‘We’re Trying to Build These Personal Ties’; Hybrid Office Sounds Good But in Reality…

We’ve heard for a while that a hybrid office is the way to go. But in no way is it perfect. Jealousies can erupt over who’s in and who’s out. Integrating new hires into the culture can be a challenge. A lot of the pressure falls on managers. A solid 43% of media middle managers report that they “feel burnt out at work.” Flexibility with intentionality, recommended one media executive.

In a Reuters Institute report in November titled Changing Newsrooms 2022: Media Leaders Embrace Hybrid Work Despite Challenges, 61% of respondents said that their organization has “largely implemented hybrid and flexible working with new rules in place for staff. The majority of leaders (57%) think their organizations are doing a good job with it.” (Though 20% report that they’re still craving the pre-pandemic, everyone-to-the-office model.)

On our BIMS Future of Work panel in February, Kevin Turpin, president of the National Journal said that, “Running a hybrid company brings challenges—trying to manage a group that is in the office sometimes. There’s a fairness perspective [with in-person people vs. remote], but more importantly from a communications standpoint.

“People under 30, or even 27, they have very specific ideas about where they want to work,” Turpin added, pointing to the challenges of recruitment and retention. Skills development is crucial. Can that be done remotely? “They’re trying to be a professional.” Can that be fully accomplished without in-person interaction?

In the survey, news leaders found the following ideas to be effective in persuading staff back into the office: organizing events and social activities; promoting “team innovation” or “work-from-work” days; ensuring more people are present on the same day; and, alas, providing free food. “No one wants to be the only person in the office. So, [we’re] focusing our efforts on particular days to create the best environment,” said the CEO of a UK publication.

Here are more findings from the Reuters study, balanced with some real-world observations:

A bigger talent pool but waters can be murky. Half the respondents think that hybrid and flexible working has made hiring and retaining talent much or somewhat easier, while 65% think it could increase their ability to hire diverse talent and have a positive impact on their DEI strategies. “We can hire better talent than we could before,” Turpin (pictured) said. But it brings complications. “Where people work from now matters, given the tax laws. We now have a 135-person business registered in 12 states. Taxes is one thing but then being up on labor laws is another. It brings a level of risk.”

Pick two. Almost half (49%) of the respondents require staff to be in the office for a minimum number of days a week/month. A further 29% indicated that their organizations follow a more voluntary approach, in which staff can be in the office a minimum number of days of their choice. A media manager told me last week that they started with employees getting to pick the two days a week they want to come in. But that quickly changed to two specific days for everyone. “I talk to people individually as often as I can,” said one editor in the study. “We’re trying to build these personal ties, especially for people who might be feeling isolated.”

Employees want to know why. Reuters found that “having explicit rules, setting clear expectations and communicating them transparently—and, most of all, articulating the purpose of going to the office and making sure that the benefit of doing so is clear—helps when implementing flexible working models.” Similarly, the most important question for Terri Travis, Industry Dive’s VP of human resources, is: “’What is the purpose of going to the office?’ We’re trying to take the best of both worlds. We had a great onboarding process onsite and now pivoted to a great onboard experience remotely.”

Diversity needs to be embraced… Most survey respondents think their organizations are doing a good job with gender diversity (79%), but less so when it comes to ethnic diversity (47%), diversity from less-advantaged backgrounds (30%), and political diversity (27%). “Diversity is here; it’s not just the color of our skin, but experiences,” Turpin said. “It’s something we have to embrace. It can’t just be something we’re checking the boxes on. The majority of high school grads last year were people of color. It has to be infused into how we’re running our businesses.”

…As does change. “People fear change,” said Nick Schacht, chief global development officer for SHRM. “You have to make it okay to fail, provided they fail fast, smart and not repeatedly. The opposite of change is death… When we start labeling people and generations, we do ourselves a disservice. What I find useful is, what are the capabilities and competencies that can help a company grow? If we start focusing on language that way, we focus on people more. People want to know where they can find expertise.” That can come from the “oldest or youngest in an organization,” he said.

Be intentional about belonging. Just over one-third (36%) of survey respondents believe that hybrid and flexible working has weakened the sense of belonging to the organization. “Not meeting each other really hurts the sense of community and shared purpose,” explained one director of a media company. “We now do formal reviews twice a year,” Turpin said. “So the staff always knows where they stand. People who are top performers, we know we want them growing here… As a leader, you have to operate more in empathy and truth, and make choices [from those places].” Added Travis: “Each generation looks at something differently. The similarity is that people want autonomy.”


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