The ongoing COVID pandemic forced public and private workplaces to implement a wide variety of virtual solutions to keep operations running – with widely varied results. Courts around the world are no exception, having instituted and expanded online systems. These include e-filing, e-calendaring, online dispute resolution, video hearings and trials, etc. Internally, courts have implemented remote, virtual-employee work to an unprecedented degree. Some courts have essentially remote workers, some only have a few remote workers, and many courts have a hybrid approach. This blog post will focus on current issues in hybrid-virtual workplaces.
A good starting point is my blog post from a year ago, The Future is Hybrid – Are You Ready? – Court Leader, and an ongoing series of articles published by BBC Worklife. The most recent of these articles, Why a Wide-Scale Return to the Office is a Myth, does a great job of examining the current situation.[i] The central conclusion is that there is “no back to normal” due to the uncertainty caused by the moving target of the pandemic. Remote work is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and organizations need to adapt (if they haven’t already). We are already seeing some of the factors that contribute to the difficulty of adapting:
- Worker attitudes and needs are very strong, diverse, and change over time. The “great resignation” and realignment of workers continues to roil the labor market;
- Managers are caught in the vortex of uncertainty and are having a difficult time finding the right approaches to hybrid work; and
- Effective technological tools can be difficult and expensive to implement, especially when trying to integrate them into legacy systems.
Hybrid-virtual work can be both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it “keeps the doors open,” and many workers love it. Others, however, find it very difficult due to technical problems, sub-optimal home situations, or are stressed by the constant going back and forth between two work environments. Managers have only rarely been trained on or use appropriate supervisory skills for hybrid-virtual workers. For example, there is a strong temptation to needlessly micro-manage remote workers. There is also concern that virtual workers are not evaluated fairly and there is disparity in pay and promotions between virtual and in-office workers.
So, what is an organization to do about all of this? Two more recent articles on hybrid work offer tips on making hybrid work better.
- Pioneer the new hybrid work environment: Best practices to transition, [ii] recommends that we need to understand that one size does not fit all situations and workplaces, we need to build in resilience and tools to enable hybrid work within the IT environment, and use hybrid work as a means to attract and retain talent (be competitive in today’s labor market).
- A 4-step guide to a hybrid work experience that works for everyone[iii] starts by describing the workplace experience as being made up of: space (physical surroundings); technology; and people (who, how they interact). Taking these into account, the 4 steps are: find the right hybrid model for your work (cohort/staggered/manager-set/employee-set schedules), make collaboration between the on-site and remote workers easy by using tech tools that support collaboration, optimize the worksite/workspaces for collaboration, and give employees a say in the changes that impact them.
Good advice! I particularly like the emphasis on being flexible, proactive, and people (worker)-centric. One thing I strongly believe in is for managers to focus on results, not process, in evaluating employee performance. This is true at any time and place but needs emphasizing for remote workers. As noted above, there is a temptation to micro-manage remote workers, but this is a big mistake. Let them manage their own work and workplace as much as possible – a key part of being flexible and worker-centric. Another key lesson is to do everything you can to enhance effective communication and collaboration between remote and office workers. For example, routinely use video, not text, to communicate – the personal touch is very important and has a far higher impact.
Another recent article does a great job of explaining why creating a culture of collaboration is key in the new, hybrid workplace.[iv] Leaders who do so promote greater knowledge sharing, improve performance, create an environment of accountability, and greatly improve employee engagement. The authors urge leaders to ask themselves these questions:
- Do you bring a focused, one-organization mindset to your role?
- Do you act in the interest of the whole organization?
- Do you cultivate credibility and trust?
- Do you invest in building relationships with peers and colleagues?
- Do you support the success of others?
Creating a culture of collaboration is definitely a key part of a worker-centric workplace, and it is obviously greatly needed in hybrid-virtual work environments.
Courts are unique workplaces that make workforce management very challenging in normal times, and even more so during the pandemic. Court administrators are responding to these challenges with resilience, agility, and a focus on excellent public service. Hybrid-virtual work is one example of how this can and will be done for the foreseeable future.
[i] Why a wide-scale return to the office is a myth – BBC Worklife. You can view previous hybrid workplace articles by scrolling to the end of this article.