Future of Work

Here are 4 key ways to successfully lead a hybrid workforce

In collaboration with MIT Sloan School of Management.
A man working from home, sat at a desk with a laptop and a microphone.

The pandemic accelerated and validated the demand for remote working. Image: UNSPLASH/Ian Harber

Kara Baskin
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Future of Work

  • A recent report has found that 83% of employees prefer a hybrid working model.
  • Robert Glazer, CEO of Acceleration Partners, has led a fully remote workforce for 15 years.
  • He offers four key suggestions for successful hybrid leadership: hire flexible employees, avoid Zoom fatigue, trust your employees and, have a clear strategy.

Pre-pandemic, working remotely was a luxury. COVID-19 made it essential, and workers got used to it: A report by Accenture found 83% of 9,326 workers surveyed said they preferred a hybrid model — in which they can work remotely at least 25% of the time.

Robert Glazer, founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a Boston-based partner marketing firm, gets it: For 15 years, he’s led a fully remote workforce.

In a talk at the recent MIT Sloan CFO Summit entitled, “How to excel In the world of remote work – and help your team do the same,” Glazer offered ways to ensure employees are engaged, accountable, performing at a high level, and continuously improving, even in a remote environment.

Employees have craved flexibility for a long time — and the pandemic accelerated and validated that demand. We’re not returning to pre-pandemic norms, he said.

Since March 2020, “What you’ve actually seen is maybe five or more years of trends that were already happening being pulled into the future. My parents never shopped on Instacart before, and now they’re not going back [to the grocery store]. There are a lot of things that aren’t going to change [back] about the workplace,” he said.

Given that reality, Glazer offered up four key suggestions for effective hybrid leadership:

Immerse new hires in company culture

Your workforce is only as good as the people you hire. Look for employees who are comfortable working remotely and implement an intensive onboarding process, rigorously scheduled with rotations in different parts of the company.

“If you’ve ever been in a company with a world-class training program, you usually don’t hit your desk until week three. You’re often customer service in week one. You’re going on rotations,” he said, noting that his new hires spend three weeks in training.

Rethink meetings

One pandemic silver lining? The shift to virtual has afforded an opportunity to transform status-quo meeting agendas. At Acceleration, employees use Level 10 from the EOS Entrepreneurial Operating System to rank standing meetings on their effectiveness. If the meeting doesn’t rank at least an 8, it’s tossed from the calendar.

Of course, some meetings can’t be jettisoned, but they can be shortened. To avoid Zoom fatigue, Glazer’s once hourlong meetings last roughly 15 to 30 minutes, tops.

One strategy is to cut the dreaded “update” section of a meeting. To maximize efficiency, send around an update memo instead of inviting people to take (or monopolize) the floor with routine announcements.

“[I] expect people to read the background data [before they] come to the meeting,” he said.

Don’t spy on your employees to ensure productivity

Some companies implement expensive monitoring software to track things like mouse movements. Glazer said that this is a waste of managers’ time.

“I will posit that, if you are asking your managers to track mouse movements, and your employees are buying mouse movers, your company is losing in whatever industry it’s in. You’re not focused on the right things,” he said.

Instead, create a culture of transparency where, if someone needs to step away for an hour or two, they simply let a manager know.

Be transparent about your future virtual-work plans

“McKinsey came out with a study a few months ago that said that 40% of companies hadn’t declared their return to work strategy yet; 28% were so vague their employees didn’t know what it [meant] — and it was causing a lot of stress,” Glazer said.

Stress can lead to turnover.

Instead, put a stake in the ground. Some companies might require a return to work. Others are ditching an in-person model entirely because pricy office leases expired, while others are offering some combination to some or all of their workforce.

“[Your] strategy may not be right, but I think it’s much better to start executing on a strategy and then tweaking it than to be unclear,” he said.

If you choose hybrid, reframe it as its own schedule, not an absence of one. Hybrid can feel amorphous — not quite in-person, not quite virtual. This poses strategic issues as new employees decipher work-life balance and commuting, so be intentional about expectations.

“Hybrid actually worries me the most, because I think hybrid needs to be a very intentional strategy versus the absence of a strategy,” Glazer said.

In order to allow employees to make informed choices about work-life balance and to avoid turnover, determine what hybrid means for your company — even if it’s unpopular with some or warrants adjustments going forward.

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