The vast majority of organizations are reporting plans to implement hybrid work models – this will undoubtedly be the future of work. Hybrid approaches will provide many benefits to employees in the form of choice and quality of working lifeand companies in terms of their ability to attract and retain the best people.
But one of the challenges of hybrid work will be to maintain a strong culture, morale, and camaraderie among team members, and to ensure fairness and fairness in both practice and perception. Organizational success is correlated with a strong sense of common purpose and shared identity, the feeling that we are all aligned with a common end goal and we all have an important role to play, and fairness will be critical to a sense of unity.
People may see themselves as “haves” or “have nots” depending on whether and to what extent they can work remotely. Organizations will need to allow hybrid work across a variety of job functions, work modes, and personal preferences. But giving people options while ensuring that customer needs are met will be fraught with challenges, because it is unlikely that everyone will be able to work the same way with the same number of options for when, where, and how to work.
People will define “haves” and “have-nots” in their own way. For some, it can be an advantage to work from home with all the flexibility it seems to allow. For others, working in the office may seem like the best deal based on the opportunity for visibility, career advancement, and proximity to colleagues. Employees will judge benefits based on their own preferences, and probably based on the perception that “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Bottom line: companies will need to ensure fairness, both real and perceived, to build strong relationships and strong cultures.
Equity is essential
It is no wonder that our desire for justice and fairness is basic to being human. An intriguing study of the Oxford University analyzed 60 different societies and found seven key moral requirements shared by all groups. Despite the great differences between people and cultures, there are key rules that act as moral and social imperatives. One of them is to “divide resources fairly”, that is, to have equity in the whole group.
Employees require a sense of fairness, and while they understand that not all roles are equal, the requirement of fairness is critical to their full commitment and motivation. Two different studies show that when employees don’t feel a sense of fairness, they can remove or license the company. Companies that employees want to join and stay with tend to be those that treat people fairly, providing things like assignments, promotions, and compensation that are aligned with talent, experience, and contributions.
Reduce the effect to have, not to have
Here are ways to ensure fairness and reduce the reality and perceptions of internal and external groups in hybrid work.
Focus on principles. One of the elements that will contribute to a sense of fairness is making sure you have a set of principles that frame your decisions. A short list of these principles guided by your values will help people understand the underlying reasons for their decisions. For example, you may have a principle of fairness or a principle of flexibility or choice or a principle of trust. It may also have a principle related to quality of work or customer focus. Not all work can be done remotely. A receptionist or concierge who greets clients in person may not be able to work remotely, or a teacher in a museum will not be effective if they work remotely. Principles about the nature of work or the effect of work on clients help set limits for decision making.
Foster a culture of trust. A general culture of trust is the foundation of constructive relationships and fairness. Build trust through openness, assuming goodwill, staying in close contact, managing results, addressing issues, and demonstrating integrity. As one leader put it: “If you trust your people, they can work anywhere. If you don’t trust your people, they shouldn’t work for you. “
Understand the job. Before the pandemic, many organizations believed that most work should be done in the office, but they were largely proven wrong. However, this does not mean that remote work is ideal. As one CEO recently told me: “Make no mistake, our work from home over the last year has been based on a response to the pandemic, not because we believed it was optimal for our business.” Certainly there is a balance. A study of Maastricht and Erasmus universities discovered that at home you can do a particularly routine, individual or less complex work. But according to the study, it is also better to do the work in person, including problem solving, co-creation, collaboration or work that requires speed.
Be willing to experiment. Given what we’ve learned throughout working from home, there may be opportunities to define specific tasks that can be done outside of the office, and the limits of what can be done outside of the office can expand. People will be more accepting of hybrid work when they feel a company openness to trying new approaches to adapt to flexible working. A general feeling of openness contributes to reciprocity: Employees will feel that the company is giving and will want to give back and make a discretionary effort.
Be transparent. A large part of people’s perception of fairness also comes from transparency. Be open about the principles you are using to determine what work will be done in the office and which will be done remotely. Share the tests or trials you are considering for new work methodologies. Communicate about customer requirements, business needs, and the ways you will need people to make unique contributions toward a shared purpose.
Build team relationships. Assuming you’re doing your best to provide real equity, you can reduce perceptions of “haves” and “haves” by building team relationships. When people feel connected and empathetic with their colleagues, they are more likely to feel positive about how the team operates and how hybrid models are implemented. Strengthen the bonds between team members by giving them opportunities to get to know each other and by giving co-workers tasks to roll up their sleeves and solve problems together. Shared goals and joint accomplishment of meaningful tasks are powerful for building trust, camaraderie, and connections.
Make sure leaders are present and accessible. A key element of productive and constructive cultures is the extent to which people have a sense of closeness to leaders. This is because people can communicate with leaders and remember business realities, context, and their connection to the overall purpose of the organization. It’s also because people want visibility with leaders, which is why they’re on the radar for brain projects, promotions, or career progression. When people feel like they are competing for time with leaders, it can contribute to a more dog-eat-dog atmosphere. The reverse is also true: Give people more access to leaders and they will be positively impacted by a general sense of abundance and a feeling that there is enough recognition and appreciation from leaders for all.
Hold people accountable. It is also important to ensure that people are accountable for their performance and results. A culture is significantly determined by the worst behavior it will tolerate, and when an organization takes steps to address bad behavior or lack of results, it contributes to a more positive culture. This is especially true when looking to reduce the “have and have not” effect. When people feel that others are doing their job, delivering results, receiving appropriate recognition, and holding themselves accountable, it goes a long way toward creating a culture in which a sense of justice is ubiquitous.
People want a sense of justice and their levels of effort and contribution are significantly tied to this perception. Furthermore, their willingness to join, commit and stay with an organization is fundamentally affected by whether they perceive fairness among the employee population. The enigma of “have and have not” is no small challenge, but through intentionality and serious effort, you can create the conditions not only for fairness, but happiness, fullness and business success.