‘Leadership, Not Location, Accelerates Belonging’; Refining Today’s Workplace

A new MIT study says that “hybrid work is reshaping the Great Resignation into a Great Renegotiation. People want more choice about where they work, as opposed to increased compensation or additional perks.” While the AIA remodels its workplace the next two years, others focus more on making remote the best it can be. Should we do both?

While the necessity—and overall success—of remote work has changed all media companies, leaders still struggle with how our interaction should take place. In an article he wrote for ASBPE, Industry Dive editor-in-chief Davide Savenije listed a digital watercooler app, stay interviews and staff-led, brainstorming, brown-bag sessions in his list of things they’re trying.

“Leaders and organizations that adapt—quickly and purposefully—can position themselves to thrive,” he wrote. “This includes leaning into flexibility where possible, being agile and willing to change, and openness and transparency with staff. Prioritizing work-life balance, taking meaningful steps to advance [DEI], and leading with empathy are quickly becoming table stakes.”

As you might expect, the American Institute of Architects is remodeling their headquarters “into a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly facility where employees want to come to do their best work,” Rasheeda Childress wrote in an Associations Now interview with AIA CEO Lakisha Woods. (One of the renderings is pictured here.)

The renovation “is something we must do, but also we’re in a changing work environment,” said Woods, who became CEO earlier this year. “In this design process, we are thinking about the future of work and how we could revolutionize our workspace. We are looking at several elements, especially climate, equity, and collaboration.”

Woods says that their employees are okay with coming in occasionally as long as it’s “to engage… brainstorming, for recreation or adaptation of programs and services, and then also just to team-build.” She added gaming. “When you’re going to brainstorm, instead of talking around the watercooler, you play some AIA-branded cornhole while you’re debating what we need to do. There’s creativity that comes from gaming, and it allows people to think a little more innovatively. That’s what we want to incorporate into the space.”

Woods (pictured) also brought up a new term for me—“hoteling, a practice where employees reserve desk space for when they’re in the office—and more space for collaboration and ideating.” The next day I read in Digiday that Vox Media allows its employees to work at “hotel desks” from any Vox Media office.

But now there’s debate on just how much our fascination with watercooler conversations really matters. (For the record, I don’t think anyone ever drank from those watercoolers anymore.)

“Assumptions about corporate culture relying on employees physically working together aren’t borne out,” concluded a new study by MIT SMR Connections titled The New World of Work Is Transforming the Old Social Contracts. “In fact, remote work improves corporate culture in some cases. A vast majority of survey respondents say camaraderie, closeness to the organization, and feelings of inclusion and diversity have improved, or at least stayed the same, since the pandemic began. This includes both those who worked remotely full-time and in offices full-time prior to the pandemic.”

Another of the MIT study’s conclusions speaks, as Savenije did, to leadership. “Company leaders have been intentional about corporate culture issues related to successful remote and hybrid work environments. These include modeling empathy, worklife balance, and encouraging candid discussions. Significant majorities of respondents rate performance on these behaviors very highly. In other words: Leadership, not location, accelerates belonging.

In an article from the MIT Sloan School of Management titled 3 Reminders for Managers in a Hybrid Work Environment, Meredith Somers writes that “more than 80% of executives say they are worried about their remote employees’ ability to collaborate fully on team efforts and build relationships with their colleagues.”

She offers three bits of advice:

Encourage team autonomy but give new employees extra support. Don’t establish one overarching hybrid work rule for an entire organization. Most firms are made up of different groups with different functions that require different onsite and remote expectations, said Robert Pozen, author of Remote, Inc.

Set expectations for hybrid interactions and make them meaningful. While the actual work is important, it’s also important leaders encourage team bonding—such as facilitating a virtual group activity like wine tasting or playing a game—while ensuring each employee feels included.

Ensure all voices are heard. In every group or individual meeting, try to ensure someone is monitoring, listening, and intervening on behalf of the voices not being heard, said Thomas Kochan, an expert in employment policies and labor-management relations.


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