Jan 5, 2024
6 mins read
Future of Work
With recent research pointing to the future of work being hybrid, many businesses are attempting to transition their teams. But the move from in-office or fully remote to hybrid isn’t without challenges, many of which include collaboration, innovation, and retention.
That’s where Dr. Gleb Tsipursky comes in. Lauded as “Office Whisperer” and Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times, he helps leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs.
Flexspace (FS): So, let’s start with the basics: What is hybrid work?
Dr. Gleb: Hybrid work is a really interesting concept. It’s kind of neither fish nor fowl, not fully remote and not fully the traditional 9 to 5. So when we think about hybrid work, it implies flexibility for location and schedule, for people to work sometimes in the office and sometimes remotely, or work from home or from a third space.
There are different types of hybrid, from full-scale flexibility with some expectation of coming into the office maybe once a month for structured retreat activities, to coming to the office maybe three or four days a week with a very structured model. And we find that this sort of structured model works the least well, actually.
When you have an approach where employees are coming into the office more frequently with limitations on their ability to be flexible, you’re not really taking advantage of the key aspects of the benefits that hybrid provides, which is flexibility for people to be able to do work in the way that best serves their needs and improve productivity and team collaboration.
FS: How can you best manage hybrid teams and ensure that they are productive at their work?
Dr. Gleb: Microsoft research found that 87% of leaders have difficulty trusting that their team members are productive when they are working remotely.
One technique that I found works time and time again very effectively in companies is to break down the typical once-yearly performance evaluation. A much better approach is to have small-scale, frequent performance evaluations that complement the once-annual performance evaluation. You set three to five goals tied to broader KPIs, and then in a week or two weeks or month, the team member sends their supervisor a report on what goals they accomplished. And then…repeat.
Doing this solves several problems. It addresses proximity bias, which is people’s concern that “Hey, when I’m not present, other people might be coming to the office and kind of hanging out with a supervisor and building the relationship.” Now employees know where they stand with their supervisor. And it also helps foster better supervisor-employee relationships. All of this improves retention, career growth, and productivity. And that’s been very helpful for the organizations I work with.
FS: What was the early feedback like around the pre-pandemic productivity when we were all in the office versus today where with diverse work settings?
Dr. Gleb: In a recent randomized control study of Trip.com, which is a major travel agency, they assigned half of the staff and IT division to work in the office full time and half to work in a more flexible hybrid modality, and found in six months that the workers who were working in a hybrid modality wrote over those six months 4.4% lines of code. But crucially, managers weren’t trained to do anything differently to manage them effectively, and managers couldn’t catch the difference in performance. They thought that the performance of the people in the office and the performance of the people working in the hybrid modality was about the same, which it’s not. The people who are working hybrid were clearly performing better. I’ve seen time and time again in my clients when I come in and they ask me to help them with their hybrid work plans. I ask managers who is performing better and they’re like, “Well, I don’t know.” So, we need to have very clear, smart metrics that are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and timely.
FS: Some experts are saying that hybrid or remote workers are less creative and innovative than the ones who are full-time in the office. How do you respond to that?
Dr. Gleb: When you’re looking at the research, the hybrid workers are actually the ones who are the most creative. And if you think about what correlates with creativity and innovation, autonomy is a very strong correlate. People need to feel that they have autonomy, trust, and psychological safety, a concept where people feel that they’re allowed to fail and still be okay. Now, if there is a return-to-office mandate, for people who are remote capable, it’s a sign of distrust. Employers don’t trust people to be productive when they’re working remotely. When people feel trusted, that’s when they can really do their best work and that happens best in a structured hybrid (like three days in the office) where teams decide together what works best for them to come to the office.