Has greater flexibility given us less visibility?

Posted on October 15, 2021 at 10:51 AM

more-flexibility-less-visibility-pexels-alex-green-5700187We know that remote working has given us the flexibility that many of us craved. But, is working from home – even for some of the time – a double-edged sword – gaining flexibility but losing visibility?

Spookily publishing their research just ahead of the pandemic, organisational scientists Ioana Cristea and Paul Leonardi looked at the impact of proximity on workplace opportunities and behaviours. Their research showed that workers who had a higher amount of ‘face time’ with their line managers (being located in the same workplace), were:

  • Given better, more interesting, higher-profile, more developmental work assignments;
  • Promoted more frequently; and
  • Less aware of what their colleagues based at home, or in different locations, were doing with regards to the above, and did not appreciate the level of extra effort that they had to expend (the ‘sacrifices’ that they had to make) in order to achieve the same results as co-located staff.

A blog by Leah Ryder for Trello (the online tool for managing projects and personal tasks) takes this work and builds on it, providing some useful hints and tips for maintaining our visibility, sharing a ‘Visibility Framework’, looking at three different aspects of visibility (social, strategic and supportive).

The impact on learning and development

The question for those of us in the L&D space, is will 70:20:10 still apply?

This 70:20:10 ratio is from the popular learning model, developed by Morgan McCall, Robert Eichinger, and Michael Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership in the mid-1990s, after surveying almost 200 executives about how they believed they learned in the workplace.

Many HR strategies and plans have leveraged this statistic in the last 10 years – but is it still valid in hybrid environments?

If we get an estimated 20% of our learning through social interactions and observing others at work, what does that look like for people who work predominantly remotely? How will social learning differ if we have fewer face-to-face interactions. If we can only observe people when they are online, what might we be missing? Perhaps really critically, we need to think about what this means for new entrants into the workforce.

There are real challenges for learning providers in terms of making hybrid-learning events workable, to ensure that those engaging remotely are not excluded from the ‘in the classroom’ networking and peer-learning opportunities. We need to think about what this means for new entrants into the workforce, making sure that they have opportunities to learn how to influence, engage in meetings, build rapport and relationships and collaborate with their peers.

The problem of visibility

Dr Steve Harrison, a professor at Virginia Tech and director of the Human-Centered Design Programme has asked: “Will the notion of leadership be distorted by the people who are able to manipulate the medium?”

There is a real risk that we exclude groups from progressing to higher levels of organisations, such as older workers, or those from more challenging socio-economic backgrounds, in the hybrid world of work. Here it will be easier for those who can navigate technology, have a great space in which to work and who are used to impacting and engaging with people on virtual platforms to showcase their talents. We have already discussed the double-edged sword of video technologies in another article

More objective, data-driven talent management tools can help mitigate this risk. Think about succession planning in which those potential leaders may no longer be ever present in the workplace. Will they be overlooked in the talent review meetings? Deploying tools such as Talent 360 and Talent Successor and it means you can gather evidence from all those that work with an individual and create realistic, and importantly, inclusive succession plans. We’ve been working with organisations to deploy our succession planning software to achieve this and greater confidence in their more resilient talent plans.

Crucially, organisations need to make sure that everyone has equal access to the tools that can showcase their progress and goal achievement. Performance reviews and manager check-ins can be recorded within instant access, always-on software to make connection and update part of working practice. Importantly, even when not in the office, working alongside the line manager or hearing about company goals informally, goal setting and goal alignment is easy to achieve. It means even those rarely in the office can be sure that what they do, contributes to the bigger vision of the organisation.

Developing our leaders and managers inclusive behaviours and meeting practices will be essential. We need to help them reduce siloism, to find ways of being proactive in connecting employees across the organisation, making space for connections outside official meetings and encouraging and rewarding social support.

Yes, we’ve said it before but now is the time for us all to be kind and empathetic. To listen to each other, to really hear what people need from us and our leaders. Every leader, every team and every individual will be different.

If you’d like to learn more about how we are working with clients to help them make the most of virtual working, then contact us

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