There is a need for connections in a hybrid working model. Research shows that if we are satisfied with our connections, we can be three times more productive. Our bonding connections within team interactions drive greater productivity. The majority of hybrid employees feel disconnected from their co-workers. As the Pandemic lingered, we noticed a decrease in both bonding connections and bridging connections, those interactions that span across the organization from team to team, dropped off both rapidly and dramatically.
READ: The Neighborhood Effect: Implications of Hybrid Work
Neighborhood Effect and the Pandemic
As a result of network erosion, many organizations are moving beyond their silos and looking like local teams. It’s even more pronounced with leaders. Pre-pandemic leaders made up half of an organization’s connections. Since working remotely, senior managers and executives lost more bridge connections than the average employee did. Few people are talking about how to help our leaders.
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On the left side of Figure 1 is a healthy organizational network early in the pandemic of 500 with 48 leaders and nine different groups. The network is tightly clustered within groups to drive cohesive driven tasks and has many bridge connections to facilitate idea sharing and alignment activities.
Six months later, you can see the same network with 21% fewer connections. It looks more like a set of local neighborhoods than it does a broad-based network. You will also see something else if you look closer. A lot of leaders lost their connections. For most of the time, they have moved from the edge of their teams to the center of their groups, flattening out the organizations.
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Good News, Bad News
It now takes less time to connect with leaders because they are more accessible to their teams. The challenges of their employees have been taken on by the leaders. They have leaned in hard on issues such as team performance, burnout, retention, hiring, and local communications and have led with great empathy, actively engaging their teams to ensure greater employee well-being This has come with a significant cost. Their jobs have gotten harder.
The impact of this phenomenon has resulted in a decline in the number of Bridging interactions. External ties, which connect teams to external ideas, insights, and resources, are necessary to facilitate learning and innovation, which allow an organization to move beyond the status quo Future adaptation, innovations, and strategic alignment are all in danger of being crippled by the long-term impact.
The Isolation of Our Leaders
The impact on leaders themselves is critical immediately. They have become separated from their own support network at the time when they are carrying the burden of many others.
Being a leader is lonely work, but never more so when one is isolated and pulled into an array of emerging issues. Based on years of academic research, we know that social connections are the primary factor in overall wellbeing and as a result leaders are becoming more chronically stressed, burned out and exhausted.
READ: What is Mental Health and Wellness in HR?
Help for Leaders
As HR professionals, we have a lot of responsibility to help our leaders overcome these issues and become more connected. There are a few ways that we can do it.
- Help them reduce collaborative overload. Coach leaders to step back and evaluate what they are currently working on. Have them look back four months in their calendars to discover recurring activities or meetings that they can shift to less-connected people as a developmental opportunity. Challenge them to continually push themselves to look for opportunities to let go of routine activities and meetings.
- Challenge them to activate dormant bridge connections. Engage them in a conversation to ensure that they have a diverse network across the organization. Ask them to reflect on their critical connections before the pandemic. Push them to reactivate these connections and avoid the natural tendency to settle into their existing networks.
- Coach them to invest in broad based connections critical to future success. Challenge them to think laterally about ways to join efforts with peers. Proactively engage a select group of peers to explore mutual overlap in interests and ways that sharing resources could yield desired results. Instruct them also to seek out emergent opportunities with these peers and stakeholders to discuss new opportunities to enterprise challenges.
- Have them build mechanisms to ensure enterprise connectivity. Have them consider such actions as: Appointing a liaison role by designating one person on the team as a contact for the exchange of best practices. Create a team alumni network and as appropriate, pair alumni and members to boost engagement and strengthen team connections to other units, and schedule cross-team sharing sessions.
- Schedule a face-to-face leadership re-connection session. Consider designing and facilitating a leadership conference, or build a new leadership cohort to focus on emerging business issues. In short, get leaders in a physical room together to reengage.
A photo of Pexels.