Corporate Zoomicide is the career-limiting choice forced on WFH employees when a company really just wants everyone to be back in the office. Over the next 18 months or so, managing the ergonomic and technological changes posed by a split (on-premises/off-premises) workforce will be difficult and stressful, but adapting your corporate culture to set your hybrid workforce up for success may prove even more challenging.
Much has been written about “how” to bring workers back. Here I’m going to concentrate on the more subtle “what does it mean” to bring workers back. As we slowly transition out of mid-pandemic protocols, there are, generally speaking, two groups: those who can’t wait to get back to the office, and those who can.
At a high level, this bifurcation seems well understood. Over the next 18−24 months, some people are still going to want to work from home. No problem. We’ll let them. For everyone else, the office is open. Consider this…
Four & One & One & One
The meeting is scheduled for 11:00am. Four team members are in the office, and three are working from home. Everyone can join a video chat from their desk, but the four people in the office decide to use a huddle room (equipped with one wide-angle camera and a single microphone) and let those working from home “dial in.”
On the surface, this is nothing new. People have been dialing in to meetings for years. But this hypothetical meeting with a long-term heterogeneous on-premises/off-premises team highlights the new challenges WFH workers will face at companies that adopt a “we’re back” posture without creating new protocols that set hybrid teams up for success.
The four people at a table will form different human bonds than they will or even can form with the talking heads on the single screen on the wall. The talking heads (glued to their WFH desks) are not looking at other individuals; they are looking at a single image wide enough to capture all four people at the table. There’s no way to see expressions, read the room, or understand the body language of their colleagues. There’s no way for the talking heads to walk out of the meeting and chitchat in the hall. They will be excluded from the all-important last few seconds of post-meeting conversation because they were “switched off.”
The imbalance of human interactions and the lack of serendipity, proximity, and upward corporate mobility will put WFH workers at such a disadvantage, they will either just literally “phone it in” or be forced to find work elsewhere – both would be considered Corporate Zoomicide, but who is the real victim? The worker or the employer?
A Thriving Hybrid Workforce
While “safety first” has been the guiding principle for most “back to the office” plans, there are some additional components that will contribute to a thriving hybrid workforce.
First and foremost are new workflows and processes adapted to the sociological and psychological challenges of your hybrid teams. This will include new approaches to scheduling, new meeting protocols, and an investment in technology that equips everyone to participate equally.
Your sales team has probably been working remotely for decades. But the rest of your new hybrid workforce will need some training. Not just tech training (which will be mandatory). They will also need hybrid team-building exercises designed to maximize their creativity and productivity.
As a leader, you will need to create a corporate culture that does not discriminate against WFH workers to the point where you lose some of your best, most productive people. A Corporate Zoomicide prevention program, if you will.
This may be a shameless plug, but my team has been working remotely for over 20 years, and we have developed tools and techniques we can share with you. We’ve been facilitating Hybrid Workforce Workshops for the past few months, all with quantitatively positive results. We’ve also set up Centers of Excellence and created accompanying Hybrid Workforce Playbooks and Online Meeting Playbooks for several of our Fortune 500 clients. We’d be happy to speak with you about how we can help your organization deal with these new sociological and technical challenges. If you’re interested in learning more, please fill in the form below.
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