Three Ways Executives Can Fill the Gaps Created by Hybrid Work & Maximize the Time Spent In the Office

For executives, the last two years have been filled with work-from-anywhere hurdles: improving connectivity to support a hybrid workforce, deploying flexible security solutions, finding the right collaboration tools, and evaluating ways to cut back on unnecessary real estate costs. With 58% of working Americans allowed to work from home at least once per week, and 35% able to do so full time addressing those IT and infrastructure-related challenges was a must to ensure business continuity.

Today, however, the focus is on maximizing the value of time spent in the office to fill the creative and collaborative gaps that work-from-home creates. It’s not that hybrid work results in less productivity or poor performance; rather, it’s a case of it not being perfect, especially in terms of employee togetherness and collaboration.

In light of this, here are three things leadership can do to get the most from their employees when they are in the office.

First things first: address all health and safety concerns

51% of employees cite concerns over health and safety as their biggest factor when considering a return to the office, while assurance of workplace cleanliness and sanitization is a must before stepping back into a cubicle. While posters reminding employees to wash their hands and company-wide emails assuring that each corner of the office is cleaned regularly are a good start, it’s essential to understand that some employees need a bit more to feel comfortable returning to the office.

As an executive, here’s where to start:

  • Be transparent: Share how, and how often, offices are being cleaned. This includes noting what products are used to disinfect surfaces and at what cadence. This can also include keeping employees up to date on office-wide illnesses to reduce transmission.
  • Educate: Make sure each employee understands your organization’s illness policy, the importance of hygiene, especially in common areas, and what’s expected from employees who fall ill.
  • Invest:Cutting-edge disinfectant technologies are affordable and powerful enough to eliminate contaminants. UV-C solutions, such as the R-Zero Beam and Vive, are both autonomous, continuous air and surface disinfectants that remove 99.9% of a room’s harmful microorganisms in a matter of minutes.

Not only will stressing the importance of indoor health and safety bring more employees back to the office, but it will also put their minds at ease so they can focus on work and connecting with others—not their concerns.

Promote the importance of social capital

According to the Harvard Business Review, connections with people outside of one’s immediate team have shrunk dramatically during the age of Zoom and teleconferencing. This has led to fewer opportunities to build connections with others and employees feeling more lonely and isolated. This results in muted creativity, significantly less idea generation, and a dramatic reduction in social capital—the fuel of workplace collaboration.

Essentially, social capital is the potential of people to secure benefits and invent new solutions through membership in social networks such as friends, family, and in the corporate sense, coworkers.
While hybrid work will still lend itself to casual employee interaction, the onus is on executives and managers to understand that spending a year or two away from colleagues means employees might need a little nudge to build stronger bonds with co-workers.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Allocate: Set aside time and budget for team-building activities during in-office hours. This can include sponsored lunches, listening to a guest speaker—essentially anything that employees would want to do with their colleagues.
  • Stay flexible: Instead of focusing on productivity as employees return, understand that team comradery may benefit your employees and your bottom line in the long run.

Improving employee connectedness can lead to more meaningful meetings, taking us to the next point.

Reserve in-person meetings for creativity, idea generation, and problem solving

New research suggests that video calls limit idea creation because they narrow an individual’s cognitive focus to only a single communicator on the screen, making an individual less perceptive to unconscious feedback. This limited focus paired with lack of direct eye contact also impedes communication coordination—the number of speaker switches (share of voice during the iterative process) and less cross-talk (when multiple conversations occur simultaneously regarding the same topic).

What does this mean for your business? In-person meetings are significantly better for exploring new ideas. In fact, Stanford researchers determined that in-person teams generate 15% to 20% more ideas than virtual ones. Not only did the folks gathering face-to-face produce more, but their ideas were also vetted as more original than their Zoom-using counterparts.

Essentially, these studies point to the fact that meeting in person can be incredibly beneficial in situations requiring out-of-the-box thinking. However, requiring employees to be in person can add significant personal costs and commute time, as well as distractions that may not be present from a home office setting. Therefore it’s a shared responsibility between employees and leadership to determine which meetings should be in the office and which should be virtual.

The takeaway:
Saving in-person time only for the circumstances that need it most will ensure the right balance of collaboration and efficiency, as employees will be able to get their work done with less commute time and distraction.

Walking the tightrope

Hybrid work, at its core, is an exercise in balance. On the one hand, it’s about keeping current employees happy and attracting new ones who prefer the opportunity to work outside the office occasionally. On the other, it’s about keeping things business as usual: meeting objectives, facilitating productivity, and ensuring success. Although hybrid work is relatively new, creating strategies to maximize the benefits of time spent in person is a great way to start.