivity of their team. Equipped with this data managers can get a deep understanding of how teams interact, how employees can learn and improve in their jobs, and how workflows can be optimized to support business goals. Such analytics can help managers implement productivity strategies and monitor for inefficiencies such as meeting fatigue that can impact employee well-being. Leaders can also work on employee engagement and redistribute workloads if the data shows one department or team carrying the larger share of work-related tasks.
- Work analytics is also helping managers systematically manage and visualize the effectiveness of their teams’ communication practices. This allows for an understanding of how effective connectedness and information sharing are within a cohort, notifying decision-makers of anomalies that might signify risks of bottlenecks or strained practices.
- Data inherently supports the removal of biases, enabling leaders to weave fair practices in the fabric of their teams. Work analytics is helping leaders stay aware of personal or organizational biases, both conscious and unconscious, and create a process centered on data-driven decision-making. Data is being used to set clear goals, communicate strategies and evaluation criteria, allowing conversation, feedback, and questions, and ensuring data-facilitated performance management.
As the world steps into a new world of work amidst unprecedented disruptions, organizations and leaders that create sustainable, fair, and seamless work environments have the advantage of defining the paradigm of the future of work. In this monumental task, leaders should depend on data to guide their decisions.
Hatica enables engineering teams with data-driven insights from work analytics to help build a fair, productive, and sustainable future of work. Discover how Hatica can help your hybrid engineering teams thrive.