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Many business leaders rely on traditional office-centric collaboration and management styles in managing hybrid teams. Yet research conclusively demonstrates that instead of incrementally improving on the old school office-centric approach, the best outcomes in managing hybrid teams come from adopting a flexible hybrid-first work model.
If the results are so clear, why are executives unwilling to change? Join us as Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, an expert on the cognitive biases that affect business decisions, tells us why some bosses are not looking out for the best interests of their companies and where we need to focus our attention as leaders — and employees.
Dr. Gleb Tsipurskyhelps tech and insurance executives seize competitive advantage in hybrid work by driving employee retention, collaboration, and innovation through cognitive science as the CEO of the future-proofing consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, a cognitive scientist, a cutting-edge thought leader, and best-selling author of Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Greetings, everyone. I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today we have Dr. Gleb Tsipursky. Dr. Tsipursky is the CEO of the future-proofing consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts and the bestselling author of “Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.” Dr. Tsipursky, welcome to the show.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: Thank you again, Gabe. It was great to be on previously, and I’m glad to be back. I appreciate you inviting me back. I hope that means I did well the first time.
Gabe Howard: I am absolutely ecstatic to have you back. Now, we’ve been hearing a lot in recent months about going back to the office. I’ve heard stories of companies deciding to stay fully remote. I’ve heard stories of companies doing a hybrid method and I’ve heard stories of other companies ordering everyone back into the office. And I see story after story offering their opinions on this subject. Now, I have largely ignored the discussion because I just really feel like it’s a business decision. It’s a personal preference. But you believe that psychology can provide definitive answers for us when it comes to the use of hybrid and remote work versus in-office work? Is this really a question that psychology can answer?
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: There’s no question it’s a question of psychology can answer. We have very clear research. Prior to the pandemic, we did have research on remote versus office centric, which I can talk about. We have research coming out right now about hybrid work from the perspective of psychology how we work as human beings. We have now peer reviewed research, but we also have very clear psychological principles that we can turn to that underlie hybrid work, remote work and office centric work.
Gabe Howard: I imagine there’s a lot of mental blind spots around hybrid and remote work. Can you discuss what some of those are?
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: So here is our first approach to using psychology to address hybrid work, remote work and office-centric work. And one of the fundamental, fundamental things to realize why there is a divide between leaders and staff, we have extensive surveys showing that executives on the whole prefer to do more office-centric work than employees, so they have more executives wanting more employees to spend more time in the office than employees want to spend time in the office. When you look at surveys of employees, you see that something like 80% want substantial remote work. Whereas executives, on average, most executives over half would want their workers to spend maybe, four days in the office, even five days in office.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: So, you have older executives who have more of a push for employees to get back in the office and younger executives having less of push. They’re much more flexible, much more willing to commit remote work. So why is that? Well, because older executives have spent a lot of time in the office and they learned how to lead in an office-centric environment. So, their identity is tied to success in an office-centric environment. And this identity question is a fundamental question of psychology, of course. And there is a cognitive bias here called the status quo bias. The status quo bias refers to our tendency to want to work the way that we are comfortable. So going to the status quo that we feel good about. And those leaders, they want to turn back the clock. The older leaders, the ones who are successful for over 20, 30, 40 years in their company, and they want to get back to that status. That’s a fundamental dynamic that’s going on, the status quo bias. And it’s also another really important dynamic is that these leaders tend to be oriented toward themselves, their own perspectives. So, they feel focused on what they want to do. There was a really interesting op ed that came out in Fortune magazine recently by one of these leaders, and so the leader talked about how they want to get all of their employees back into office, even though they acknowledge that their employees are more productive at home. And the leader actually says the quiet part out loud. The leader says and I’m quoting here, there is a deeply personal reason why I want to go back to the office.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: It’s selfish, but I don’t care. I feel like I lost a piece of my identity in the pandemic. I’m worried that I won’t truly find myself again if I have to work from home for the rest of my life, unquote. This is the egoism bias, where people are much more oriented toward their own perspective and their own predispositions that caused them to make some bad choices about what their employees are going to be doing.
