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Bridging the Gap Between Workers, Managers Is Critical to Hybrid Work

May 18, 2022 Leadership
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

The gap between what employees want and what management is willing to provide is nothing new. But that dynamic has been made more fraught with the advent of new work models, which are changing the distributed workplace in a way that is exacerbating the disconnect between management and staff.

Almost three-quarters of managers, 73%, believe productivity and engagement have either improved or stayed the same as more employees moved to remote work, and 68% believe a fully remote operation would either boost profits or help maintain current results. Yet, in employee background screening company GoodHire’s report “The Great Return: Survey of Managers Reveals Return to Office Battle in 2022,” 75% of managers said they want workers back on-site, and 60% either agree or strongly agree that a full-time return to the office will take place in the near future.

All of this matters because according to research from the HR software provider BambooHR, a significant number of employees may quit their jobs because of cultural concerns. 

The Roots of Management Discontent

Certainly, managers have had to adopt a number of new processes since the pandemic reared its head, and that’s taken a toll. According to a Gallup poll, the percentage of managers who said they were burned out “very often” or “always” rose more than other employee groups in 2021.

More than two-thirds of managers said they’ve been burned out by the chores associated with hybrid work. That may be one reason so many want to see employees back in the office. Some 77% of managers said consequences such as firings, pay cuts and loss of promotion opportunities could be imposed on employees who insist on continuing to work outside the office.

“The survey results emphasize the disconnect between how managers feel about managing remote workers and the productivity their teams are maintaining in remote-work settings,” said GoodHire COO Max Wesman. Employers should implement appropriate training and tools to help them engage with their people wherever they’re located, he said. Companies that do will earn dividends in recruitment, productivity, employee satisfaction and retention.

Related Article: Why Leaders Are Leaving

Building a 'Front Door' to the Digital Workplace

Not surprisingly, building a hybrid workspace requires as much thought as it does technology. Employees need consistent access to information, support and growth opportunities, just as they did when they spent all of their time in the office.

As a result, said Melanie Lougee, ServiceNow’s head of employee workflow strategy, more companies are building “digital front doors” — a single destination that connects employees to the departments and services they’ll need to use over the course of a day. That means integrating functions like IT, workplace services, legal and procurement.

"This is a new take on the static employee intranet,” Lougee said, which includes a dynamic portal for engagement, communication and personal development.

What’s challenging here is that the hybrid workplace is still evolving. Employers must be able to reach their workers wherever they happen to be, Lougee said, and reach them through messages personalized by role, geography and level so employees receive the information that’s most relevant to them.

Just as important, communications should travel both ways like a conversation. This is especially important for flexible and hybrid workers who make frequent location and schedule changes.

Related Article: Managers Need to Do More One-on-One Meetings

Not All Workers Are Thriving in the Hybrid Workplace

The new world of work is something of a moving target. While there’s consensus that it will be markedly different once the pandemic recedes, precisely what that world will look like is still up in the air.

Among the leading voices believing hybrid work is inevitable is Microsoft. The company’s 2021 Work Trend Index revealed another disconnect between employers and employees: Some 61% of executives described themselves as “thriving.” Their subordinates, on the other hand, were more subdued. Just 38% were as optimistic as their leaders.

In addition, Microsoft’s research indicated that even in the midst of discussions about hybrid work, 42% of employees didn’t have basic office supplies at home. Ten percent didn’t have an adequate internet connection.

Thriving executives making decisions for undersupplied workers could be particularly problematic as new approaches to work are being imagined and budgeted. Employers shouldn’t assume only a few iterative steps are necessary to build an engaged, efficient and productive workforce, Microsoft said. Instead, a rethinking of long-held assumptions will be necessary, as well as attention to unglamorous but fundamental needs like office supplies. 

Related Article: Don’t Forget Managers in Your Employee Experience Strategy

It's the Culture, Stupid

Despite all this, employees like the idea of hybrid work. According to the Microsoft report, nearly three-quarters, 73%, want flexible remote-work options to continue. In fact, over 40% said they are considering leaving their company, and many believe hybrid work will provide them with more options in terms of finding a a more-suitable employer. “Addressing flexible work will impact who stays, who goes and who joins a company,” read the report.

The pandemic provided employers with a test bed of human behavior. Many companies have been pleasantly surprised by how well remote workers performed, but the challenges of effectively managing them have become more apparent. For example, videoconferencing has gained traction as a way to collaborate and communicate, but many workers say their corporate culture is suffering, according to research from Clutch, a Washington, DC-based research firm.

“Unless you have proactive plans for building trust and accountability within your workforce, and unless you have a robust digital infrastructure to tie individual effort to high-level business strategy, your tech solutions will only take you so far,” Laura Butler, senior vice president of people and culture at management software provider Workfront, wrote on Diginomica.

Related Article: Are We Heading for a Remote Work Standoff?

Examine How Your Company Uses Technology

When it comes to remote workflows, communications and knowledge sharing, the cracks are deepening under everyone.

“After a year of remote work, employees are more burnt out than ever thanks to an abundance of meetings, hundreds of notifications and little sense of belonging to their company,” said Mike Hicks, chief marketing officer at Dallas-based digital workplace software firm Beezy.

Technology is supposed to make life better in terms of productivity, experience, quality or pretty much wherever it’s applied. But a study by the UK-based digital work platform Qatalog and the Ellis Ideas Lab at Cornell University reported that, in fact, the impact of digital tools at work isn’t so positive. Some highlights:

  • Employees waste an hour a day trying to find information buried within their apps, the study found.
  • Six in 10 people say it’s hard to know what colleagues are doing at any given time.
  • And 43% say they spend too much time switching between apps.

Productivity software, it seems, is cheating workers out of time, focus and creativity.

Remote work may impact an organization’s culture in insidious ways, eroding trust, social cohesion and information sharing. To ensure their workforce continues to operate efficiently, creatively and productively, employers must actively manage changes to team dynamics.

Trust, social cohesion and information-sharing are subject to the most strain in the world of remote work, according to an analysis of 750 academic papers conducted by the Advanced Workplace Institute and the Centre for Evidence Based Management. Those areas should, therefore, be proactively managed if remote-work efforts are to succeed.

Managers must understand the differences in how employees react to working virtually as opposed to on site, and help team members respond to those differences and operate in ways tailored to their environment.

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