Women who lead: executives consider their positions in the hybrid – Atlanta Business Chronicle – Atlanta Business Chronicle

Offices are reopening and companies are creating new policies around the changing dynamics of the last year and a half of work. As we move forward during this fluid time, it is crucial for women to be thoughtful about how they are positioning themselves and their careers. Atlanta Business Chronicle’s fall Women Who Lead program, planned for Sept. 30 at Atlanta Botanical Garden, was titled, “Driver vs. Passenger: Positioning Yourself in the Hybrid Workplace.” The panel was to feature: Chloe Barzey, global transformation advisor and office managing director of Accenture; Ingrid Curtis, president of Rural Sourcing; Joanna Irwin, global chief marketing officer of Randstad; and Jackie Parker, SVP of talent management and chief diversity officer of Global Payments.
What should women be focused on in the “new,” hybrid workplace? Among the issues are schedules and calendars, workflow, team dynamics, concerns of proximity bias and how all of these considerations connect to decisions. Ahead of the event, panelists discussed how the hybrid workplace has worked for them and their teams, and offered advice for women on how to make a case for what you need in your careers.
 
 
Chloe Barzey, Accenture
 
What has your experience been with the hybrid workplace? Because of the kind of work we do, Accenture embraced the hybrid workplace concept long ago. We use Microsoft Teams for all of our calls, so whether you’re down the hall or across the country, you can easily see and connect with your colleagues. But it has been an adjustment to think of a more evolved hybrid model as the future because it requires more intentional community-building and creativity around employee engagement. Accenture conducted a survey this spring on the future of work, talking with nearly 10,000 professionals from companies in 11 countries. We learned that 83% of those surveyed preferred a hybrid workplace where they can work remotely between 25% and 75% of the time. Those who had a hybrid work model during Covid-19 had better mental health, stronger work relationships and were more likely to feel fulfilled and supported. They also experienced less burnout than those who worked entirely onsite or entirely remotely.
 
How has working in a hybrid environment changed the way you schedule your time and that of your team? The most important thing is collaboration and communication. Accenture has followed a flexible hybrid model for a long time. What is new are the pandemic-related concerns around our people’s health, their families, their financial health and the stress of recent social unrest in our country. Making room for additional responsibilities of parents working with school-aged children, individuals caring for aged parents and everyone dealing with additional pandemic-related stress is key. So, while our flexible approach has been consistent, I also recognize that people are juggling more now. I have also found myself working longer hours, so I have to be more intentional about scheduling breaks. We have also gone from OOO (“out of office’”) to OOT (“out of touch”), encouraging employees to truly take breaks and fully unplug to rest and recharge.
 
What are the biggest challenges for maintaining consistent workflow in the hybrid workplace? In our experience, hybrid models don’t detract from productivity. Instead of looking at where people are working and how that impacts productivity, a better question might be around what employees need to enable them to be healthy and productive, regardless of where they work. Having supportive resources at the individual and organizational level makes the most difference. Measures to ensure productivity anywhere are linked to bottom-line growth: 63% of high-growth organizations have enabled productivity-anywhere workforce models. At the same time, 69% of negative or no-growth companies are still focused on where people are going to physically work, favoring all onsite or remote rather than enabling hybrid.  
 
How does working part time in the office and part time at home affect the dynamics of your team? It’s always great to be together in person, but technology helps when that’s not possible. Accenture has had geographically distributed teams and worked in a hybrid model for years, so this is nothing new. With technology such as Microsoft Teams, we can easily collaborate and see each other, but we have to be more intentional about finding ways to increase engagement and a sense of community when we can’t all be together in one place. 
 
Have you experienced proximity bias since entering a hybrid work environment?
No, because when we were fully remote, it was actually an equalizer in terms of people’s ability to connect with each other. As we get together again, we are starting to build a new muscle in having hybrid meetings and are intentional about finding ways to build connections, for example rotating who is remote and taking time to share good news at the start of meetings.
 
What advice can you pass on to women who need to make conscious choices about how they position themselves and their careers in this new business arrangement? Whether you’re on a team in person or virtually, find ways to connect with your teammates and leaders. For example, at Accenture, since most people aren’t in the office simultaneously, local leadership frequently offers up office hours for our people to engage virtually via Teams. If you’re in a workplace where those types of activities aren’t happening, suggest them. Not being in the same place shouldn’t be a barrier to making connections. It just may take a bit more creativity.  
 
