Ep. 215: Mark A Herschberg - Working out the kinks in your hybrid work plan

Mark Herschberg returns to help us think through the benefits and pain-points of hybrid work. Mark is the author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You and creator of the Brain Bump app. He has spent his career launching and developing new ventures at startups and Fortune 500s and in academia, with over a dozen patents to his name. He helped to start the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, dubbed MIT’s “career success accelerator,” where he teaches annually.

< Intro >

- Welcome back to Count Me In,
IMA's podcast for finance

and accounting professionals
working in business.

I'm Adam Larson, and today
I'm excited to bring you

part two of my conversation
with Mark Herschberg.

In which he provides a helpful framework

for thinking about hybrid work plans

and how you should approach
finding most productive balance

for individuals, managers, and teams
within your organization.

In the interest of time,

I'm not going to list all of
Mark's credentials, again.

Just high-level for those who
missed the first episode.

Mark teaches at MIT,

he's a serial entrepreneur
and business innovator,

and he's the author of The Career Toolkit;

Essential Skills for Success
that No One Taught You,

which I highly recommend you check out,

just follow the link in the show notes.

Okay, that's enough introduction.

Let's get right into
another highly insightful

conversation with Mark Herschberg.

< Music >

So, Mark, I want to welcome you
back to the Count Me In podcast.

We had a great time talking about
The Great Resignation last time.

And today we're going to be
talking about hybrid

and hybrid work and what
that means for organizations.

And, so, to start off,
I know that during Covid

everybody went remote
because you couldn't,

unless you were certain
types of organizations

that had to still work in person.

But many many organizations
went remote completely.

And now as we're on
the third year of Covid,

and people are coming back to work,
everybody's moved to hybrid.

So what it really boils down to
is what can we do

to be more effective in this
hybrid model, going forward?

- That's a great question,

and there's a number of ways
we can look at this.

But to start, here's four
things to think about

as you begin to return to the office.

First, let's formalize the rules.

Often we have a certain way of working,

and in our last episode,
we talked about corporate culture.

Usually, it's not written down,

we just know this is how things get done

on our team, in our department.

But we want to be more explicit
about how we do that,

and this is for two reasons.

First, it's a little different,
this is a disruption.

Now, we had a disruption in 2020

when we said, one day,
"Stop coming to the office."

And that was very disruptive.

We know what's coming,

we can be a little more intentional
and planned this time.

But also we have new people
coming on board,

who aren't going to be around us
as much to learn by seeing.

To get that osmosis, that
feel for it by being there.

So we want to be more
explicit with the rules.

I don't mean employee handbook;

I mean how we do things.

When should you call a meeting,
versus this could have been email,

versus this could have
been a Slack message.

When you create these rules get input,

you, the manager, you have enough to do.

Don't think, "Here's one more
thing I have to do."

Get input from the whole team.

In fact, you can even
potentially pass this off

to others to take the first pass.

Now, you as the manager
will get the final say,

the ultimate decision.

But others are probably really excited

to say, "Oh, I get to be
a larger voice in this.

You're asking me to take the lead
on this, this is fantastic."

They see it as opportunity, whereas
you see it as one more burden.

But, again, you will have the final say.

But that's to say you should really,
as a leader, incorporate

the voices of the whole team.

Don't be afraid to almost be a little formal,

in terms of the welcome back.

There was a trend back in the .com era,

back when companies would shut down.

It was very sad, these people
you had worked with for a while,

there was a shift, and they
did something rather clever.

They said, "We have some
experts who understand

how to make a shift, we call them clergy."

Clergy are very good
at you're transitioning

from being single to being married.

You're transitioning from having
this person in your life

to now they aren't anymore, and we
have ceremonies to mark that.

You're doing a big transition

when you say, "Welcome
back to the office."

You can just say, "Well, you're
showing up Monday, deal with it."

Or you can say, "Hey, we're coming back

and we want to welcome you back.

We want to recognize there is
a formal change here."

And that can be a ceremony
and that can be a fun, good ceremony.

It doesn't have to be solemn,
it could be a party.

It could be more than just a happy hour.

Don't just say, "Well, we're
going to do drinks, Monday,

when you're back in the office."

Make it symbolic, make people
understand and feel this change,

just as we do with other life cycle events.

So I think you should create a formal one.

And, finally, don't be afraid to change

what you're doing, this is
new for most of us.

Now I've run hybrid companies before.

I've run virtual companies before,

but everyone has been different,

and, especially, as we do it
at a global scale.

As we do it, not just our company,
but every company.

Don't be afraid to say,

"Maybe we need to change this up,
how we do it."

