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Create a Successful Culture of Hybrid Remote Work in Times of Crisis

by Daniel Sanchez Reina  |  June 24, 2020  |  Submit a Comment

COVID-19 has changed the way we work. Employees are trying to adapt to remote or hybrid remote/on-site work, while also facing concerns about employment due to the economic downturn. These things hinder their engagement, motivation and productivity, meaning executives must build a culture of resilience.

The current situation, during and post-pandemic depending on the country, can be described as follows:

  • Organizations are embracing remote work at different scales, which employees are not used to. This causes employees to struggle to be self-organized, to adjust to the lack of socialization and to stay productive.
  • The technological side of remote work is the least of your problems. People’s resilience is at stake, not only because of remote work, but also due to the shock and uncertainty of COVID-19 and economic stress that is shaking the foundations of company cultures.
  • Performance of people (remote or physical) declines in times of crisis. The challenge of most enterprises is to not just survive, but to thrive.
  • Leaders are struggling to generate the levels of engagement and motivation required to get the most of people in this remote work environment. There is a cohort of office workers who feel disconnected from their remote colleagues, and a cohort of remote workers who feel disconnected with the rest of their team too.

As a result of this, there are four cultural behaviors (the graphic above) that executives must incorporate in their organizational culture to make it more resilient. Depending on the enterprise, it should be carried out either directly by the executive, or via the executive encouraging their direct reports (leadership team) to do it, or both. These four cultural behaviors do not intend to replace your current company culture with a different one. The goal is to add them to it to increase the resilience of your team members in these turbulent times.

They may seem the same as other concepts you are familiar with, but they are not, as showed in the figure below:

Open Vulnerability

Uncertainty and lack of information increase in times of crisis, which force our brains to “fill the gaps” with interpretations, often incorrectly, based on personal experience and perceptions. This is intensified when we work remotely because we don’t have the common physical spaces, like the coffee machine, to meet other people and exchange information and resolve doubts.

On top of that, organizations with high levels of trust increase their average employee engagement by 76% over organizations with low levels of trust. The core element of trust is transparency at a high scale; that is, between leaders and team members and among team members, with 71% of employees saying their employers should increase their transparency.

The combination of our brains’ need to fill the gaps and the aim for transparency indicates that we must create an environment in which people feel comfortable exposing their fears and vulnerabilities, both personal and professional.

Difference between Open Vulnerability behavior and openness/transparency: Being in an open environment where transparency prevails does not necessarily mean that people are willing to put their vulnerabilities out in the open. Only when leaders achieve that open vulnerability will they be able to manage those vulnerabilities, problems and fears, and therefore, increase the psychological well-being of their teams.

Impact Orientation

The management of emotions in our brains, fear in particular, is directly connected to the hippocampus: the center of memory. According to neuroscience, the high emotional sensitivity typical with contexts of crisis have the ability to leave a long-lasting memory in our brain. In other words, you will be remembered for a long time if you don’t manage this situation properly — and also if you do well — much more than in normal times.

In times of crisis, feeling that our work contributes to company goals reduces anxiety about job security. Therefore, whatever you do to increase or reduce that anxiety will contribute to the psychological well-being of that person. As a side effect, productivity will also increase. There is work to do. Employees report that 22% of their time is spent doing low-value and repetitive tasks, which represents more than one day per week.

On top of that, if those goals make sense to us, it will generate the motivation that will make our brains segregate the dopamine that activates the neurotransmitters of neuroplasticity. In other words, the adaptation to change and to the new environment will be faster and more easily accepted.

Last but not least, the risk aversion inherent in times of crisis is a disengagement factor for high-potential employees (HiPos). HiPos tend to have a preference for less routine activities.

Difference between Impact Orientation behavior and outcome orientation: An employee can focus on meeting the results, but that doesn’t mean that with those results they will have impacted on their stakeholders (whether they are clients, other departments or colleagues), or that those outcomes make sense to them.

Intrinsic Rewarding

In times of crisis we need approximately 30% more recognition than in normal times. We previously mentioned the neuroscience finding on long-lasting memory and reduction of anxiety when our work contributes to company goals. It is also important to remember the loss of visual signs of recognition if we work remotely, and the lower importance of superficial recognition in times of crisis — working remotely or not. This is because we have more important things to look after (such as our health, our family and our finances). This indicates that in turbulent times we need to feel not only more recognized, but also recognized in the deepest components of our motivational needs to create a long-lasting positive memory and nurture our work positively moving forward.

Difference between Intrinsic Rewarding behavior and rewards and recognition: Although having a culture of reward and recognition is very positive, in times of distress we must appeal to the most intimate needs for recognition of human beings, as we have seen. Moreover, rewards and recognition are “backward looking,” based on performance accrued. Intrinsic rewards are “forward looking,” setting the foundations of engagement and motivation to nurture the future well-being of each team member and their productivity.

Sense of Tribe

As the social animals that we are, physical eye contact and proximity releases serotonin, an essential hormone to keep the balance between positive and negative feelings. In the particular case of remote work, we don’t have such physical proximity. Furthermore, interactions with others are also essential to activate mirror neurons, those responsible for developing empathy. Again, in the particular case of remote work, we are lacking that.

That, along with the need to fill the gaps in times of crisis (described previously), informs us that CIOs have to strive to create a “sense of tribe,” which goes beyond their department. The more positive interactions we have with the members of the tribe (even in remote contexts), the more we will compensate for the lack of physical proximity.

Difference between Sense of Tribe behavior and sense of belonging: Employees develop a sense of belonging — which can still exist in difficult circumstances and remote work — through the relationships with their team, or through the reputation of the company or its values. The sense of tribe goes much further than that; it is the next level. It has to do with the bonds created with the whole enterprise. Employees must feel that they can rely on anyone they may need in the organization at any time, and get from them anything they require to do their job.

Final Reflection

Now you may be wondering, “What can I do if I am not excellent in some of those four elements?” The horizontal and vertical axes of the framework will help you.For example, if you manage yourself better in individual than in group interactions, lean more on the two quadrants of the individual, on the left-hand side. If you are better at nurturing future conditions than at focusing on present work, focus on the two quadrants at the bottom.But don’t give up on addressing the other quadrants too. Give them a chance, and enter in those uncharted territories. You have nothing to lose; you can only make things better to foster a culture of resilience.

If you want to know more about precise actions you can put in place to feed each of the 4 elements of the Culture of Resilience Framework,  see “Create a Successful Culture of Hybrid Remote Work in Times of Crisis”

May wisdom and courage be with you.

Daniel Sanchez-Reina  

— I will be looking forward to talking to you. Feel free to schedule an inquiry call (inquiry@gartner.com), follow me on Twitter (@DanielSnchezRna) or connect with me on LinkedIn.  

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Daniel Sanchez Reina
Senior Director Analyst
3 years at Gartner
9 years IT Industry

Daniel Sanchez Reina is a Senior Director Analyst for Gartner's Leadership, Culture and People Dynamics team for the CIO Research group. It includes the complex challenges of High-Performing Teams, Organizational and Cultural Change, Leadership Skills and Competencies, and Digital Transformation initiatives. Research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on their specific needs to achieve sustainable growth.. Read Full Bio




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