How to Make Your Hybrid Workplace More Efficient in 2024

Originally published on Inc. December 27, 2023 | Read the original post

When it comes to workplaces, the new normal is hybrid.

In the U.S.,62 percent of companies now allow some degree of remote work, up from 51 percent at the start of the year, according to recent data from the hybrid work software company Scoop Technologies. On average, companies require two to three days of in-person work per week, which workers seem to prefer. Research from Harvard Business School found that employees who spent two days a week at the office reported “greater work-life balance, more job satisfaction, and lower isolation from colleagues.”

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Winning Together from Afar: How To Achieve Goals through Remote & Async Collaboration

Originally published on Flex Index November 30, 2023 | Read the original post

Hybrid and fully remote work is not new, but it is at this scale – and is a big change for many people. Until recently, hybrid work was most commonly found in project-based companies (e.g., consulting firms). The pandemic catapulted flexibility, particularly in terms of time and location, into one of the most critical factors for whether individuals choose to join or remain with an organization.

Mastering asynchronous collaboration is a game-changer for flexible work. In the current landscape, where work transcends traditional boundaries, the ability to collaborate asynchronously can offer unparalleled flexibility and efficiency. It’s not merely a matter of working remotely; it’s about harnessing the power of asynchronous communication to accomplish tasks, make decisions, and drive projects forward effectively.

This shift from traditional norms is vital for organizations. They must acknowledge that choosing between synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, as well as in-person and remote work, should be tailored to the specific needs of the work at hand, whether it’s for an individual, a team, or a given day.

Instead of relying on the oversimplified assumption that effective collaboration must be in person, we’ll explore four key strategies for optimizing collaboration within a flexible working model.

4 Strategies for Optimizing Collaboration in a Flexible Work Environment

Step 1: Set Up Guiding Principles and Norms

One of the biggest barriers to effective hybrid work is a lack of alignment on expectations. For example, the CEO gets frustrated that no one showed up to the exec meeting in person. Or a manager shows up to the office only to be on Zoom meetings all day.

Aligning guiding principles at an organizational level – and norms at a team level – helps alleviate some of the frustration and misunderstanding. Norms to discuss as a team may include:

  • When are we expected to be available (core hours or other)?
  • When are we expected to be together vs remote (types of activities, not specific days)?
  • How do we signal to others when we’re remote vs. onsite?

Then, implementing tactics that reinforce these norms helps to build sustainable habits. For example, don’t put a Zoom link in the invite when everyone is expected to be at a meeting in person. If someone needs an exception (we’ve always had exceptions), they can ask for one, and the moderator can use their discretion on whether to allow it.

Step 2: Break Down the Work or Project into Sub-Components

Just because a project is collaborative doesn’t mean it has to be accomplished synchronously. Breaking down work into sub-components is a crucial step as it allows for a more nuanced understanding of the tasks involved, facilitating a targeted approach to each aspect of the project. Not only does this enhance clarity, but it also enables a more efficient allocation of resources and a better grasp of the specific requirements at each stage.

Consider the following sub-components of project work:

  • Meetings (e.g., status meetings, final presentations, stakeholder management)
  • Research (e.g., primary, secondary)
  • Analysis (e.g., collaborative, independent)
  • Execution (collaborative or independent)

This will better inform times when the work is best suited for sync / async and together / remote collaboration.

Step 3: Determine When to be Together and When Not

In his book Remote not Distant, Gustavo Razzetti describes six working modes that can be considered along two dimensions: “Me versus we time” and “deep versus shallow work.” This framework reinforces the need to break down collaborative work into sub-components to think through how best to approach it.

In any collaborative team, there are activities that fall within each quadrant. It has been shown that in-person, synchronous time is best suited for building relationships and deep collaboration (i.e. working together on a time-sensitive and/or challenging problem). Whereas asynchronous, remote time is best for “heads-down” independent work and to mitigate groupthink.