And that's okay, it's not a mistake,

it doesn't make you look weak;

it makes you look responsive
to your employees.

- And it also sounds like you're saying that

when we come together,

it should be more than
just doing our meetings.

Like when we come together make sure

we're meeting face-to-face.

It should be more than that,
it should be more social activity,

so that we're engaging
and connecting outside of,

"Hey, let's meet about this spreadsheet."

- Well, the ceremony I was referring to
is when you first come back.

Maybe in the first week or two
you do something formal

and that's probably more of
a one-time event.

But you've brought up a very good point.

The initial thinking by many people

is, "Okay, you're in the office
two days a week,

three days a week, you really
need to be productive."

We know employees,
you're at social or chat,

you surf the web sometimes.

But, "Hey, when you're in the office,
come on, this is work time."

And, in fact, that can
be counterproductive.

And part of it is because we do

a few different things
when we are working.

One is the mechanical part and that's
the producing the reports,

the writing the software,
making the sales.

We'll continue to do that
from home or at work.

Some of that we do individually,
some we have to do in teams.

Yes, keep doing that
in the office and at home.

But then there are the aspects of the job

that relate to relationship building.

It's a time we spend building those bonds.

And this comes partially from
being in that meeting together

for three hours, trying to
come up with our new slogan.

But it also comes from
the water cooler conversation.

It comes from, "Let me show
you pictures of my kids."

It comes from these non-work activities;

going out to get coffee together

and then taking extra
walk around the block

on the way back, that's important.

That builds the bonds, that helps create

those internal networks
that are so important

to individual and company success.

And that's the part that's not
as easy to do online.

Certainly, we can build
relationships with people online.

I've had relationships
with people I've never met,

but it moves faster and gets stronger

when you do spend time in person.

So when we're together in the office,

don't just focus on you
have to do work only,

do some of these social activities as well.

And, again, I don't mean happy hours,

sure, do some of those,
do some of the fun stuff,

but let that informal bonding
happen as well.

It might not look productive
in the short term,

but it is increasing long-term productivity.

- Do you think that
everybody should come

into the office at the same time?

Or should there be like a very,
depending on projects or people.

Because I know that
it can be very effective,

like certain people, "Yes, I'll come
in the office three days a week, great."

Other people are like,
"No, I only want one or two days."

- Well, let's think about the different things

that you get in and out of the office.

There are some people who say,
"Oh, I love working from home.

I don't have the distractions of the office;

I can finally get work done."

There are people who say,
"I love being in the office,

my home is so chaotic.

I've got a bunch of
young kids running around

and, yes, there's a nanny, but they're
always coming and bothering me.

I love being in the office
I can get work done."

So there's not going to be
a one-size-fits-all from the start.

But, now, let's look at what people

get when they're in the office.

And here, again, it can
even vary by individual.

If you are 23 years old,
recently out of school,

part of what you get is building
relationships early on,

is learning by watching others.

And it's that mentoring that
happens so much more easily

and naturally or organically in
the office doesn't happen at home.

If you're 52 you're less worried about that

and you just say, "Well, I just have
to get my work done."

And, so, they might have
different motivations

for how much time is in the office.

For the project itself,
the nature of the project

comes down to individual work,
teamwork, and communicating the work,

those are the three slices.

Individual work, obviously,
can be done at home,

or at work, or anywhere you're productive.

The teamwork, this is going to depend

if you're trying to do
something very creative,

it usually works better in person.

And this is because of
some psychological issues.

Psychological might not be the right term,

but issues with Zoom.

We know there's Zoom fatigue,

and there are studies showing
it has to do with the delay.

It's more taxing on our brains,

it's more natural when
we're in the room together,

things flow faster, we're less-reserved.

And, so, certain types of
meetings happen better there.

If it's just a weekly project
update meeting,

where everyone goes around the table

and takes two minutes to give an update,

that can probably be done
just as easily from home.

So if it's that information,
communication piece,

maybe that can be done
by email or by a Zoom meeting.

So we have to recognize the
different types of work that we do,

that will even vary over time.

If you have a team that has
worked together for years

and just does the same
thing every month,

you're just doing the books
for a certain project,

and each month you're closing the books,

you're tallying the receipts,

you probably don't need to
spend a lot of time together.

It's mechanical, repeatable work
without a law of variation.

On the other hand, if this is
some new type of project,

no one's done it before.

You have a team that hasn't really worked

with each other before.

You don't have that high trust,

I'm not saying mistrust,
you just don't have trust.

Being together more often might
be helpful to build that trust,

to really talk through
these issues and ideas.

Then as you move into
the implementation phase,

you can think, "Now, we don't have
to be in the office as much,

but when you're coming
to the project completion

and there's always a whole bunch of tasks

no one thought about,
and you're under a deadline,

maybe spending more time
in the office together is helpful.

