Hybrid Work is Just Work: Going Digital By Default
The internet, the shifting labor market, and, hopefully, common sense will tell you that for knowledge workers, hybrid work isn’t just a trend (it’s merely writing blogs about hybrid work that’s trendy).
In a recent Yahoo! news article on the Future of Work (a term overused to the point of dilution), Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff spoke about creating a work anywhere, live anywhere environment. “We knew every company was going to have to have a digital HQ, that it was a must-have, not a want," said Benioff.
However, just because knowledge workers can work from anywhere doesn’t mean that experience is equitable (or digital nomad glamorous) in this formative transition period.
Back to the office: Campus life is not the catch-all
In mid-July, Guru officially opened Hub offices in Philadelphia and San Francisco to the 80% of employees who said they wanted to return to a physical office in some capacity. There was fanfare, protocols, jitters, and “back to school” vibes. Some of us even procured a new lewk like it was our first day on campus.
Would we be able to navigate the new hot desk layouts and work the updated tech in the conference rooms? Would we fist bump or wave or hug or just avoid contact? These anxieties are innate reactions to fear of the unknown and are beyond reasonable given the looming uncertainty that persists as the seasons change.
To make our team as safe and as comfortable as possible, employees were required to take several actions to complete safety procedures before physically entering the office. We used Guru’s announcements feature to see which employees completed the required steps and follow up with those who hadn’t.
But not everyone can or wants to go back to the office. As of reopening, Guru employees are not required to work in an office. In June, 20% of our employees opted to be fully remote, and many who’d initially wanted a dedicated desk or said they would work from an office 3+ days a week (such as yours truly) changed our minds with the ever-shifting news on the Delta variant.
As we plan workplace operations and engagement throughout the rest of the year (and perhaps beyond) we recognize that Covid-19 in its various variants is something we’ll have to learn to work with, around, and through. We as an organization recognize there is mental load and decision fatigue for many employees as they do the calculus on our individual risk profiles. The balance of employee autonomy and intentional communications strategy (not to mention boundary setting) is a delicate fulcrum point as we strive for a hybrid work environment that embodies Benioff's Digital HQ.
Working towards digital by default
We define hybrid work as a deliberately flexible and blended strategy where our employees are either fully remote or based out of a hub location. Effective planning that allows hybrid work practices to evolve with our company culture is critical to ensuring employee growth, productivity, and mental and digital wellness.
We’re explicit that the office is considered one of many tools to help get work accomplished and not the only place in which work can happen. Where our team works doesn’t matter as much as with whom you’re working and how.
In a hybrid environment, our North Star is to create consistent, enriching employee experiences via digital by default collaboration and communications. We define digital by default as the intentional, asynchronous way in which we work to optimize and standardize experiences in a distributed environment. This not only helps to improve the employee experience (measured every six weeks via the employee net promoter score survey), but we know this will have a direct impact on our revenue growth.
Since Guru’s product aims to give every team in the world trusted information so that they can do their best work, realizing this vision starts with how we enable our employees to connect with our company purpose and perform in their zone of genius.
Autonomy as the antidote
At Guru, we ask the question: Does my team have the trusted information they need to do their best work?
A key consideration in building a hybrid work culture is ensuring that digital by default communications promote an autonomous, productive, and equitable experience for every single human on the team.
We want to create an inclusive culture knowing that many team members will be fully remote and have limited in-person exposure to teammates and leadership.
If employees are not physically in the office, sitting near or engaging in moments of relationship building with leaders and counterparts, what is lost? Do they have the same opportunities for relationship building and career growth as those who sit next to the C-level employees?
We know that those humans having water cooler conversations have a certain level of privilege (i.e., they live in a metropolitan area, have childcare support, and likely do not have an immunocompromising condition). These serendipitous conversations are delightful and will always nourish us, but they occupy the smallest top segment of the comms hierarchy.
I’ve described the way in which we’ve set expectations around how, when, and why we communicate. Still, with some employees in a physical conference room and others in their tricked-out home offices, we doubled down on a communications hierarchy.
Embracing the joy of missing out
That’s where the joy of missing out (JOMO) comes in. If employees trust that they will be able to access actionable and relevant knowledge when they need it to do their jobs, the FOMO of not being in the “room where it happened” can subside and open up space for deep work.
In our recent study on asynchronous work (in partnership with Loom), nearly half of respondents stated that 40% or more of the time spent on video conference calls was unproductive and wasteful.
Survey respondents also believe that better info access would make online meetings more effective. If you were able to get relevant information immediately when needed and were able to access critical business context asynchronously and within your workflow, how would that impact your connection to your work and colleagues?
How we are testing a digital by default communications culture at Guru to enable hybrid work
Encourage pre-meeting prep: We use meeting pre-reads to prepare attendees for what’s to come. They give people the opportunity to consume information and give feedback on important data. This gives everyone the insight they need to make meetings more effective and produce better outcomes.
Champion asynchronous knowledge sharing: Meetings don’t always have to happen simultaneously for every attendee. We’ve started recording company-wide PSAs, team meetings, and our monthly and quarterly “By the Numbers so people can watch them on their own time. We’ve found that this allows for more nuanced and meaningful engagement, and our employees agree!
Cater to employee’s location-based needs: We’re delineating employee enrichment, perks, and benefits for our different employee cohorts (remote and hub). For example, our Workplace Operations team organizes and executes distinct experiences like a Sustainable Cooking class that’s only available to Remote employees vs. an in-person outing to see the San Francisco Giants.
In the very near future, “hybrid work” is going to drop its adjective and just be referred to as “work” as employees increasingly have meaningful, digital-by-default connections that drive toward business outcomes. And you know what? It’s going to be great.