For example, the most effective workshops I have led have had a mix of (1) asynchronous and remote, (2) synchronous and remote, and (3) synchronous and in-person components. We leverage asynchronous and remote tools to disseminate information (“pre-reads”) and gather participants’ data in advance. We leverage synchronous and in-person meetings to discuss key themes, check on/improve alignment, and build relationships. The sub-component of the work/project drives location and timing versus a random day of the week.

Step 4: Utilize In-Person Time to Build Relationships for Enhanced Asynchronous/Remote Work Efficiency

It’s amazing how a little bit of in-person time can go a long way, but it needs to be managed deliberately. Don’t waste in-person time on one-directional information sharing or, even worse, back-to-back Zoom calls. Design in-person days/meetings so that relationship-building is a key objective. Treat in-person time as a booster to make async work even better – building trust and understanding. This may mean less content sharing and more white space for checking in and getting to know one another. Otherwise, opt for a fully remote meeting or an asynchronous interaction (email or other).


Changing the way we work is hard. We all need to embrace a growth mindset and acknowledge when there are opportunities to change tack.

Don’t jump to in-person and synchronous every time you hear the word “collaboration!” If we think about our experiences of failed collaborations, we will likely discover that location or schedule was not the culprit. Setting up shared outcomes, guiding principles, norms (including where and when work gets done), taking full advantage of together time when it occurs, and regular iteration and communication improve the chances of success.

Ambition can get a bad rap. Here’s how to keep it in check to drive sustainable outcomes

Originally published in the Globe & Mail August 30, 2023 | Read the original post

Ambition has become a polarizing word. On one end, an espoused corporate value, touted by CEOs in earnings calls and town hall meetings to satisfy shareholders and motivate workers. On the other end, it is associated with a hard-charging culture (or leader) with little regard for worker or customer well-being.

While ambition can go terribly wrong and lead to devastating outcomes (think Enron, Theranos or FTX), as Russell Raath, founder of The Ambition Company puts it, ambition is the requisite energy to turn a vision into results.

One of the dictionary definitions of ambition is “desire and determination to achieve success.” However, how we each define success is personal – thus, ambition doesn’t necessarily mean striving for bigger or better, one can have ambition to live a happy and comfortable life. My current ambition is to enjoy the fleeting summer days. Ambition is being deliberate about a desired outcome and going after it.

Specifically, on a recent episode of the foHRsight podcast, Mr. Raath shared three key ingredients to drive ambition:

  1. Unshakable confidence: Ambitious leaders are fully committed to and confident in the vision. What will be achieved is clear to them and they are able to articulate it to their teams in a compelling way. Mr. Raath refers to U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s moonshot speech as an example of unshakable confidence: prior to 1969, no one had gone to the moon, Mr. Kennedy didn’t know how it would be accomplished but, in his 1962 speech at Rice University, he got not only a nation but the whole world rallied behind the ambition of making it happen.
  2. Competitive energy: Ambitious leaders trust in and empower their teams to figure out how to achieve their goal, and then guide them with competitive energy – the spark between confidence and action. Ambitious leaders balance unshakable confidence with humility that they don’t have all the answers. They acknowledge that while conditions may not always be favourable, their team has the collective power to achieve their goal and they coach them toward it while not getting in the way.
  3. Focused action: Ambitious leaders “walk the talk” – it is not enough to have a vision, confidence and competitive energy, they must take swift, decisive action. This means allocating resources (for example, money, headcount or effort) where they are needed, and potentially cutting from where they are not, to achieve the goal. Otherwise, people get frustrated and lose momentum if they don’t see progress.

But what happens when these three ingredients are combined, baked and left to rise without limits? Corporate values are critical for ambition to deliver desired outcomes, while mitigating collateral damage. And while most organizations have a set of values, they are not always authentic or consistently lived. Values need to be reinforced through culture and leadership action – what gets recognized, rewarded and penalized – especially when times are challenging. The trouble is, in many cases, corporate values are either too broad or too numerous and not considered adequately when tough decisions need to be made.