So even for a given team,
it can vary over time.

So you just want to think about
all these different factors,

for how much time is right
for your particular team.

- Yes, it sounds like flexibility
team by team is very essential

as opposed to a company-wide policy.

- Now, there's a secondary
factor, of course,

which is, "Well, I do things,
primarily, with this team

and we're going to be four days for now

and then we'll be two days later.

But then I work sometimes
with this other team

and when did they need me in the office?"

When you're dealing with
matrix organizations

and cross-functional,
it's a lot more complex.

Then there's also the reality of you can say,
"Well, it's four days for these months,

and that's two days for those months,
and we're back to four days."

And people like regularity.

People like to know, "I need the nanny
this many days a week

or I need the after-school program
this many days a week."

So that could be if you're
changing around a lot,

that could be a little much for people.

So you want to temper it somewhat
and maybe you just have,

for example, a policy, "Hey, whenever
we start a new project,

which is about once a year,
we know that month

we're going to do an extra day per week

for, roughly, the first month."

But you don't want to
change too much too often.

- Yes, for sure, definitely, so thinking
about employees versus managers

I can imagine that there
would be a difference

in how they look at hybrid work.

Because if you're a manager,

you're so used to monitoring
what your people are doing

and it's harder when you're hybrid.

It's harder when people are working
from home to monitor those things.

And when they're in the office
you can keep your eyes on things.

What is the difference there and how
should they be looking at that?

- This is a really important dichotomy,

that I've been finding in interviews
with employees and managers.

Because employees, and really
it's the individual contributors,

they say, "Well, I have to do this.

I have to produce something,
and I generally do that by myself

for five questions, I can jump on
the phone or send an email.

I don't need a lot of time
to collaborate with others."

And, so, they push for more remote work.

"Why should I even commute
if I'm just going to sit there

and work by myself, anyway?"

And that's a very reasonable
approach for them to take.

The nature of being a manager means

you need to see what people are doing.

Now, part of that could be,
"Give me your weekly update."

And, sure, again, we can do that
by phone, or email, or Zoom.

But some of management,
it's understanding your people.

How they operate?

What's working, what's not?

How they work with others?

You need to figure out, "Is this
employee seeming disengaged lately?"

"If this employee is struggling,
why is that employee struggling?"

If you have an employee
who's very supportive,

helping other team members,
you want to encourage that.

These are things you see
when you're in the office.

When I walk out of my office,
I'm on the floor,

I can see who's talking to whom,
who's helping others out.

I just naturally see it
in a matter of seconds.

You don't see that when we're remote.

I don't see the Slack messages
between two people,

on a private channel.

I don't see the calls and
one-on-one Zooms they have.

And, so, as a manager,
it's a lot harder for me

to see the work, as opposed to the output.

I can see the end results,
I can see the reports,

but I can't see how it gets done.

And that really matters for how I mentor,

and manage, and promote people.

And, so, individual contributors
don't always understand

managers have to do some of that
and it's not as easy from home.

And, so, it's important for both sides

to recognize what the other is
thinking and be responsive to that,

be empathetic to it.

- So it sounds like
communication is essential.

With this whole thing
we've been talking about,

communication is the key part
that keeps everybody together.

So how should leadership,
of organizations,

be looking at communication,

as they continue this hybrid model
for the foreseen future?

I don't see anybody
going back to the office

five days a week, anytime soon.

- This is a challenge that we've seen
as soon as we went remote,

and we'll continue in
the hybrid workplace.

Let's just take a simple example,

if I need to stand in front of my team

and say, "Listen, everyone,
I've got some bad news,

we're going to be laying off
10% of the team.

But, listen, it's not all darkness,
there is opportunity

and if we can pull together

and work hard this quarter,
here's what happens."

I have to do a speech
and it's an emotional speech.

I'm giving bad news,
I'm giving good news,

I have to rally the troops.

I have to make sure
they don't go off the rails.

When I do this in person,

when I'm standing in front
of a room of 50 people,

I can read the room.

I can tell, "Are people upset?"

I can tell, "Are people excited
about the future?"

I can look in their faces,
I can read the body language,

and I can get a sense of,
"How are they responding to it?

Are they understanding what I'm saying

and are they reacting the way
I would hope they're reacting?"

And if not, I can address it in real-time.

When we're looking at
that Brady Bunch screen,

even assuming their cameras
are turned on, you can't tell.

You can't get that type
of instant feedback.

And, so, what it's meant
is that how we communicate

and how we lead has to be different.

