In September 2022, we surveyed more than 400 senior executives at large companies ($1 billion+ in revenue) in four global industries across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, detailing the findings in our report Overcoming the Execution Challenges of Mission-Critical Projects.
Managing hybrid project teams was the No. 1 factor increasing the difficulty companies have in meeting their key goals, with more than half saying it was either a large or huge factor.
Work from Home Is Here to Stay
The ability to successfully manage hybrid teams is just as important today as it was when the pandemic began. The average percentage of project team members working from home has increased more than 200% since 2020. And now that people have experienced what it’s like to work differently, there’s no going back.
RGP CEO Kate Duchene spoke recently at a panel event where she unveiled key findings from our research, and said the primary work-mode today is hybrid, noting that many organizations that have tried to return to working full-time in the office have struggled. “What we’ve heard from many of our clients is that it’s failing,” she said. “And one of the reasons it’s failing is because talent is desiring different choices.”
Multiple workplace studies prove the point:
- A recent survey of 25,000 Americans found that 87% across all occupations opted to periodically work from home when offered the chance to do so (McKinsey).
- 60% of executives don’t expect top talent to return to in-person work (Mercer).
- Companies could lose up to 39% of their workforce by requiring them to return to the office full time (Gartner).
Making the Most of Work From Home
Given the trends, it only makes sense to learn from our study’s Project Execution Leaders—the 15% of companies that achieved 100% of their key goals for mission-critical projects. Allowing team members to work from home was cited as a differentiator for this group, with 58% saying it increased the odds of project success.
Based on interviews with participants from our study, here are three important ways you can join their ranks:
1. Ensure hybrid team members are engaged and productive.
“We find trust, understanding and engagement are sometimes missing with our remote workers,” said a finance executive we spoke with from a medical device, healthcare products and pharmaceuticals company.
This is especially the case when the company forms a large project team with a variety of skills and new hires across multiple business groups. He and other executives we talked to said project leaders must communicate frequently, helping hybrid teams coalesce.
Project leaders must also identify and connect to members who are unwilling to speak up about project difficulties for cultural or personality reasons. “Misunderstandings and miscommunication when people don’t know each other waste time,” said the chief strategy officer of a chemical company.
Requiring people to return to the office should be a last resort, dependent on a looming deadline or other crisis, most executives agreed. “If you need people physically present to manage them effectively, you’re micromanaging. Give people the tools they need to succeed, then trust them,” said the finance executive at a global biopharmaceuticals company.
2. Bring the company’s culture to remote workers.
Another work-from-home worry is making remote workers feel like part of the organization. Executives say occasional but thematically relevant in-person gatherings can jumpstart productivity. “We got together for a day. Everyone focused on what we needed to do, and that was worth three weeks of emailing and conference calls,” said a biopharma company executive.
Focusing on corporate culture is key to productivity for the widely dispersed hybrid project teams of a luxury goods maker we interviewed. “Our differences span organizations, functions, countries, cultures and gender,” said the comptroller for its Asia-Pacific operations.
“There’s really nothing to bind us except our company’s values.” Her teams’ conversations focus on the company’s brand messaging, goals and community contributions.
3. Maintain the human touch.
“It’s easy to see people as just numbers or resources. But a person has an emotional side. You must understand what they are feeling,” said a chemical company’s chief strategy officer.
During the pandemic, those feelings often were stress and fear. The luxury firm’s Shanghai employees were caught in the pandemic lockdown and could not easily shop for groceries. So the company arranged for food deliveries and access to mental and physical health resources. “You can’t expect the usual high performance under those conditions,” said the company’s Asia-Pacific comptroller. “Leaders must use empathy in these cases to motivate teams.”
Even as such extreme circumstances have mostly receded, some pandemic-vintage practices for managing remote workers remain effective.
“During the pandemic, we were more inclined to ask each other, ‘How are you doing?’ instead of being judgmental if we couldn’t reach someone,” a biopharma company executive said. “That behavior is continuing. Understanding what’s happening with people has improved relationships and easier management.”
See how enlightened companies outperform the competition by deftly orchestrating hybrid and organizationally diverse teams.
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