Ingrid Curtis, Rural Sourcing
What has your experience been with the hybrid workplace? In March of 2020, we moved to a remote model but began work almost immediately in thinking about what our return would look like. To date, we’ve allowed for our Phase 1 return-to-office for over a year, but that has been limited to about 10% to 15% of our organization in most offices. Our reopening was more out of necessity for colleagues with less desirable home-office solutions and included safety protocols and social distancing. Over the course of the last several months, we’ve begun to include outdoor activities and get-togethers in locations with acceptable Covid case trends.  We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll head back in a bigger way early in 2022 but will always have a remote option for our colleagues.
How has working in a hybrid environment changed the way you schedule your time and that of your team? We’ve taken the opportunity to manage the organization differently over the last year. Our focus pre-pandemic was very development center-based: we built teams that sat next to each other and aligned resources to projects based mostly on proximity. The pandemic has pushed us to think more nationally in our team-building model and improved the outcomes for our clients, as we’re able to build the best possible team with less focus on location. Our colleagues are more connected outside of their local offices and are working with team members across the country.
What are the biggest challenges for maintaining consistent workflow in the hybrid workplace? Our processes were built with a remote nature in mind, as our organization is spread across eight development centers and we work remotely for our clients. The hardest part of what we’ve experienced is the loss of many of the social and philanthropic connections that our teams made while in the centers. Our teams and leaders have had to work harder to help our colleagues create social interactions across teams and geographies centered more around interests and areas of expertise than just walking by the coffee machine. 
Have you experienced proximity bias since entering a hybrid work environment?  We’re putting a lot of intention around proximity bias and how a hybrid environment might work. First and foremost, we’re working to ensure that managers are interacting closely with colleagues, improving our project feedback loops, and leveraging surveys and other data to aid in our effort to support colleagues from wherever they work. Our focus on equity, inclusion and diversity also informs our approach to proximity bias and a broader goal to ensure that opportunity for advancement has no connection to where our colleagues work. Studies show that the number of individuals choosing to remain remote can have larger representation within groups of like gender, age or generation, race, disability, etc. We believe that a more diverse team builds better software and creates better outcomes for our clients. The long-term impacts of proximity bias could negatively affect the very groups we’re hoping to attract and retain. It is our responsibility as leaders to create a hybrid world that doesn’t undo the great successes we’ve achieved.
 
 
Joanna Irwin, Randstad
What has your experience been with the hybrid workplace? I started working in a hybrid approach when I joined Randstad four years ago. As a global functional leader, my responsibilities span all the markets where we do business, so while I spend time with U.S. colleagues in Atlanta, I also work from home and connect virtually with colleagues outside of the U.S., including those in our global headquarters in the Netherlands. 
 How has working in a hybrid environment changed the way you schedule your time and that of your team? Since international travel was put on hold, I have found a need to start earlier in the day to connect with colleagues in Europe. My typical day now starts with meetings at 7:00 AM. I also have meetings later in the evening to connect with colleagues in Asia and Australia. So, I have more free time in the afternoons to catch up on emails but also to have some personal time to run errands, do things around the house or go for a walk. 
What are the biggest challenges for maintaining consistent workflow in the hybrid workplace? Historically, the burden has fallen on the person working remotely to figure out what is going on in the office. Now that hybrid working is becoming more commonplace, it’s more important for those who are in the office to ensure that they are effectively connecting and communicating with their colleagues who are working remotely. And leaders should ensure that they are leveraging technology and communication channels to keep everyone on the same page.
How does working part time in the office and part time at home affect the dynamics of your team? My team is used to working in a very international environment. For those who were already working remotely, nothing has really changed. The bigger shift has been for the team members who were used to coming into an office every day. Frankly it has evened out the playing field a bit now that we don’t have anyone in the office 100% of the time. 
Have you experienced proximity bias since entering a hybrid work environment? I haven’t directly experienced this but I do believe it occurs. The good news is that there is much more awareness of the topic now that hybrid working is being considered by more organizations. I expect we will all learn more about the risks of proximity bias as well as some methods for ensuring that we mitigate these risks.
What advice can you pass on to women who need to make conscious choices about how they position themselves and their careers in this new business arrangement? I think that it means being more intentional about your schedule. You should look a week or two in advance to determine which meetings and interactions would best be handled in person. And regardless of whether you are in the office or not, you should be proactive about communicating about your work and your successes. Don’t assume that hard work will be recognized and rewarded if you’re not letting people know about it. 
 
Jackie Parker, Global Payments
What has your experience been with the hybrid workplace? My experience has been very productive. There’s been no disruption of achieving key goals and objectives.
How has working in a hybrid environment changed the way you schedule your time and that of your team? The one major adjustment I’ve made is to schedule “blocked” time on my calendar for work to get done and to step away from online fatigue. Regarding my team scheduling, I’ve increased our team and on-on-one interactions. My focus is ensuring collaborative equity, making sure each team member have access to the capabilities and resources necessary to meet, share ideas and influence discussions.
What are the biggest challenges for maintaining consistent workflow in the hybrid workplace? The biggest challenge is managing digital distractions and “virtual overload.” I’m evaluating if our existing performance evaluation strategies are still fair and effective for a hybrid workforce.
Have you experienced proximity bias since entering a hybrid work environment? My team is global and 100% remote, so our team dynamics haven’t been materially impacted. Proximity bias has not been an issue for me or members of my team.
What advice can you pass on to women who need to make conscious choices about how they position themselves and their careers in this new business arrangement? With the “great resignation” and “big quit” looming, I would advise women to look for opportunities to create their own working patterns. Focus on patterns of behavior that brings more work/life balance, wellbeing, productivity and engagement. For each person, that’s a different blueprint.
 
 
 
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