Build Connections to Drive Higher Hybrid Work Performance
Connection is critical in a hybrid work environment, but it should not be reserved for in-person events and collaboration sessions.
In fact, our most recent research at RedThread Research finds that employees need to experience connection in the flow of their work and in critical moments, such as when they receive feedback or are planning for future growth and development. This need for connection to be embedded in performance management activities is one of the most important insights we’ve learned about what employees need as they return to the office.
Of course, connection is not the only area of focus for performance management: Culture and capability of managers continue to be the other essential levers, similar to before the pandemic. As shown in Fig. 1, organizations that focus on a 3C strategy — culture, capability of managers, and connection — experience a positive impact on critical business and talent outcomes.
These are significant findings, especially in the current context as organizations struggle with setting policies around hybrid work and attracting and retaining talent. For instance, a recent Deloitte study found that 57% of workers globally are seriously considering quitting their jobs “for a more supportive job.” Seventy percent of executives said they have thought about doing the same.
Why Is Connection So Important for Hybrid Work?
There are a few reasons why connection has emerged as a new critical lever for modern performance management:
- Employee networks have shrunk. Bonding connections (within-group interactions) and bridging connections (across-group interactions) are a requirement for collaboration and innovation. However, during the pandemic, these connections deteriorated in the virtual work environment. Organizations need to be intentional about rebuilding these connections to drive growth.
- Disconnected employees may feel disengaged. Genuine relationships within a company can help to create a workforce that’s generally more satisfied and less stressed.
- Remote work can lead to loneliness. Research showed that a top challenge among remote workers is loneliness. Add to that ambiguity over expectations and goals due to a lack of frequent conversations, and it’s a sure-shot recipe for a disengaged and unproductive workforce.
Connection can help organizations manage a more engaged and satisfied workforce that feels supported and cared for. Building and managing connections will continue to be important, if not more so, as hybrid work becomes a reality for many. A few reasons for this include:
- Addressing the “fear of missing out” (FOMO). Employees who continue to work entirely from home or for some portion of the week might experience anxiety due to the fear of missing critical information or being left out of important decisions. Frequent check-ins with their managers can provide opportunities for employees to discuss and address such concerns, as well as alleviate their sense of FOMO.
- Feeling of being a part of company culture. Employees need to feel connected with their workplace and a part of the company culture—which can be challenging to maintain in a hybrid work environment. Connections built through informal check-ins can assuage some of the fears and feelings of being disconnected.
- Reducing bias and discrimination. Studies show that remote work has provided many women and people of color with a better experience. Given that, a higher percentage of them are more likely to prefer working from home than the majority population. Organizations must provide and promote opportunities for frequent conversations between employees and managers in a hybrid workplace setting to avoid proximity bias from creeping in. Regular conversations can help address concerns, provide the necessary support and ensure they’re not forgotten or passed over for development opportunities.
Related Article: Designing Performance Management to Work for Hybrid Work
How Can Organizations Enable Connection?
There are at least two ways organizations can enable connection for performance management: check-ins and conversations (Figure 2).
It’s likely that most organizations already have systems and processes to enable one or both as part of their performance management practices. However, to build effective connections, organizations must be intentional about using these approaches.
Check-ins should be quick and informal and used to foster trust between managers and employees instead of being used to micromanage them. Conversations, on the other hand, should be formal and structured to drive and support employee development and performance.
Our research shows that the frequency of daily check-ins increased by 8% from 2019 to 2021. The frequency of monthly structured conversations increased by 10% from 2019 to 2021 (Figure 3).
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While regular check-ins help, organizations should think creatively about how they can increase the opportunities for meaningful interactions in a hybrid work environment.
For example, software company Asana designed a new virtual onboarding experience for their new managers that includes experiential exercises that allow them to connect with each other. New managers share their most burning questions and things they are most uncertain or curious about with the rest of the group. Other new managers then have a chance to offer advice, insights, and support to each person.
The group experiences the psychological safety of being in a safe environment to admit mistakes, ask questions and try new things. This provides them with the experience of mutual support, leading to a deeper connection.
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What Else Should Organizations Do?
As mentioned earlier, connection is one lever that organizations should focus on to drive employee performance in a hybrid world of work. In addition, they should also build a high performing culture and build manager capabilities. A culture that clearly promotes the organization's values and prioritizes people became an even bigger priority for leaders during the past two years. As companies look to implement new ways of working once again, they need to maintain their efforts to reinforce a high performance culture.
Similarly, organizations need to focus on developing a broader range of manager capabilities than before the pandemic. In 2019, we identified coaching, exhibiting candor and clearing barriers as critical levers for managers. In a hybrid work world, managers should also demonstrate confidence and care.
There are specific practices under each of these levers that organizations can leverage to drive crucial individual and business outcomes. Our report “Performance Management for Hybrid Work” outlines these practices in detail and shows their impact on outcomes such as employee engagement, manager effectiveness and employee NPS. In addition, the report also provides five steps organizations can take to kick-start their modern performance management journey.
About the Author
Priyanka Mehrotra is a senior analyst at RedThread Research, where she studies human capital management and people analytics.