Gabe Howard: I don’t think that you would really need to convince any employee that their boss is selfish or that their boss wants things the way that they want things just because they want it that way. But let’s talk about productivity. Is it more productive or is it less productive to work from home, to work hybrid, to work in the office? What gets you your most productivity, which of course, makes your company the most money?
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: And so, we have Elon Musk famously saying that all of his workers at Tesla and SpaceX need to be fully office centric and that remote workers are only pretending to work. That’s his statement. When you look at the research. So even before the pandemic, remote workers are clearly more productive. So, they produce more effort, they produce more output and they produce more money for the company. I’ll cite one study that came out of Stanford University and the Stanford University study looked at productivity in May 2020. So, this is a couple of months after the pandemic. It found that remote workers, compared to in-office workers, were about 5% more productive. So, they made the company 5% more money. Then it looked the same office workers later in two years in May 2022. So, two years difference. And it found that the workers were actually 9% more productive in May 2022. So, two-year gap, 4% improvement in productivity. Why is that? Well, because in May 2020, that was kind of a haphazard shift to remote work for most companies, and they didn’t really figure out how to do remote work. Well, by May 2022, there were more skills in how to do remote work, and so the remote workers were 9% more productive than their comparative in-office workers who are doing the same work. And why is that? You wonder, well, the thing is, the biggest reason that people hate coming to the office is the commute.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: The commute is the biggest reason people hate coming to the office. The actual driving of the commute on average takes an American 52 minutes and that does not count the costs of putting on all the clothes and for women, putting on makeup, for parents, getting childcare and coming into the office, going through security, settling down, transitioning into their work environment, and then doing the same, everything backward, right? So that takes quite a bit more than an hour per day from each person. So, people justifiably feel that this is an unpaid labor. And so, people are quite willing to work some of that time. Do work for part of that time. We see that on average, people work about a third to a half of the time that they would be spent commuting. They work for their employer. So that’s one reason why people are more productive. They do more work. Then the work itself is better in terms of their focus.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: They can focus more at home, they’re less distracted and they can create an environment that’s well suited for them. You know, people who like the thermostat turned up, they can have a warmer environment. If they like some kind of music when they work, they can have that. And they can be much more flexible in terms of putting their tasks throughout their workday. And people do more innovative and creative work when they have more autonomy and flexibility, which means flexibility of location. And people’s work at home involves much, much more flexibility than when they’re working in the office.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing the psychology of hybrid and remote work with Dr. Gleb Tspipursky. All right, Dr. Tsipursky, you’ve convinced me. You’ve already convinced the employees. But I’m starting to think that leadership really needs to take a strong look at this because it benefits their bottom line. A happy employee is a productive employee. A productive employee is a profitable employee. But clearly, it’s not a free for all. There has to be some sort of methodology to this. There has to be an approach. What is the best approach for hybrid and remote work and what’s the psychology behind it?
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: So, one of these other cognitive biases is really important here, these mental blind spots, and that is called functional fixedness. And it’s kind of like the hammer nail syndrome. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well, when you’re used to functioning in an office-centric environment, what tends to happen is that you bring those same office-centric methods of working to the hybrid environment, to the remote environment.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: And that’s why you saw when the immediate transition to the remote work happened in March 2020, all this transposing of office centric methods onto hybrid and remote work. For example, zoom happy hours. Happy hours are events where leaders kind of get their team to be together and just socialize. And you know what? Happy hour is in the workplace. I mean, some people who are more introverted were not all that pleased about them, but overall, for most people they kind of work. Zoom Happy hours are terrible idea. When you look at the research on this, it’s definitely does not work. It actually causes disengagement. So, it causes people to be less bonded to the team and less bonded to the organizational culture, which is the opposite of what the leader intended. So not only do you waste their employee time and therefore waste money by having them in the zoom happy hour on company time, but you also hurt the engagement and productivity and team belonging and organizational culture integration. That’s terrible. And there are so many other things like this where companies try to use the same methodology that they use in office-centric environments because that’s what leaders know, that’s what they’re comfortable with.