There may also be inherent conflict in values, such as collaboration or inclusion, which can slow decisions and hamper ambition, at least in the short term. Knowing “at what cost” is a critical consideration of the ambition equation. Establishing guardrails needed to honour values and testing them through different scenarios, helps to drive healthier ambition. The companies mentioned above undoubtedly had espoused values written on their proverbial wall, however, when push came to shove, they did not matter (or at least not enough), and greed won.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best at what we do or to gain a certain percentage of market share from our competitors – ambition is an important corporate value, needed to innovate and achieve greatness. But it needs to be balanced with other core values for healthier, more sustainable outcomes.

Struggling to meet your DEI&B goals? Start with inclusion, not diversity

Originally published in the Globe & Mail July 14, 2023 | Read the original post

Over the past couple of decades, organizations’ Diversity agenda has evolved from D&I (plus inclusion) to DE&I (plus equity) to DEI&B (plus belonging).

When I first started in the workforce, the conversation was mostly around talent acquisition: “How do we get more diverse representation within our organizations,” which focuses primarily on how to source and attract a more diverse slate of candidates, mandated by boards and regulators, when jobs become available.

The conversation then evolved to education: “How do we mitigate bias when working with and leading diverse teams,” which focuses primarily on unconscious bias training. Over the past few years amid social unrest and other tragic events, such as the murder of George Floyd in 2020, DEI&B has gained the attention of CEOs and boards, beyond quotas and training.

Progressive companies now recognize that DEI&B is a key component of organizational well-being, and is much broader than candidate slates, programs and employee resource groups. Many organizations have committed to doing better, by hiring chief diversity officers and elevating DEI&B as a top priority across employee and customer groups. But have we been putting the cart before the horse by focusing on diversity first and inclusion second?

In a recent episode of the foHRsight podcast, which I host, Mita Mallick, head of inclusion, equity and impact at Carta, an ownership and equity management platform, suggests that diversity starts at our kitchen tables, not our boardroom tables. “In the U.S., two-thirds of white Americans are self-segregating and it’s similar numbers for Black Americans,” she says. “If we are not building meaningful relationships across communities and cultures, how do we expect to make progress on our journey to being more inclusive leaders, and how do we expect leaders to lead diverse teams?”

In her new book Reimagine Inclusion, Mallick shares 13 myths we have most likely heard in our organizations that derail inclusion. Here are three we discussed and what we can do to reframe them:

“I always allow everyone to speak in meetings. Of course, I am an inclusive leader.” Creating an environment of psychological safety, where everyone feels comfortable speaking up without fear of reprisal, is on the minds of most leaders and organizations at large. But simply “allowing” everyone to speak up is not enough as an inclusive leader. It is a leader’s job to proactively seek out all points of view – not just from employees who are comfortable speaking up in the traditional sense. This may include gathering input before the meeting – through digital collaboration tools or otherwise – to capture the voices that are not always heard.

“I’m all for diverse talent. As long as they are good.” As an HR leader, I’ve heard so many times about the allegedly small talent pool and the lack of diverse talent with specialized or “hot” skills, which can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of teams or entire functions consisting of only white men. This is where inclusion needs to be built into the employee value proposition. For example, offering flexibility, including remote work, helps expand the talent pool and make your company more attractive to marginalized groups and talent located outside of your office location(s). Also be wary of the bias-riddled notion of “good,” which is often coded language for “the same [education, experience, pedigree] as me.”

“Why are you asking for a raise? Your husband makes more than enough money.” We may not like to admit that this sentiment still exists within organizations, but too often pay decisions are based on factors unrelated to the value of the job or work. Equitable and inclusive pay practices are at the core of an inclusive culture. The Josh Bersin Company recently released a large study on pay equity, which shows that high-performing companies are twice as likely to review base pay on a quarterly or more frequent basis and 14 times more likely to dedicate significant budget to solving pay equity issues. Solving pay equity is not cheap, but it leads to higher performance and is an essential part of any company’s inclusion strategy.

