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Mod. 10 - The Future of Remote Work

Write a reflection blog in response to the following prompt:


How do you envision the future of hybrid organizations? Apply these ideas to your organization/matter of concern or another case that is hybrid. How is the culture evolving? What are leadership challenges? Are there equity issues that require attention? Multi-generational tensions? What are your assumptions/beliefs/mental models that influence how you think about remote/hybrid work as a leader?

 

I’m genuinely fascinated by the amount of attention given to the issue of hybrid work arrangements. This may be because as a millennial I entered the office workforce in an era where digital was the assumed normal and I witnessed how challenging it was for some of my coworkers to adapt to sitting in front of a screen, engaging in electronic modes of working. I envision hybrid orgs and work to be similar. Many companies have discovered that they can operate effectively with a remote workforce, while others have found that their employees prefer the flexibility of a hybrid model. As we look to the future, I envision hybrid organizations continuing to grow in popularity and becoming the norm for many industries. Change is constant and becoming even more rapid, which is one of the many reasons why developing both the personal value and workplace cultural skill of adaptability is being prioritized at companies of all size and scale. For arts orgs, hybrid work was already in play before the pandemic. Most often in one-off cases where someone had a family situation or doctor’s appointment that could only be scheduled during work hours. It was the exception, instead of the rule. But the exceptions also demonstrated how remote work could be applied beyond one-off cases. I can recall a time where I had to have an emergency tonsillectomy that required me to take sick days during a particularly busy and pressured period. I wrote to my director and informed him that I would need 1-3 days for the surgery and initial recovery in which I wouldn’t be online at all, and an additional 3-5 days in which I would be working from home while recovering. I ended up being out of the office for two weeks due to some unexpected complications, but my director was so impressed with how much work I managed to accomplish while working remotely that he authorized HR to only assess 5 sick days of my allotted 12 upon my return to the office.


The pandemic certainly pushed the issue into the center of leader’s attention, but as Amanda Mull writes in The Atlantic the pandemic was not necessarily a fair barometer for remote work because of the unique circumstances it created in which families were required to share space all day for more than a year. Now that kids are back in school, many individuals have been able to make significant improvements to their remote work environments and arrangements. Many traditional office workers were able to leverage the pandemic to fight for and demonstrate the validity of hybrid and remote work policies and, as Amanda Mull notably points out, in the process re-established the very important element of self-determination in the workplace. For leaders, however, many of the challenges remain intact. The history of management surveillance or roaming the halls to ensure workers aren’t wasting valuable company time encouraged them to incorporate similar practices into remote work practices. Some company’s required staff to login to a secured work platform that would monitor how much time they were actually working while at home. Some companies would even monitor the amount of time spent typing on keys and mouse movement to keep track of workers’ activities. These kinds of practices underscore the fundamental and historic lack of trust between employees and management that results in a culture of fear, rather than one that focuses on productivity.


The impact of remote work surveillance practices can also increase the risk of workers being left out of important conversations and opportunities for advancement. This is especially true for women and people of color who have historically encountered more barriers of entry and lacked access to resources that would support meeting the standards imposed by corporate policies that their white, male coworkers do not encounter and can more easily access. To avoid this, organizations will need to work carefully to ensure that all employees have equal access to resources and opportunities. Multi-generational tensions may also arise in hybrid organizations in which older workers might be less comfortable with technology and as a result may struggle to adapt to remote work, while younger workers may prefer the flexibility of a remote or hybrid model. Leaders will need to be aware of these elements, be skilled at communicating, building trust, and providing support to employees who may be working in different locations and time zones, and adapt their management styles to effectively lead remote and in-person teams in ways that bridge these gaps and ensure that all employees feel valued and supported.


Lynda Gratton’s article for Harvard Business Review highlights four elements leaders will need to consider to address these challenges and build a corporate culture of in-person and remote work that meets the needs of all staff: (1) jobs and tasks, (2) employee preferences, (3) projects and workflows, and (4) inclusion and fairness. I love how Lynda identifies these areas and offers ideas and models for how leaders can address each of them. Her writing reinforces a core belief and principle that has influenced my own leadership worldview for a long time, which I’ve included in every job application cover letter. We are led to believe that the world is “one size fits all” but the reality is that the world is “one size fits one.” While it is both unrealistic and imprudent for corporate executives to meet with entry level staff to learn their individual preferences, imbuing the spirit of the principle within a company’s values increases the likelihood of more employees’ preferences being considered. Lynda’s summary statement at the end of her article beautifully encapsulates how leaders can consider and address all of these areas and while not explicitly stated in her article, I believe she is implicitly challenging leaders to take on the value of intentionality in their decision making.


While there are certainly a number of executives who demonstrate servant leadership, constant hands-on management, and relationship building with their employees, there are also many corporations whose structure allows executives to focus exclusively on high-level decision making and hand off responsibilities to department heads or other subordinates without being aware of the myriad interweaving elements impacted by their decisions. The pandemic revealed who the “haves” and the “have nots” are in American workplaces. For me, Lynda Gratton’s article is both practical and subtle in its messaging around how important it is for leaders to be aware and listen carefully to their employees. Adapting to new ways of working through hybrid work policies demonstrates the importance of leaders being intentional about creating a culture of inclusion, providing effective leadership, addressing equity issues, and bridging generational gaps.

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