Katja Nettesheim: Hybrid Hype — Brave New Working World?

How fabulous to be able to choose whether to work from home or in the office! Or not? Hybrid working may possibly appear appealing only at first glance. Katja Nettesheim, CEO at Culcha, the digital personal trainer for modern work and leadership, and Professor at Steinbeis University Berlin, points out the stumbling blocks for employees, managers and the HR departments.

What are the three success factors that ensure good collaboration in a hybrid working environment?

If you want to reduce success to three factors — “magic of three” — I would list these:

  • Conscious, empathic molding of team culture in hybrid settings
  • Trust OR processes, if necessary
  • Transparency as an essential pillar of equal treatment

Drawing on our experience and with the additional insights we have also incorporated into Culcha, our transformation tool, we count six factors:

intentions, trust, processes, equal treatment, transparency, and empathy.

What impact does hybrid working have on team culture? What stumbling blocks have you observed or even experienced yourself?

Remote working in itself has sidelined some team members to a certain degree if they have been “holed up” in their offices at home and have been either unwilling or unable to make the effort to “stay on the ball” — admittedly, a rather tedious business.

An additional complicating factor with hybrid work is that the people still in the office can quickly coalesce into cliques — and the “remoties” are easily tuned out; for example, the members of a group sitting together in the conference room can call out to one another with far less effort than the participants on Teams, who must raise their hands, patiently wait their turn to “unmute,” speak up clearly, and conclude with a definitive closing statement to make their point.

What demands confront managers in these situations?

Managers must take extraordinary precautions to ensure that a level of equitable treatment is maintained despite this stumbling block (and there are many others). For instance, they must avoid the tendency to give more credit to the people they see more regularly. They must encourage the remoties to say something in every meeting. They must also address the remoties personally. Perhaps they should allow the situation to progress to the point that there are only remoties, etc., solely in exceptional cases. I could devote a long and full discussion to that topic alone!

Does this change anything for HR, especially with regard to recruiting and retention?

Of course — for better and for worse.

The positive side is that the available candidate pool certainly expands significantly when people are hired remotely. Moreover, being able to offer an opportunity to do some of the work remotely while enjoying the sunshine has a highly positive impact on retention.

The negative side: just as for managers, far more awareness in HR work is required. Onboardings must be scheduled differently, “moments that matter” are harder to create, and emotional ties to the employer develop much more slowly. But with a little effort, empathy, and good intentions, solutions will be found for these issues — to make sure the good outweighs the bad even more.

Some have already found solutions — we will see them, for example, in the HR category of the “Digital Transformer of the Year 2022” awards. We will be presenting the three HR nominees to the Transformer Community on 2 June.

How do you assess the topic from the international perspective? Are there any pioneers who can teach us something?

In the meantime, there are plenty of companies working solely virtually. This presumes a “remote first” mindset; for example, the information architecture must have been designed so that it functions smoothly even when people work remotely (and then mostly asynchronously).

Most of the companies that have been doing this for a good long while — I’m thinking here of Atlassian and others — are not based in Germany. Once again, the bureaucratic hurdles in this country are absurdly complicated. Nevertheless, more and more companies are venturing into the startup environment and may at some point become national pioneers.

The interview was conducted by