A focus on hiring for diversity, without first building and sustaining a culture of inclusion, can be futile. Companies that don’t show employees that inclusion always matters, don’t earn the right to “count” them in their diversity metrics – they will likely leave anyway. To earn employees’ trust, inclusion needs to be embedded everywhere – from the vendors you choose to work with to leaders’ day-to-day treatment of employees – not only addressed in one-off initiatives and commemorative months. Inclusion needs to be considered not just within corporate policies, but more importantly, in work and leadership practices. The aggregation of small habits becomes your culture.

Internal talent mobility is an integral part of your talent strategy: Here’s how to get it right

Originally published in the Globe & Mail March 18, 2022

Cross-training, secondments, gigs and permanent crossfunctional moves – internal talent mobility is now a viable, equal partner to external recruitment.

Up until recently, internal mobility in many organizations has been mainly used as an employee benefit and/or a way to develop a pipeline for executive leadership succession. It has been an extremely manual process, driven largely by human resource departments, which focused on identifying eligible “high potential” employees, followed by an often-drawn-out process of moving them to new roles.

Then came the pandemic. Organizations suddenly found themselves with some employee segments whose work had halted instantly, and others who became overburdened. This left leaders questioning how they could best redeploy employees. To minimize layoffs and furloughs, and alleviate the pressure on overworked colleagues, a process to move workers became a necessity.

Now, as companies struggle with an increasingly competitive labour market, coupled with the rapidly changing business landscape and requisite skills, they need to think more creatively about their existing work force and how to best (re)deploy workers and skills. Strategic (and technology enabled) internal mobility is not only a benefit for employees who want to try out new departments, roles and locations for their own development, but a great win for organizations seeking to improve recruitment, retention, succession and coverage. A global study conducted by the Josh Bersin Company indicated that a robust internal talent mobility process can have a significant impact on financial success: It was found that companies that quickly hire (external) and redeploy (internal) talent are 4.4 times more likely meet or exceed financial targets and 5.3 times more likely to provide meaningful work to the work force.

Despite the case for internal mobility, there is room for improvement on the employee experience front. According to U.S.-based research conducted in November 2021 by Gloat, 63 per cent of employees would like to be considered for new and different career opportunities in their organization. However, 54 per cent of workers feel their employer doesn’t take their future interests and aspirations into account enough. Even though the results come from American workers, the trends are likely similar in Canada. It’s no wonder we find ourselves in a situation where 28 per cent of Canadian professionals plan to look for a new job in the first half of 2022, according to a survey conducted by Robert Half Canada.

Companies seeking to use internal talent mobility to their advantage should heed these tips:

  1. Enterprise mindset is critical: Doing what’s best for the enterprise should drive where talent is deployed. Without this approach, leaders may feel they are on the wrong side of a power play. This leads to behaviours – such as talent-hoarding (where a leader doesn’t “let” their employee go to another team) or passing along poor performers – which do not benefit the enterprise, the team nor the individual.
  2. Plan for transition: Specific company guidelines (including who “owns” or pays for head count, and protocols for employees wanting to initiate the process) should set the boundaries and process. An aligned transition plan, including timeline and backfill strategy for the sending team, sets everyone up for success.
  3. Be clear about the objective(s): What is the goal for the employee, the team and the organization? Is the primary purpose development? Coverage? Skill migration? Succession? These decisions dictate what type of internal mobility is best (full-time, fractional, short term, long term or permanent) and whether it is the right strategy for the given role and employee.
  4. Be realistic about capacity: In the case of fractional gigs, be reasonable about expectations. For example, managers often underestimate the time required of an employee, leaving them caught in the middle of two teams constantly vying for their attention. This leads to employee frustration and burnout.
  5. Go for “near matches,” not “perfect fit”: Have a growth mindset regarding what can be learned on the job. Many roles have unsuspected similarities and synergies across departments, so it’s important to be open minded about what employees can and can’t do … yet. Make sure employees are not penalized for “failure” and are given adequate time and resources (such as mentorship and both formal and informal learning) to develop in their new role.

