Hybrid work has seamlessly integrated into daily operations across organizations specializing in knowledge and expert tasks. In other businesses, remote work has become a staple for administrative staff. While remote and hybrid work practices have become commonplace, ongoing discussions revolve around productivity, community spirit, and employee well-being. Supervisors continue to grapple with the complexities of remote management compared to traditional, direct supervision methods.
As someone who has long researched virtual teams and remote leadership, I challenge the belief that a sense of belonging and effective management and collaboration are inherently better when conducted in person at the office.
Belonging And Engagement Are Multifaceted
Pre-pandemic studies revealed that up to 40% of employees felt isolated and alienated at work, suggesting that the sense of belonging and team spirit was not inherently better even before remote work became prevalent. Interestingly, some have reported an improvement in the workplace atmosphere due to remote work arrangements.
Present research suggests a split in workplace community experiences: half feel a lack of community, while the other half views it positively. This split underscores that community and belonging arise from different factors for different people and play varied roles in the workplace. However, it is a fact that a strong sense of community is integral part of smooth collaboration. Studies show that when there is a strong sense of belonging, work performance is 56% better, the risk of changing jobs is 50% lower, there are 75% fewer sick leaves, and the willingness to recommend the employer is 167% higher.
It’s essential to explore methods to bolster community spirit and team cohesion in hybrid work environments. This involves considering community from individual, team, and organizational perspectives, acknowledging diverse situations in teams and personal needs.
Productive Remote Collaboration
2019 research highlighted that the impact of remote work on engagement was highest among those who worked remotely 4-5 days a week. However, remote work doesn’t inherently strengthen commitment. It can increase risks related to interaction, collaboration, feelings of alienation, and loneliness. High commitment levels in remote settings are often linked to smooth and meaningful team collaboration.
Decades of research into virtual teams offer valuable insights for today’s hybrid work. They show the necessity of clear operational models to ensure efficient work, adequate communication, and team spirit development. Notably, these models also benefit in-person teams.
Towards a Location-Independent Culture
Supervisors often find remote management challenging, fraught with uncertainties about productivity, employee well-being, and workload. While trust is crucial, the virtual presence and attentive monitoring by supervisors in remote work settings are equally important.
Investing in remote management and leadership skills is important. In hybrid work there is some distance between the supervisor and the team member or between team members, because almost always someone is remote.
Developing remote management skills has led to some supervisors feeling that their supervisory work has improved by paying attention to minimizing the consequences of distance and systematizing supervisory work. Subordinates have also felt improved support and presence from their supervisors.
The Next Phase of Hybrid Work
It’s crucial for organizations to shift focus from location to developing management styles and structures and operational models suited for multi-location work. This shift doesn’t imply abandoning offices but promotes a mindset where work isn’t confined to a specific place. Strategic choices should be based on informed decisions rather than the notion that physical presence in an office is inherently superior.
The evolving landscape of hybrid work presents an intriguing future, as organizations navigate their choices in adapting to this shifting work environment. The decisions made will not only shape organizational dynamics but will also significantly influence the labor market. Companies embracing a location-independent culture stand to gain a competitive edge in attracting talent globally, transcending geographical barriers. Conversely, organizations prioritizing in-office presence must offer compelling benefits that surpass the value of flexibility, tipping the scales in favor of a more traditional work setting.
Ulla Vilkman is a pioneering expert in modern work and leadership, specializing in multi-location and hybrid work. Since 2015, she has developed corporate leadership and collaboration skills for remote environments. Leading the expert team at Timanttia, Ulla focuses on creating effective workplaces. She is also an accomplished author with significant publications on leadership and remote work, including books aimed at elevating hybrid work practices.