hybrid models of work allow employees to perform their jobs remotely for part of the week The new practices allow flexibility and have become the new norm in some industries. I joined a gathering of emerging managers in California to discuss work-life trends. Tech, bio-tech, professional services, and other sectors have embraced new flexible work practices.
Firms that rely on young professional talent are dealing with intuitional management memory gaps along with two years of management development disruption. 25% of the workforce doesn’t know what it was like to work in the pre-pandemic world of work.
I note that the institutional memory gap takes different forms. The idea of going to the office for a physical meeting is odd for some young professionals who graduated from university during the Pandemic. This is a stark contrast to the 20-year veteran leaders who expect employees to fill conference room spaces just like 2019. supervisors with five to seven years of experience are caught in the middle trying to blend the best of both worlds and are forced to develop their own approaches to managing multiple modes of working across physical and virtual locations.
A phenomenon created in the wake of COVID-19 is the memory gap and shift in expectations. We call this impact a “cohort effect” when a significant phenomenon effects a population.
This shift to a multi-modal approach to management is a cohort effect as it has changed the expectations of workforces in many industries. It is not clear how firms might develop managers in a way that addresses the challenges associated with managing people across multiple modes of engagement.
The shift to multi-modal management is here to stay, as well as the fact that managers are not always well prepared for people management in this new reality. There are some early signals of what is required for multi-modal management that research is trying to catch up with. Four critical multi-modal management skills have emerged as a result of feedback from workforces.
Ubiquitous Information Exchange
When teams are spread across multiple locations, it can be difficult to ensure that everyone has the same information, especially when frequent updates or changes are common. Many teams have adopted collaboration sites which allow for instant updates and shared documents. The challenge in the hybrid work mode is when some people meet in the office and make decisions without posting to share with other people. Sanjana, who leads a team of software developers, requires that all in-person meetings be documented to ensure equal access to information Discipline for documented meetings is rare, and it takes strong discipline to make hybrid teams aligned.
Questions arise if there is not value in having a physical presence in the office as organizations require workers to come back into the offices for a portion of the work week. Jonathan commutes one hour each way to the office and finds that he sits at his desk all day with limited meaningful interaction with others in the office It is no wonder that employees are challenging the need to return to offices. To address this, some firms are reviewing roles and tasks. If Jonathan comes to the office to engage in an in-person brainstorming session and social interactions with others, he will likely see the value of the time in the office. The multi-modal manager is going to work to align what gets done by mode.
Modal Equality/ Inclusion
Managers can use a hybrid workforce to improve equality and foster more inclusion in the organization. It is possible for people with responsibilities at home to work from home. The early evidence shows that there is a high risk of inequity when some employees are working from home and others are on-site. Remote workers are more likely to have slower career progression and less sense of belonging. Equal time with team members is ensured by successful managers. Helga is a consulting manager with a hybrid team of analysts. Even if they are in the same office location, she conducts meetings with each individual on the team via the internet each week to ensure equality. Ensuring that every team member has equal access to the manager can be a challenge.
Social Capital/ Relationships
The lack of social interaction, casual discussions, or impromptu engagements in hallways or cafeterias was one of the complaints about virtual working during the Pandemic. It’s important for managers to find ways to build relationships and create social capital in the hybrid workforce. Work activities can become transactional and mechanistic without building relationships, which can impact well-being and lead to turnover. Chen, a manager of an industrial hybrid team, sponsors online and in-person events for her team so they can get to know each other. Multi-modal managers embrace the challenge of building relationships with an understanding that social capital can make a positive impact on well-being, engagement, productivity and retention.
The cohort effect of hybrid work is here to stay despite the new world of work still unfolding. The four key areas related to ubiquitous information flow, task-mode reconciliation, equality/inclusion, and social capital/relationships have emerged so far as management skills needed for today.
I was struck by how easy it was for young professionals to adopt the skills of multi-modal managers. One young tech manager said, “We don’t have experience managing in the working world that existed prior to COVID-19, we only know our business as it is today, so don’t impose your old-world paradigms of management on our multimodal world.” As we experience a leadership cohort shift, this statement makes me wonder what the future will hold. My hope is that this change to multi-modal leadership opens up a promise for the future as we possibly bring forward some of the good practices of leadership and use this period of time to change some of the management practices that need to change to make great workplaces for everyone.