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Leading Off
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Like so many events that have indelibly changed the ways we live and work, the hybrid revolution seemed to come from nowhere. Shocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, we went remote, we worked in place, we did video calls—oh, did we do video calls! But as recently as midyear, the expectation of executives far and wide was that by now we’d be commuting en masse, reoccupying our offices, and taking down wall calendars from 18 months ago that have been frozen in time. Now, as we manage COVID-19’s transition from pandemic to endemic, it’s time to face the fact that hybrid work isn’t going away. This week, let’s collect the best thinking on the ramifications of this enduring shift and the challenges you’re likely to face managing talent, culture, and your organization while you ponder what it actually means to be with those you lead.
traffic light
It’s time for leaders to get real about hybrid
Survey after survey indicates that employers are eager to get back to having a significant in-person presence at the office. Employees do not share this eagerness. The disconnect is deeper than employers appreciate, and a spike in attrition could accelerate further as a result. It’s understandable that leaders would want to establish some sense of normalcy quickly; typically, they focus on logistical issues that give them a sense of control. But many mistakenly imagine a “finish line”—a return to the prepandemic ways of working. However, denial of a difficult situation is rarely a good choice, and if workers, already burdened with fatigue and uncertainty and grief, don’t find engagement and renewed energy in new working arrangements, they may be even more motivated to bolt. Instead, leaders should accept what they cannot change, admit that they don’t yet have a perfect new working model, and signal that they hope to make their employees partners in designing the future of how their companies function.
That’s the number of work activities McKinsey researchers analyzed in more than 800 occupations across nine countries to identify which activities and occupations have the greatest potential for remote work. The analysis found that the potential for remote work is largely concentrated among highly skilled, highly educated workers in a handful of industries, occupations, and geographies and that more than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. Remote work at that level would have a profound impact on urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending. Yet more than half the workforce has little or no opportunity for remote work. Recognizing this can help you create a remote-work profile for your organization and avoid the pitfalls that hybrid work can pose for diversity and equity efforts.
“If people are struggling to meet their professional demands because of the challenges and the demands across other parts of their lives, then we need to take the gifts that remote work gives us.”
So says Tsedal Neeley, the Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. To secure the flexibility and freedom that working remotely can bring to employees, leaders must lay the groundwork for establishing new cultural norms. In addition to improving workers’ skills in remote work, as well as their digital expertise, Neeley advocates surveying workers on how they see remote- and hybrid-work arrangements so as to better align workers with an organization’s critical tasks, its stakeholders, and the cadence of work it believes will work best. When it comes to holding virtual meetings, some practical tips from communications expert Karin M. Reed can help. And don’t forget to brush up on the new rules of office etiquette for those days when you’re back in person with colleagues.
a flower and roots
Organizational culture—the common set of behaviors plus the underlying mindsets that shape how people work and interact day to day—is a work in progress in the hybrid age. In this podcast, McKinsey partners parse the rare opportunity leaders have at this moment to remake their work culture and reshape how they run an organization. For example, what should be the purpose of an innovation meeting versus a strategy meeting versus an information-sharing meeting? Similarly, notes partner Brooke Weddle: “In-office interaction can be well thought out, just like an off-site. Going in for the sake of going in—I think those days are over.… We need to incentivize people to come back for a specific purpose and to drive toward a specific outcome.”
Lead well.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey’s New Jersey office
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