A growing number of articles and studies feature debates, research, and advice on returning to the office, working from home, and many hybrids. City cores across North American report office occupancy rates far below pre-pandemic levels.
Studies such as those featured in Time magazine show empty office tower escalators with the headline Return-to-Office Full Time Is Losing. Hybrid Work Is On the Rise. “The share of people in the office full time dropped to 42% in the second quarter of 2023, down from 49% in the first quarter, …the share of offices with hybrid work arrangements hit 30% in the quarter, up from 20% the previous quarter.”
Love it, hate it, or just tolerate it; some form of part- or full-time remote work is here to stay. Almost every workshop or planning session I’ve facilitated in the last year has discussed approaches or policies for working remotely or various hybrid models.
Your Values Are Showing
Discussions about remote, in-office, or hybrid work expose underlying values about trust, partnering, and treating team members as adults or children. Some leaders feel employees should be given a choice to do what works best for them. These are Theory Y leaders (believe that most people are self-motivated and self-controlled, want to take pride in their work, be on a winning team, and are trusted adults).
Other leaders strongly feel the company should mandate 3 to 5 days per week in the office. They’re often Theory X leaders (believe that most employees will take advantage, need to be “snoopervised,” and managed like kids with rules, policies, and punishment). One argument at a leadership team retreat was that the company needed to use all the costly office space that was sitting empty. Not exactly a people-centered strategy.
Remote Workers are More Productive and Happier
Since the pandemic forced many people to work from home, numerous studies have shown increases in productivity, engagement, morale, and work-life balance. A study by Owl Labs found 70% of employees say virtual meetings are less stressful, 55% work more hours, 76% were happier working from home, it was better for their mental health, and 1 in 4 would quit if they couldn’t work remotely.
In “Surprising Working from Home Productivity Statistics (2023)”, recruitment agency, Apollo Technical, report “Several studies over the past few months show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.”
Apollo cites a Standford study of 16,000 workers showing “improved work satisfaction, and attrition rates were cut by 50%.” However, the Apollo study also found many companies “saw a large spike in productivity in the first couple of months of quarantine, but over time, the loneliness of working at a home office affects productivity and job satisfaction. This is why many companies are now embracing a hybrid work model.”
Virtually Engaged Shows Leaders How to Lead Remote Teams
Drawing from his extensive library of team building tools and courses, workplace culture and team developer, Tyler Hayden’s new book Virtually Engaged is a rich resource for project managers, team leaders, and training and development professionals helping teams thrive in today’s online world. It’s a practical and timely how-to book chock full of useful advice, activities, and links.
Tyler provides over 101 remote team-building activities sandwiched between pragmatic team leadership tips and techniques. Here are a few that stood and/or resonated with my own research and experiences:
- Each team has a beginning, middle, and end. The team building activities need to reflect what stage the team is at.
- The orientation of new teams is critical. A foundational starting point is agreeing on team vision, purpose, and measurable goals. Standards, expectations, and ground rules or core values need to be clearly established.
- Teams that are ongoing or in their middle phase should be periodically revitalized by reviewing, updating, revising, or recommitting to the team’s vision, purpose, and values.
- A working group has a strong leader, individual accountability, and reflects the organization’s purpose. A team has shared leadership and accountability, a specific team purpose, and makes team decisions. It’s vital for the group/team leader to clarify which is most suited to the situation and lead accordingly.
- Discuss and define team member strengths. Look for ways to align team functions to each member’s strengths.
- Use the “90/10 rule” to restrict discussions to just 10 percent of the time on problems. Invest 90 percent of the team’s time in solutions and possibilities.
- Schedule social time before the formal meeting. Platforms like Kumospace can be a virtual office for remote teams to collaborate, build culture, and socialize.
- Keep formal meetings under 60 minutes — 45 minutes is even better. Segmenting or pacing the meeting with activities will keep everyone engaged.
- Create safe spaces and tools for checking in, broadening participation, and encouraging feedback/pushback. Using tools like a gamified Kahoot!, SurveyMonkey, or Polly to gather anonymous input can foster more openness and strengthen trust.
Do Your Virtual Meetings Suck?
In his Harvard Business Review article, “Why Your Meetings Stink — And What to Do About It,” Steven Rogelberg, professor and author of a book on the science of meetings, reports, “My research suggests that only around 50% of meeting time is effective, well used, and engaging — and these effectiveness numbers drop even lower when it comes to remote meetings.”
Tyler’s summary provides a useful virtual team checklist, “some tips to facilitating in a remote environment include: share the agenda ahead of time; assign a note-taker and record your session; start with an icebreaker that frames the objective of the meeting; encourage balanced participation from members; reframe the group when they go off track; pause so that people can synthesize the data and not become overwhelmed; take bio/beverage/body stretch breaks; watch the length of time of your meeting; build a logical and timely end to your meeting.”
Virtual teams and online meetings are here to stay. THE single biggest factor to ensure all this screen time isn’t scream time is team and meeting leadership.