Many organizations are basing their workplace return strategy on a false belief that collaboration, creativity, and culture can only be sustained through people spending “face time” together, then “allowing” people to work from home to do independent work and because the workforce insists on some flexibility. I was recently on a thought leader panel for Senior HR executives discussing the emerging hybrid workplace, advocating for a Remote First position. Other than utilizing already paid-for real estate and cool campuses, collaborative culture was stated as THE primary reason to move back to the office at least part-time. This, despite no evidence that co-location is the only solution. It is a solution that should be included in a full transformational analysis of opportunity, but to adopt hybrid is, in some ways, an easy thing to say but not without some thought. Hybrid can take many forms and needs to be thought through and aligned with business and workforce strategic priorities.

For too many leadership teams, the post-pandemic era is becoming a missed opportunity to think strategically. Hybrid is the best workplace solution most of the time, but leaders should decide strategically based on

  • the work to be done and how interdependent or adaptive different job roles must be,
  • tapping stakeholders (the people doing the work, minimally) to identify the best environments to do which types of work based on fact, not popular opinion,
  • leveraging social capital synchronously and asynchronously, virtually and co-located, and
  • facilitating clarity, employee support, AND managing for results so that productivity and other critical success factors (like employee well-being) are considerations, regardless of where someone works.

This ALL has to happen in both hybrid and remote work environments, with much more structure and planning needed when selecting hybrid instead of fully remote.

Smart leaders design the organization formally and informally as a virtual organization, whether hybrid or fully virtual because the network is the workplace regardless of where people are.

The organization also has to find that balancing range of intentionally creating and supporting cross-organizational communication, networking and collaboration without becoming so highly structured that informal networks begin to feel like orchestrated events and “big brother or sister” oversight.

Why think again about how to move to a hybrid workplace? Here is just a quick handful of Q1 2020 data findings…

The vast majority of the 1,500 people polled in a new Harvard Business School Online survey said that they excelled and grew in their professions after a year of working remotely.

Another 81% surveyed said that they either don’t ever want to go back to the office, or they would prefer a hybrid schedule, like the one proposed by Google executives, going forward.

27% of employees surveyed would rather work remotely full-time.

61% would like to work remotely two or three days out of the week.

According to a recent IBM survey, 

54% of the 25,000 adults surveyed said they would like to be able to primarily work from home.

75% would like the option to do it occasionally.

40% feel strongly that their employer should offer remote work options.

Different studies provide different data, but across the board, between 1/3 to ½ the workforce say they want to continue working from most or all of the time, and fully 1/3 will consider a job change in order to have this flexibility.

The COVID WFH crisis proved productive work from home is doable. Teams also have rated their connection and inclusion as high, especially when the team manager and organization communicated transparently throughout the crisis. Bottom line, more than where people work, it the team’s desire to work virtually that is the most critical component to ensure highly productive and culturally connected teams. If a virtual team wants to connect badly enough, they can do so with a dixie cup and string….

If organization decision-makers haven’t assessed their workforce’s desire to work virtually, start by asking and listening to what people say!

Decisions About the Return to Your Organization’s Next Normal

Executive re-entry decision trends to date have leaned into pulling people back into the office, at least part-time. This is based on comfort more than need and at some level a choice to corral employees to a place, rather than to upskill team leaders. If this is the decision, strategic or not, I’d like to share one awareness that should be shared with every employee impacted by a virtual employee, especially virtual team leaders.

Because work is done through the network, at The SMART Workplace we strongly encourage organizations to lean into Remote First because hybrid organizations introduce an accidental exclusionary practice, an unconscious bias, natural to our human brain but a diversity challenge that often creates two classes of citizens – remote and co-located. Our caveman’s brain pays attention to those we see and know are nearby – it’s a safety-first mentality. This DB can be attended to but is a problem in a hybrid workplace. It’s hard to be fully engaged and fully authenticate when you feel like an outsider or to perform at your best when you’re not operating from the latest scope requirements.

The best investment in a connected culture with an engaged workforce, regardless of work “place,” is to invest in the manager. The manager is the Critical Success Factor regarding team performance and “thrive factor” regardless of where a team works. Skilled virtual team leaders are highly effective at facilitating cross-team collaboration, employee engagement, retention, and career progression. Doing this virtually and sustainable, even when leading in a hybrid workplace, warrants some upskilling.

Bottom line, the manager who Connects on Purpose is the most successful in any workplace, especially a virtual or hybrid workplace. The manager who Connects on Purpose involves team members in deciding how to sustain a collaborative, connected culture, including whether and how to remain fully virtual or move to hybrid (have people come in some of the time).

If you’re already on the move to your Next Normal, Part 2 of this series will outline how you prioritize 4 “Must Know” workplace realities Post-Pandemic. Factor flexibility, technology, leadership, and culture into organization policy and leadership practice, regardless of how office- or home-centric your workplace will be going forward.

At The SMART Workplace, we can support any or all aspects of these strategic and operational decision-making processes, from strategic facilitation to help with templates, structural guidelines, and best practices. We can be involved with your change team or be your guide on the side, coaching HR, Facilities, IT, and change leaders to operationalize the transformation with stakeholder involvement. Or if you simply need training, group coaching, or an inspirational and practical webinar or keynote, be in touch!

For More About Trina Hoefling and The SMART Workplace

Trina Hoefling

Author, Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace, 2nd Edition

Thought Leadership and Knowledge Center,

Trina’s website,