Yes, I still have to give this message,

I'm going to give it
to all 50 people at once,

but I have to follow up.

I have to in one-on-ones
with people or in small groups.

I need to repeat the message, perhaps,

partially because half the people
were probably multitasking

and looking at a different
window and I didn't know.

Partially because they might
not have resonated

with the message the way
I had hoped, and I couldn't tell,

and I need to double check
and then engage.

And, so, that takes a lot more time
for me, as a leader, to do so.

And then I want to get their response to it.

And then we have challenges
such as even if I do that in person,

I do that on Wednesday, well,
at least we're all in the same room,

I can get the real-time feedback.

Okay, what happens Thursday
when everyone's home?

I could see the next day
when they show up,

"Yes, they were sad about
those resignations yesterday

but are they showing up smiling?
Are they showing up unhappy?"

I can't tell because I don't see them
for another few days.

So we're getting effectively
less signals when we're hybrid.

And it's important to understand this

and adjust our leadership
and communication,

to over-communicate
and to look for other ways

we can replicate those signals.

But that takes a lot more time and effort.

- It does take a lot more time and effort.

And how can you take
this more time and effort,

and mentor your employees
and also do your daily job.

Because you're managing your people,

but then you also have things
that you have to do as well.

- That is the $64,000 question.

And when you look at the history
of how we've operated,

we had very hierarchical structures
throughout the early 20th century.

We followed the military model
and you had managers,

upon managers, upon managers.

What we saw in starting the '70s and '80s

was a flattening of the hierarchy,
a gutting of mill management.

And that continued
into the '90s and 2000s

because we could automate.

Because now we had all these great tools

and, "Oh, I've got automated reports

and it helps us all do our jobs faster."

We got away with a flatter structure,

unfortunately, I think
we're going to see a shift.

Maybe it's not unfortunate,
it depends how you look at.

But I think we're going to see a shift

that we are putting more
responsibilities on managers

in this hybrid workplace,

and therefore we're going to need,
effectively, more managers.

The number of people being managed
per manager just has to be reduced.

We need more managers per employees,

and that's going to be a shift we'll
see over the next decade or so.

- What do you think the long-term effects

of this hybrid workplace
are going to be on people?

Especially, as we look at
things like promotions

and looking at strategies or even DE&I.

I feel like there's going to be
this long-term effect

that we can't see yet.

- That's a tough one, and we talked,
in our prior episode,

about some, for example,
the DE&I challenges

that if you set a fixed number of days,

that's important because if you did
a variable number of days.

The people staying home more,

the ones with more home responsibility,

tend to be women
and underrepresented people.

So they're going to be in the office less

and probably get promoted less.

On the other hand, if you fix it,

the ones who need to be home more

are probably going to
leave for companies,

where it's a lower number than yours

and you're going to have, again,
a problem with your pipeline.

And, so, it's unclear which way
this is going to move.

I think we're going to see,
as companies do, five days,

four days, three days, two days,
people will vote with their feet.

Not just DEI people, but people in general,

employees in general, are going to say,

"We really prefer this versus that."

For all we know,
when we see teams doing,

for example, Tuesday to Thursday

seems to be the popular
timing in the office, why?

Because people want long weekends.

Are we going to discover
there's not a lot of productivity

on Friday afternoons
and Monday mornings?

Maybe that's a problem.

Maybe we'll even find everyone says,

"Yes, but Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday traffic is bad.

You know what?

Let's do Friday, Monday, Tuesday.

Because that way I don't have
to worry about traffic

because no one else is driving
two out of those three days."

I think we're just going to see effects,

and secondary effects,
and tertiary effects

as we're trying to adjust.

In physics, we think about this
as a three-body problem.

One body impacts another,
impacts another,

and it's very hard to calculate.

And I think that's what we're going to see

in the employment market
for a while to come.

And I'll say even on top of all this,
there's one other issue,

what I've said going back a year now,

we don't know what
the market will look like.

People asked, "How long
will hybrid work last?

Is this here to stay?"

Probably, yes, as we record this
in the summer of 2022,

we're on the precipice
of possibly a recession.

If it's a shallow recession
or no recession, this will stay.

And once this becomes the norm

for somewhere around two to four years,

it's likely to stay the norm.

There is a chance if we go
into a deep recession,

and with all the geopolitical
events, with war,

with energy, with supply chains,
with return of Covid.

If this comes back and we go
into a deep recession,

companies may say, "Five days
a week, take it or leave it."

Employees say, "Thank you, sir,
may I have another?"

Because the labor market
has just collapsed

and that could undo what we've seen.

I think that's less likely, it would
take a prolonged recession

in the next few years for that to happen.

But that still is a possibility.

< Outro >

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