How Adaptive Teams Get Hybrid Work Right 12/8

The Getting Hybrid Work Right call series has become a well-attended and wide-ranging discussion for HR leaders on all aspects of hybrid work. On this week's call, i4cp' s CEO Kevin Oakes and Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone facilitated a conversation with special guest Michael Arena, Ph.D., author of the book Adaptive Space, former talent leader at Amazon, GM, and Bank of America, and co-founder of the Connected Commons. Here are some highlights from the call:

  • Arena noted there is a paradox for many employees, citing a survey which found 73% of employees in one organization said they wanted to remain remote, but 68% (in the same survey) said they were looking forward to returning to the office to see their work friends.
  • Arena's advice to CEOs is to not pick a fight with their employees if they don't know what the impacts will be for attraction, retention, etc., and even what the real impact on productivity, innovation, etc. will be, one way or the other.
  • Arena is optimistic that when we look back on this current 3-4 year period, we will see that there has been more innovation in work practices, more innovation in management, than from the past 50 years prior to 2020. Necessity is the mother of invention.
  • Arena said he was always taught, and that all of the research previously said, that proximity trumps intentionality. But we've now learned that is not the case.
  • There are two types of social capital: bonding (how tightly connected you are within a team) and bridging (how connected are the bonds between teams or groups). Bridging connections dropped significantly with the shift to remote work in 2020, especially for leaders. This is particularly important for innovation processes, which typically have three components: discovery of new ideas, building the minimally viable products, and then scaling them up. The first and third of these rely more heavily on bridging connections, and so these components of innovation are at risk.
  • Arena noted that you can build social connections remotely, but it takes more interactions over say video or audio-only calls than in-person to build trust, etc. As a result, especially if you have new people on a team, it is important to find reasons to get the team together in-person if you can, as trust and other important social connections will be built up more quickly.
  • Arena's research has found three advantages to coming back into the office:
    • Discovery Advantage: We are far more likely to uncover novel ideas, insights and learning during certain face-to-face interactions.
    • Cohesion Advantage: We are able to establish trust much more readily, and engage in healthy debates during in-person interactions
    • Influencing Advantage: We are far more likely to engage in high energy exchanges and influence key stakeholders in face-to-face interactions
  • Arena shared some numbers that go against the push for employees to "just come back into the office", without much intentionality as to why and what they will do in the office. He said the odds of benefits occurring from that are not much better than playing the social lottery. Specifically, asking employees to return to the office 2 days a week, without much intentionality…
    • Only increases the chance of discovering novel ideas or insights by 4%
    • Only increases the chance of building team cohesion without coordination by 16%
    • Only increases the chance of influencing key stakeholders by less than 16% (depends on workspace location)
  • Arena said he and his colleagues are seeing a decrease in relational energy for many workers, and that the pattern in recent organizational network analyses is seeing more people moving to the edges of the organization's network.
  • Energizers are critical people in your organization for many reasons, but especially in that they are 4X more likely to spread the culture positively.
  • Culture travels well across the people network in an organization, until it hits a de-energizing individual or team.
  • As we focus more on connection, Arena warns to guard against over-collaboration and over-connection. He calls this possibility the "revenge of the blob," meaning being over-connected, attending too many meetings, being too involved, etc.

Links to resources shared on the call: