Virtual Teams

Hybrid working, the best of both? Academic study

As the academic world starts to get to grips with the data around hybrid working we found an early study Is Hybrid Work the Best of Both Worlds? Evidence from a Field Experiment Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Tarun Khanna, Christos A. Makridis, Kyle Schirmann published by Harvard Business School.

They summarised their findings as follows “Our results indicate that an intermediate number of days in the office results in more emails sent, a higher number of email recipients, and increased novelty of work products. Our test for underlying mechanisms suggests that hybrid work might represent the “best of both worlds,” offering workers greater work-life balance, without the concern of being isolated from colleagues.”

Whilst number of emails doesn’t seem like a great measure of success, it seems logical that some time in the office and some time working remotely can give us the opportunity to create a best of both working pattern where we use the time working remotely for tasks that are best suited for focus and concentration and the time in the office for collaboration, culture building and other things that traditionally benefit from face to face contact.

Others believe that the benefits of remote work are so compelling that hybrid working is just an interim form whilst we wean ourselves off the need to get face to face.

In my own organisation we have worked “remote first” for 28 years and we get to meet face to face as a full team only a couple of times a year. We know from long experience that we can build a great culture, retain great people and develop innovative content without going into an office on a regular basis.

However, in many organisations there is a strong attachment to face to face and it will take a long time for people to be reassured that the things they firmly believe require face to face contact can also be delivered in a hybrid, maybe eventually in a fully remote, environment.

Gartner estimate that 1/3 of the companies that try to introduce hybrid will fail at the first attempt because they haven’t changed their ways of working to reflect the new reality.

I’m sure you’ve seen articles saying that people who work remotely will suffer in terms of career development or visibility from the people in the office. This is true, provided that we don’t change our processes and ways of working to reflect the new environment. But why would we do that (unless we secretly want hybrid to fail).

We will need to change the way we make people visible and how we evaluate performance. We will need different skills in leadership and collaboration. This will lead to a soft skills revolution where every soft skill will be exercised in an environment where some people are present and others are joining virtually – starting with hybrid meetings.

Most companies are still preoccupied with the logistics of getting people back into the office and how many days a week they should attend. The real challenge comes in embedding the ways of working that will make this new pattern successful.

How are you changing your leadership and collaboration models and curriculum to reflect this new reality?

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