I’m very fortunate to be able to learn about hybrid work from some of the smartest people in the world, many of them working here at Robin. I also get to learn from external experts and top researchers like Professor Sara Perry
Professor Sara Perry has been studying remote and hybrid work for a long time, long before the pandemic began back in 2020. She’s been interviewed and quoted by too many media outlets to mention here, but her important insights on remote and hybrid work are always based on solid research and well-considered reflection.
I recently had a chance to chat with Dr. Perry, who’s an Associate Professor of Management at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, about my favorite topic, hybrid work. Below is an excerpt from our half-hour conversation:
How Do You See Hybrid Work Evolving From Here?
Dr. Perry: There's definitely no one answer that fits all organizations and individuals. Anyone who asks, “what is the best practice for hybrid work?” is asking the wrong question. It depends on so many factors. We see that different people want different things from work. About 10% of the people in our research want to be in the office full time and another 10-20% say they’d like to stay fully remote. The rest, the majority of 70-80%, want some flexibility around where they work.
What’s The “Right Approach” For Managing Hybrid Work?
Dr. Perry: Hybrid work is an ongoing experiment and, again, there’s no single right approach that suits everybody. The theme I'm hearing from HR professionals is that we have to listen to employee needs. It helps if you as an organization can collect data and have metrics about how your hybrid experiment is going. Obviously, employee experience and employee retention are key factors to measure.
It’s tough to find and retain talent in this job market. If employers think they can just do whatever they want and keep their employees, that's just not going to be the case. You as an organization have to be more competitive in terms of your value proposition for employees. And that's where offering employees choice and flexibility comes in. Company culture also matters to employees. You need to foster an engaging work culture regardless of what balance of remote and in-person work you have.
What Are The Biggest Challenges When Rolling Out Hybrid Work?
Dr. Perry: I think the biggest challenge is coordination and figuring out how to give people the choice they want, but then actually having enough people in the office to make it worthwhile for people to come into the office. There's no reason to make people come into the office if they’re just going to be sitting on Zoom all day.
We have to analyze jobs and tasks to figure out what can be done in different settings. The leader of the team can help coordinate what tasks need in-person collaboration and when the team might best be served by coming together in the office. That coordination function is more about communication within your own team. People and organizations also need the technology that enables them to do this coordination and even automate it when possible.
Why Has There Been So Much Work Fatigue And Burnout?
Dr. Perry: There's several factors. If you're working remotely and trying to do childcare, you can’t do both at once. People are getting pulled in multiple directions at the same time – that is not sustainable and leads to exhaustion. Going back to the office has its own stressors, such as having those interruptions from colleagues you might not even see when you’re working from home. It's just going to take more energy for that transition back to the office. At home, you can always take a break by laying down or going for a walk.
A big part of what I've been researching lately is about how people can use breaks to restore themselves. People should ask, “What did I learn at home as far as breaks that really worked for me and how could I maybe do something similar at the office to help me restore?”
How Important Is Employee Autonomy And Flexibility At Work?
Dr. Perry: Autonomy is massively important, but it can be complicated for organizations. It might mean that you as an HR professional, as a manager get input from your people and do more to help coordinate schedules across the organization, so people and teams come together when needed to do their best work. You have to balance the team and the organizational needs with the autonomy of each person. Organizations should give guidance, resources, and support, and not micromanage people.
What Can Leaders And Managers Do To Make Hybrid Work Better?
Dr. Perry: Get input from everyone. Let their people help design any solution. Have conversations as a group and one-to-one around what people want as an individual and as a team. Then take all that input and turn it into action. We’re all figuring this out as we move forward.
For universities, organizations and individuals alike, continuing to be open to change as well as learning and adapting as we go are so critical. We’re all tired coming out of this pandemic and with the constant change that’s been happening, but remaining open to learning is essential.