A successful internal talent mobility strategy is not possible without employees having full custody of their own careers – and trust in their leaders. As with any marketplace, if buyers feel they are considering something that could negatively affect them longer term, they will “buy” elsewhere. A culture that rewards risk taking and agility, and that prioritizes development, empowerment and transparency, is foundational to getting this right. Sharing success stories of how internal mobility has propelled careers and business performance is a great way to keep the momentum going.

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We are all struggling with loss, and powering through it is not the solution

Originally published in the Globe & Mail February 9, 2022

January is now in our rear-view mirror, and yet it feels like we are still in 2021. I don’t know about you, but like many of my clients and friends, I have been struggling to gain momentum for 2022. January is always a hard month for many – the holidays are behind us and we are into the cold, dark days of winter. But this year feels different. More than a year and a half into a pandemic from which we thought we had some reprieve, along came Omicron, derailing holiday plans, extending kids’ time home from school and leaving many of us questioning if this is 2022, or 2020, too. Although it’s not 2020 again – we have vaccines, anti-viral drugs and more knowledge – the continued uncertainty and starts and stops are weighing heavily on all of us.

Glain Roberts-McCabe, founder of leadership consultancy The Roundtable Inc., recently posted on LinkedIn about the pandemic-induced feeling of grief, inspired by a recent episode of The Happiness Lab podcast entitled The Eight Pillars of Grieving. While many have experienced tragic and real human loss over the past two years, we have all experienced other types of loss: loss of freedom, milestones, togetherness, and more. In many cases, we have not taken the time to cope with these losses and work through the associated grief, thus leading to a drawn-out sense of languishing.

In the podcast hosted by Dr. Laurie Santos, guest Dr. Julia Samuel, a bestselling psychotherapist, and bereavement expert, suggests that when we experience a big loss, we need to pause and build “scaffolding” to protect our damaged foundation. Ironically, when we are grieving, we often deny our feelings and try to “power through,” which can make the pain worse in the long run. As Ms. Roberts-McCabe points out, the parallels between grieving human loss and the other types of loss we are experiencing can shed some light on what we can do to build scaffolding, or what Dr. Samuel calls “pillars of support,” that can help us get our mojo back and move forward. Here are a few of these pillars:

  1. Express emotions – we need to first name our emotions, so that we can tame them. In many organizations today, colleagues still don’t think they have “permission” to feel, which can, in this instance, prolong the feelings of grief and languishing. Without permission to feel, colleagues can’t appropriately identify and therefore regulate their emotions, which end up affecting them in other unproductive ways.
  2. Mind and Body – Exercise improves our decision-making capability, our emotional sense of balance and makes us feel safe – all things which enable us to better handle bouts of grief.
  3. Set limits – as we grieve, our energy and emotional and mental capacity change. After navigating the pandemic’s curveballs, we may need to set tighter limits at work. This may mean saying “no” more often and also, as leaders, helping our teams prioritize better.
  4. Structure – one of the losses we’ve experienced is in the structure and predictability of our days, which before the pandemic, were defined by our commute and office time. Setting new routines, and adjusting as hybrid working models evolve, provides structure that helps us mitigate procrastination and build good habits.
  5. Focus – mindfulness helps us concentrate on the present and keeps our mind from wandering. A walk in nature, being present with kids or pets, or simply putting away the phone can help recentre our mind so that we can better focus on our work and teams.

Recognizing that grief may very well be one of the emotions some of us are feeling right now, it is important to also prioritize self-compassion and relationships with others. Let’s not beat ourselves (or others) up – we’ve gone through a lot and have done a lot of “powering through.” Open communication is more critical than ever; let others know (and check in with others) about how you/they feel and what you respectively need, while acknowledging emotions and allowing them to exist and pass. Being honest about our emotions with our teams may feel awkward at first, but is a good habit to build. Try starting meetings by asking employees to offer a “check-in” word that describes their mood, or keeping time open for free-flowing conversation, which can help us move forward and increase team productivity and engagement in the long run.

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