Image credit: Gallup
For the first quarter million years or so of human existence, we only had face to face interactions, so any technology mediated exchanges are going to require adaptation from what we were biologically and socially programmed to do. Not surprisingly, Gallup conducted research years before the pandemic to find out what kinds of work communications and schedules work best. Then the pandemic challenged most of what we thought was possible or advisable.
In person meetings tend to better support social bonding and work commitments, but the nature of the meeting is probably more important than whether or not it is in person or remote. For example, if there is a good, actionable agenda, opportunity for problem solving, access to support, and some social component, then in person is likely to be more productive and more valued by participants, but those same objectives improve remote meetings as well!
There is also some research to suggest that working in the office promotes less tangible, but potentially important activities such as informal, “hallway” conversations, dissemination of information, and even opportunities for mentoring.
Not surprisingly, just as with educational effectiveness, a hybrid model is probably preferable to either solely in person or solely at a distance arrangements, as it provides flexibility and the benefits of face-to-face interaction.
However…. there is a gender component as well. Women tend to value and benefit from the flexibility offered by hybrid and remote work more than men do. Rules requiring 100% in the office work schedules will disproportionately, negatively impact women, which leaders ignore at their own peril.
So, what are the implications for leaders? First, whether folks are in the office or remote or both, if you’re going to require that they participate in group activities/meetings, then those activities must be designed in such a way that both participants and the organization are better off than they would have been without the activity. Getting people together just to report on what they’re doing is usually a recipe for lost time and frustration. On the other hand, get togethers that honor people as social creatures, are driven by an agenda that people care about, offer opportunities for collaboration and solicitation of resources and other types of support, and empower folks to accomplish more than they could without the meeting are a good use of time. Ideally, leaders will facilitate a work schedule and arrangement that yields some face to face opportunities, while also providing flexibility, particularly for female employees. Moreover, the research noted above suggests that there is value in standardizing in-the-office commitments so that employees can plan in advance.
In short, the recent pandemic, now endemic, proved that many arrangements that we previously thought were undoable are, in fact quite doable. The primary challenge of leaders in this context is to identify and maximize what was learned during the pandemic, while also leveraging the most positive elements of pre-pandemic work arrangements and schedules.