According to McKinsey, 58% of employees say their performance has increased in hybrid work models. And yet, across the world, companies are (still) calling people back into the office full-time, suggesting that data is not that well correlated with reality.
So, what is the truth, then? Is hybrid work performance related to location -- or is it a management problem? In the newest episode of the Workplace Whiz podcast, Cosmin Patlageanu sat down with Cristina Hodea, HR professional, to get to the bottom of this. Here's what we learned.
How You Manage People Is Essential
Cosmin Patlageanu wanted to really get to the core of the issue and asked Cristina what she thinks about poor hybrid work performance.
Her answer was unequivocal: how you manage your team is far more important than their location.
She went on to mention a very important fact not enough people bring into the discussion when analyzing poor hybrid work performance, and that is: how we define performance has changed over time, but especially in the last three years.
Back in the day, running an annual performance review used to be more or less enough. But in a world that moves at an entirely different pace and in teams where many members work remotely a large chunk of the time, more flexibility is needed.
As Cristina puts it, you need to shorten the objectives and think in terms of three to six months, rather than a full year. This is important because it enables you, as the manager, and your team to adjust rapidly, to listen and give feedback in due time, and to spring back into peak performance as soon as possible.
There is, of course, a lot of pressure on managers. They create the image of the company in the eye of their employees, so they need to be both empathetic and drive results. So managing people in a hybrid setting becomes even more challenging -- but definitely not impossible.
How Can Managers Adjust to New Realities?
"There's no book, training, or college course you can get to learn how to manage people in hybrid settings," says Cristina (and Cosmin agrees.)
There isn't. No one prepared any of us for this, because it is unprecedented. As Cristina puts it, it's a learning period -- we are creating best practices, as we speak. We learn, we make mistakes, we document, and then we share -- that's how future(s) are built, and that's exactly what everyone's doing right now.
For instance, Cristina has noticed that managers who perform better are focused on running activities with the team when they're in the office and of engaging them when they're at home too (e.g., by providing them with self-learning options, for example.)
The idea here is that you need to try things. Once you have experience and feedback, you can improve everything -- and yes, you, the manager, definitely need assistance and support from HR in your efforts.
Measuring Performance in Office vs Hybrid
Cosmin was also curious to know if there's actual changes in how performance is measured in office vs hybrid, and Cristina confirmed what many probably knew already: there is, indeed, more effort involved in trying to connect and give feedback to someone who is not in the same room as you.
Moreover, it's also more difficult to know when to give them feedback, as you do not see, live, if they are blocked or unproductive. This is not a call for managers to be more controlling, mind you -- but keeping an eye out for performance issues can save everyone a lot of trouble (and yes, it can put the employee back on track as well.)
For example, some of the early warnings of low performance, Cristina says, include a lack of proactivity, feeling like the employee avoids responsibility, as well as showing little to no responsiveness to communication and team activities.
Hybrid vs in Office: It's a Balance
Like with everything in life, there's no secret recipe to nailing hybrid work and making it really work for your team. It's all a matter of balance.
"Understanding people are not replaceable," says Cristina, is essential to building hybrid work settings where relationships are based on trust, respect, and encouragement (rather than mistrust and skepticism.)
Calling people into the office might seem like an easy solution to a low performance problem, particularly when management is worried people may be cheating the system by holding more jobs at once. However, that also comes with a very high risk: two-thirds of employees in the US would quit their jobs if their companies asked them to come back into the office.
Would you be ready to face that kind of backlash? Even if the stats aren't true, you know very well you'd lose a lot of valuable employees -- and all based on mistrust or on what may be one or two isolated cases.
There are plenty of legit reasons people could be called back to the office: more growth opportunities, the company culture, or that social interaction element everyone feels like it's missing when working remotely.
Technology can help us connect, for sure. And there are plenty of 10-min activities managers can employ to rekindle the relationships between their team members. Still, technology cannot replace actual social interaction.
Hybrid Work: Is It (Still) Worth It?
"It's the best thing we have for the current context," Cristina says.
And she's right. Maybe things will change in one year, two, or ten. But for now, hybrid work hits the spot on all employee and management requirements, giving everyone the best of both worlds.
Going forward, we should focus more on actual performance (rather than presumptions and mistrust), and, maybe even more importantly, we should focus on the mental health of employees. Staying isolated isn't healthy, but providing your team with a platform they can use to achieve their own version of balance is absolutely crucial for their well-being, engagement, and performance.
Ultimately, only the future can tell. With AI on the rise and the freelance model gaining more ground by the day, things are bound to change (yet again.) Still, the best practices we build today will help us move smoothly into the next work transition, avoid the bumps everyone's been facing now, and jolt our way into an even better reality.
Want to listen to the entire podcast and see what else was discussed?