June 14, 2021
June 14, 2021
Contributor: Mary Baker
Hybrid work environments provide new ways for employees to collaborate productively, but leaders must intentionally create those opportunities.
Recent Gartner research found that 71% of HR leaders are more concerned about employee collaboration this year than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. How valid are these concerns, and what needs to be done to protect and drive collaboration and innovation in today’s remote and hybrid working environments?
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It’s true that when employees aren’t physically colocated, their interactions are more scheduled than spontaneous — and interactions commonly occur through screens.
Employees don’t experience the happenstance, serendipitous interactions that might occur in an office. Even a simple social conversation with a co-worker can take effort.
“To unleash innovation in this context, leaders must empower employees to collaborate more intentionally,” says Alexia Cambon, Director, Research, Gartner. “Our research shows that teams of knowledge workers who collaborate intentionally are nearly three times more likely to achieve high team innovation than teams that do not use an intentional approach.”
In reality, employees have more options for when, where and how to collaborate in hybrid work environments, but organizations and their leaders have to intentionally create those opportunities.
Gartner has identified four work modes that teams should intentionally leverage as they move into the hybrid environment.
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Most organizations are thinking about hybrid work only in terms of location (whether teams are located or distributed), but Gartner research shows that organizations must also think about it in terms of timespend (whether teams are working asynchronously or synchronously).
This approach yields four work modes that organizations must invest equally in if they are to succeed in the hybrid environment:
Working together, together: when teams are colocated, contributing to meetings in a shared space.
Working together, apart: when teams are distributed, but participating in virtual meetings.
Working alone, together: when teams are in shared spaces, but not working at the same time.
Working alone, apart: when teams are distributed, and individuals are conducting deep focus work.
At organizations that adopt a hybrid model, many employees flow between multiple work sites, including their homes, the office and third spaces (e.g., a library, coffee shop or co-working space).
Some employees may not have access to productive workspaces, which restricts their options. Others may work better from home. Overall, the workforce will benefit from the more inclusive options offered by hybrid work.
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Limits on flexibility pose a real problem; Gartner research shows that two-thirds of employees report their expectations for working flexibly have increased since last year.
Mitigating this issue means empowering employees to have equitable access to all work modes, especially given Gartner research that shows that different talent segments — whether it be personality types, generation or seniority — thrive differently in each mode. For many organizations, this will require a more intentional redesign of collaboration around the four work modes.
For instance, HR and business leaders should together invest in improving the personalized worksites of employees who will continue to work from home at least some of the time (e.g., with ergonomic chairs, caregiver support or fitness memberships).
For those who can’t easily access the office but enjoy working alongside peers, employers can subsidize memberships to co-working spaces. Organizations must also offer guidance on the use cases and advantages of each work mode so that employees know when and how to use each most effectively.
Gartner research shows that the majority of HR leaders believe that synchronous modes — such as meetings and presentations — are the most important means of driving innovation. This is why many organizations have invested heavily in improving their virtual meeting technologies over the course of the pandemic.
Gartner data shows, however, that asynchronous work modes are just as important to achieving team innovation as synchronous modes.
Over the past year, in the primarily remote work environment, employees have relied on video calls to collaborate, often resulting in back-to-back meetings and fatigue and putting them at risk for burnout. In fact, HR leaders recognize this threat — with three out of four agreeing that an increase in the number of virtual touchpoints employees face in their work puts them at risk for burnout.
This overreliance on synchronous modes has resulted in adverse impacts on employee health. And few organizations are investing in asynchronous modes, with only 17% implementing no-meeting days and only 11% providing dedicated mental health days.
“Our insistence on making synchronous work the default is inherited from a prior era where asynchronous tools were not built for speed and efficiency,” says Cambon. “We must reset how we leverage all the work modes available to us.”
This reset involves three critical steps:
Organizations must set up teams for success in the new hybrid environment. Data from the Gartner 2021 Hybrid Work Employee Survey shows that for the knowledge worker population:
Team collaboration in the hybrid environment will require careful navigating, and organizations stand to gain greater levels of innovation if they do so intentionally.
“Intentional collaboration is a journey, not a destination, and all levels of the business must take an active role in setting the organization on a course for success,” says Cambon.
Join your peer CHROs and senior HR executives from leading organizations to discuss specific HR challenges and learn top HR trends and priorities.
Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:
Redesigning Work for the Hybrid World
3 Hybrid Work Challenges Driving Employee Fatigue
*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.