While some companies are bringing employees back to the office full time, many plan to stick with the remote or hybrid work arrangements that helped them navigate the pandemic. This comes with challenges, and not least among them is creating opportunities for career advancement. Stanford University economist and remote work expert Nicholas Bloom has observed that employees who work from home have historically risked not being promoted. “Senior managers will often say they’re not developing managerial skills because they’re not in the office,” he says.
As managers sort through different ways to make hybrid work for everyone, we asked four HR experts to identify best practices for managing career advancement in a hybrid-work world. One thing they all agreed on: The ways we develop and evaluate employees needs to change to reflect our remote-work era.
Make sure face-to-face time with a manager is baked into hybrid structures
We need to ensure there is simply as little imbalance as possible in who has access to their manager, regardless of whether that face-to-face time is real or virtual. Ricoh’s default work style is hybrid, but we do not mandate what that looks like for each employee or team. We have been moving to a new approach called “Our Normal” as we recognized the importance of teamwork and the need for greater care for new hires. Through Our Normal, Ricoh asks each team at HQ to discuss and decide for themselves what hybrid schedule will work best. This minimizes the likelihood that some team members are not getting fair and equal access to the manager.
Then we ensure regular one-on-one meetings between team leaders and each of their direct reports, which can be either physical or remote depending on what the team has decided. Each employee knows they have regular access to their team leader.
Those team leaders have to apply new criteria, too, as they consider advancement possibilities. In today’s environment, it’s vital to understand and evaluate an employee’s remote working style. How good are they at operating in the new world of work? And how proficient are they at what I call the 3Cs of remote work: communication, collaboration, and creation? Written communication is vital when we work remotely and essential when we are working asynchronously. We should be looking at and evaluating how well folks can communicate in MS Teams, on Slack, or even via email, as all those channels are a bigger part of how we work in a remote or hybrid world.
—Darren Menabney, lead of global employee engagement at Ricoh Co., Ltd.
Recognize that every career path in a hybrid world will be unique
One of the greatest challenges hybrid organizations face is ensuring equitable distribution of focus for remote employees. This includes ensuring not only that they get face time with leaders but also that they feel engaged, part of a greater story, that they belong, and that they’re adding value to the organization. One way I’ve seen this accomplished is through an employee resource group led by passionate remote employees, which can uplift remote employees’ voices and ensure visibility not only to leadership but throughout the organization.
In some ways, managing career advancement in a hybrid world is more critical than ever. I’ve seen recently that when I ask employees what drives them, there is a fundamental shift toward variety in answers. This leads me to believe that cookie-cutter career-pathing programs are no longer going to retain employees. Instead, HR practitioners must partner with their business leaders to develop customized development plans that focus on competencies and outcomes and elevate the human-centric design of work.
At my organization, we have developed a career path for a specific department that harnesses our growth mindset and couples it with specific competencies tied to business objectives, so we’re less focused on hierarchical structure and title-based recognition and more focused on connecting day-to-day outcomes with the overall organizational mission.
Leverage in-office time for mentoring and give more value to work output
My research has shown that hybrid work is most effective with around 25 percent of workdays in the office. So how should managers reimagine the process of mentoring direct reports in that situation?
The solution is very simple. That 25 percent of time in the office should be reserved for social interactions, not for any kind of individual work, which we can do from anywhere. It’s for collaboration, for one-on-one mentoring, and for other social interactions that help people develop bonds in the workplace. Managers need to be consistent about that. If someone is showing up more often in the office, that should not bias their performance ratings.
We also need to measure performance or productivity based on the output of work, not the input of work. That has been a bias across industries and companies for years, that if we see someone at their desk, or we see someone working at 11 at night, we think that person is productive. But that may not be true. Especially now, performance must be measured only based on the quality of output.
—Prithwiraj Choudhury, associate professor at Harvard Business School
Rethink how time in the office can create opportunities to grow
During the pandemic, we were all isolated. Consequently, teams became very insulated. If they didn’t have to collaborate with other teams, it simply didn’t happen. The logistical challenges were just too difficult. The relationship building and collaboration that would have naturally occurred if, for example, we were all working on the same floor or bumping into each other while getting our afternoon coffee, was simply impossible. This is a challenge if you want to develop a well-rounded workforce—one where people have both the skills and interpersonal connections to thrive within your organization.
To reframe this challenge into opportunity, leaders should remember that we are in a post-pandemic world. Reimagine face-to-face time as an opportunity to deepen cross-functional relationships, build culture, and share information about our successes and challenges. Time in the office should now be considered a strategic imperative. Think creatively about how to incentivize people—human beings, not “resources”—to come back into the office with a focus simply on spending time together and bonding, rather than producing a long list of deliverables and “working.”
If we can reimagine face-to-face time as an opportunity for our people to connect and grow, rather than an obligation to deliver on key performance metrics being placed on them from on high, the result will be greater collaboration and better career opportunities. And the organization will thrive as well, because happy employees lead to happy customers.
—Kevin Barnard, deputy chief innovation officer at ServiceNow