It’s official, to the extent these things become official: The new magic buzzword for the old magic “people” third of the PROCESS / Technology / people magic triangle is “hybrid workforce.”
Arguing by analogy has its limits, primary among them being that it has no virtues. But still, it’s worth remembering that the archetypal hybrid, the mule, is sterile.
Unlike arguing by analogy, a mule does have virtues, combining as one does the toughness, health, and higher intelligence of the donkey with the horse’s superior speed and endurance.
Something like that.
Hybrid workforce proponents hope this staffing strategy will also combine the best of two beasts – in this case, the best qualities of on-premise and remote employees. (And I’m beggin’ you – please! don’t look for parallels to the mule’s inability to reproduce. KJR is, after all, a family blog.)
Anyway, analogy or no analogy, I’m not convinced the hybrid workforce is going to combine more of the on-premises and remote employee strengths than it will incorporate their disadvantages.
Which brings us to this week’s topic. We’re going to home in on one dimension of the hybrid workforce that has, I think, received far too little attention: emotional support.
I’m not talking about employee assistance programs, or how to create a supportive culture, or how to identify employees who are struggling. Google the subject and you’ll find lots of material covering this ground.
No, I’m talking about something so commonplace that in an on-premises workforce it’s less signal than background noise. That’s the emotional support available to employees who are being driven nuts by a: bad manager; distractingly unproductive co-worker; business stratagem that’s too dopey for words; project they’re assigned to whose schedule was established by “right-to-left” planning … all the crazy-making day-to-day sturm und drang that happens in a typical organization.
On-premises organizations have a well-established pressure relief valve for helping employees maintain their sanity. It’s a buddy’s empathetic ear, complemented, when the situation calls for it, by “C’mon, I’ll buy you a beer.”
A typical hybrid organization, to the extent there is such a thing, might set Tuesdays and Thursdays as mandated on-premises days, leaving Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to employee discretion.
To the mathematically minded it might appear that the hybrid model provides 40% of a traditional workforce’s empathy provisioning. Poor as that metric might look, the true value is worse. With only two days a week in which employees are even in reliable proximity, “buddy” overstates the level of trust they can actually form with such limited contact with colleagues.
On top of which, what we might call “empathy encounters” aren’t planned, schedulable events. So if the need arises on a Wednesday, it will have to wait until Thursday to be satisfied.
Which means it won’t be satisfied at all. By then the situation will have come and gone, leaving behind another increment of un-dealt-with stress to accumulate onto the already existing pile.
What can you do to mitigate this issue? Good question, which is ManagementSpeak for “I don’t have a terrific answer.” The best I have to offer: Set up assignments and other situations in which collaboration among two or three employees is required for success, without the set-up seeming overly contrived.
It’s two or three employees and not more because a small number allows for less-structured interactions, which in turn encourages relationship-building without forcing it. That, in turn, makes it more natural for a stressed-out employee to reach out for a sympathetic ear.
One more thought: often the best connections – and of special value to you – are between employees in your organization and those in others. So work with other managers to extend the connection-building.
You might even find this extends your own support network. You aren’t, after all, immune from the same kinds of day-to-day stresses you’re trying to help the employees in your organization cope with.
Bob’s last word: The workforce transformation from on-premises employees to some permutation of remote, is no less implacable than the tide King Canute ordered to stay out.
That doesn’t make you, as a manager, a helpless victim of the onslaught, but neither does it mean you should uncritically embrace the trend and just let it happen.
This week’s gotcha is just one of the details effective leaders need to recognize and deal with.
If you have a better solution, or if you have other thoughts to offer, please take the time to post it (them) in the Comments.
Bob’s sales pitch: The newest in my CIO Survival Guide series is now available for your reading pleasure on CIO.com. It’s titled 3 consultant mistakes CIOs can’t help making.
Which I hope isn’t accurate: Read the article and you’ll discover ways to avoid making the mistakes in question.