Building connections and sparking ideas in the era of hybrid work

The era of flexibility places new demands on leadership to keep employees engaged
Pro

4 July 2022

In association with Zoom

The world of work changes by the day. Workers and leaders from across Ireland have to remain on their toes, as they constantly adjust and upskill the ways they communicate and collaborate together in an ever-evolving world. 

At Zoom, we believe the most successful hybrid work environments – the ones that inspire employees to do their best work – are built through meaningful connection and effective collaboration. We envision a future of work with less friction and more flexibility in creating those connections, so you can collaborate however you want, with whomever you need, from wherever you are.

 

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A sentence in a recent Harvard Business Review article about building a culture of belonging in a hybrid world particularly resonates with us: “Work is not just a vehicle for productivity, but an opportunity to have meaningful connections with others, which can enhance our overall experience of life.”

Exploring a new era of work

At Zoom, we passionately believe that by adopting new ways of thinking and strategically deploying collaboration technology to aid internal teams, the everywhere workforce can become a sustainable reality.

The pandemic forced organisations into a digital transformation that is here to stay. According to research conducted earlier this year, 74% of UK respondents and 70% of both French and German respondents confirmed they anticipate a hybrid working model to be the new normal for businesses going forward. 

As Europe’s pandemic response evolves, many business leaders have begun implementing a hybrid work model. This approach offers employees the ability to work remotely, in the office, or both, enabling greater operational flexibility, access to a global talent pool, and continuity in the face of travel restrictions and lockdowns. 

However, with workers dispersed across offices, remote workspaces, and in some cases, the globe, it can be difficult to offer a consistent employee experience and actually connect team members. To build those connections, and maintain productivity and team satisfaction, business leaders must create a cohesive and optimised experience for employees that can work anywhere and everywhere – especially as more and more Irish workers adopt co-working spaces, with more and more being added to the Connected Hubs network by the week.

Whether you need to better connect teams or are just looking for creative inspiration, Zoom’s Building Forward series is designed to provide simple and achievable tips for successfully navigating this new phase of work. Discover more on-demand webinars here, or visit our Building Forward page to see upcoming events. 

Employees want even more flexibility in where they work

While the pandemic highlighted the importance of the employee experience, the Great Resignation has only catalysed it. People want to tailor their working style and schedule to their needs – whether that’s to better support their kids, adjust operations for regions they support, or just spend more time with long-distance loved ones. 

According to Bloomberg, almost 39% of workers would rather leave their job if it does not offer them the flexible work that they now require, and that number climbs to 49% for Millennials and Gen Z employees. Those required to return to offices, or who do not get value or inspiration out of it, can easily find their preferred work environment elsewhere. 

In 2022, flexibility in where, when, and how people work is fundamental for creating a desirable organisation. And leaders should tailor their management style accordingly. In-office supervision is no longer the norm, so leaders need to focus on how employees achieve outcomes and provide contributions. If somebody gets up at 5:00a.m., met their objectives for the day by 1:00p.m., and then went golfing, should we care? Focus on the outcome and objective employees achieve rather than having them work at a certain time and location. Failure to recognise this shift will hurt organisations ability to attract and retain talent, which is always a business cost but especially so during a tight labour market.

And remember to trust your workforce. People never wake up and do things deliberately wrong or make bad decisions. They may do things differently and it may not quite work out as expected, but that’s OK – employees are learning and will ultimately be successful. Businesses that make trust a touchstone will recruit and retain the right talent, while those that fail to do so may see a few more resignations.

Team building is better in-person, but relationships can be built from home

Throughout 2021, many of us continued working from home full-time and were only able to meet new colleagues virtually because of Covid-19. Somewhat against expectations, it turns out that remote work does not appear to inhibit these critical workspace connections.

In 2022, we issued a survey in partnership with Momentive to find out how workers feel about hybrid working. 63% of respondents found that building new relationships with colleagues had been either somewhat or very easy over the past 12 months. While bonding virtually seems to be facilitated well by platforms like Zoom, there appears to be a significant desire to participate in team bonding in person – 62% of respondents would rather participate in team bonding activities in person. 

Leadership pointers for creating team cohesion

While remote collaboration has become second nature for many workers, it can also lead to employees being siloed from other teams and departments. Broader connection isn’t as easily nurtured in this new environment, tasking leaders with finding new ways to bind us all together and build trust. 

According to NYU Professor of Psychology & Neural Science Jay Van Bavel there’s a new mandate for leaders of a flexible workforce: create a sense of ‘us’. If we want to future-proof flexible work, we need to help workers transcend the individual identity that comes with working from home and plug into a group identity. This fosters collaboration and innovation.

Of course, there’s no roadmap for establishing a sense of who we are as a group and what we care about. But the end result is worth the work – leaders that do so are more effective and inspire more action, creating engaged followers. 

Van Bavel has a few recommendations for how you can start fostering this shared identity: 

  • Establish shared goals where everyone is working together
  • Use collective rewards that reward all team members for success
  • Share stories, affirming a shared sense of purpose
  • Create symbols to align everyone as part of something bigger
  • Establish social norms which guide inclusive behaviour
  • Act as ‘one of us’ to inspire other people to follow your lead

Gauging success in this new era

The era of flexibility requires leadership to remain agile, too, particularly in how they benchmark success. 

Every company in every industry has always had a focus on client satisfaction, as it helps direct business decisions and creates a constructive feedback loop that fosters more intentional innovation. 

The same logic can (and should) be applied to workers, as employee satisfaction needs to hold equal weight when it comes to the way we look at success. While monitoring tools can be useful for gauging productivity and efficiency across a distributed workforce, sentiment-based metrics may help leaders get a more nuanced view of performance and preferences.

Whether it’s through regular surveys, manager one-on-ones, skip levels across functions, or town hall sessions, open up a dialogue to identify what your employees need from this next phase of work. Show you value their opinion, understand their concerns, and let them guide your approach.

Be open to the fact that you may not get it right the first time. The era of flexibility gets its name because everyone – leadership included – is allowed to adapt plans to meet shifting needs, change preferences, and learn new things along the way. 

Get comfortable with the concept of adjusting what success looks like as you go, using employee satisfaction as the defining metric for your decision-making.

Rely on the right partner

Ready or not, the era of flexibility is here. Embrace the change and find the right partners to support you along the way – ones that design solutions that connect distributed teams and support a productive work-from-anywhere workforce.

At Zoom, we build experience-first solutions optimised for this new flexible future. Just take Zoom Rooms Smart Gallery for example, which is designed to create an inclusive experience that promotes equality for both in-person and remote workers through the strategic application of AI technology. Couple this with our real-time language transcription and translation features which to truly bring people together and break down language barriers, enabling employees to work globally while feeling heard, connected, included, and equal.

Through reliable connection, real-time collaboration, and relentless innovation, Zoom helps foster the mutual sense of trust critical for teams to do their best work from anywhere. For more insights on the future of work and the impact of employee experience, check out this blog post from Zoom’s Office of the CIO.

Hannah Brozek


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