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: So, they’re trying to lead in that same way. And so, what you need to learn is that you should not use the same methodology. You should not try to shoehorn office centric methods into hybrid and remote work. You need to adopt specifically hybrid first remote first modalities that are well suited to those modes of collaboration. If you step outside of our current ways of working and try to imagine how we work, if we had started to work, if we created our methods of working for a hybrid team or a remote team, you would never develop the same methodologies that you use right now and things like how do you make sure teams are innovative? How do you make sure they’re accountable? How do you collaborate together? How do you socialize together? How do you mentor people? But all of those need to be addressed. Now, before you address all that, you need to decide how are you going to bring people to the office? Are you going to be fully remote, are going to be hybrid? You should nearly never be office-centric because you’re going to really hurt yourself. And you can see very clear studies. One of the studies that came out, that’s one from Stanford University, showed that hybrid staff, are much better for retention.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: It was a randomized assignment trial where half of the workers at one company were randomized to be hybrid and the other half were randomized to be fully office centric. And it was a study over six months and you what you saw was that hybrid workers retention. So, retaining these workers was more than a third improved. So, 35% improvement in retention, 35%. Imagine that. That is a huge, huge improvement in retention. Losing each employee is a very high burden for a company. It’s usually about something like about a year’s worth of salary for that. To lose the talent and have to learn the job, search, train up a new person, get that person integrated, and then you don’t know whether you made a good hire or not. So, there are some percentages that you need to make a new hire that’s about a year salary. So, retention, if you retain people at a 35% rate better, you’re saving a ton of money. So that is very important. So, you retain people more. There was a study from Harvard Business School which showed that either remote work or hybrid work that’s about a day per week works better than something that’s about 2 to 3 days or 3 to 4 days.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: You get better retention and better performance from employees and better evaluation for these employees. So that’s kind of when you want to be thinking about some of the external behavioral science research on this topic. So, when you look at psychology, when you look at motivation, when you look at retention productivity, that is what we see as the best approach, the team led model.
Gabe Howard: When many people hear a team led model, they get this idea in their head that the employees are making the decisions and there’s no longer leadership. I also think that leaders are worried that if they cannot observe their employees, their employees can do whatever they want. And I know that we’re not necessarily trying to convince leaders here, but a lot of the pushback that I seem to get from people that don’t have the option to work from home truck drivers, school teachers, service providers, etc., is office workers are lazy and they just want to stay home. I know that’s kind of a big question to all wrap up into one, but how do we manage this in a way that is productive, reasonable and that everybody is happy?
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: We can’t make everybody happy, so we shouldn’t try. [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: I do like that. I like that
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: Excellent answer, but I imagine it is more complex.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: It is more complex, but this is a psychology podcast and we know that we can’t make everybody happy and we shouldn’t try. We’ll just, you know, fail. So, we should try to do the most the best for the most, right? That’s the goal. And so, what is the best for the most involved? Well, first of all, it involves realizing that when people come to the office, they are not working full-time. When you look at the research and how much of the time are they actually productive, people are only productive from 36 to 39% of the time. They’re actually working. The rest of the time they’re doing things like surfing social media, buying stuff on Amazon, even looking for another job if they’re made to come back to the office, which is actually frequently the case that people are leaving. That’s why you have the retention is 35% better for hybrid workers versus office centric workers, the same company. Now going back to, oh, office workers are lazy. You know, I think that it’s pretty arrogant and, in a way, despicable that people are trying to make someone come to the office out of spite, you know, okay, I have to be in the office. So, everybody else should be in the office. Why? You’re going to make every other people miserable. Like, what is that? That is a hateful, hateful way to live your life, to try to make other people miserable and go for the commute.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: And it’s even worse for you. If you have more people doing the commute, you’re going to be more likely to be stuck in traffic and more likely to crash. It’s going to pollute more. What are you talking about? Why make the experience of life more miserable for other people? What kind of a piece of human trash are you to have that so spiteful toward other people? We want to live in a way that tries to maximize utilitarianism the most benefit for all. And that means that what you want to do is address this question of proximity bias. Now, proximity bias, there are two elements of this kind of concept. And again, that’s one of these mental blind spots. One element of proximity bias is a jealousy from people who have to be in the office for others who are not in the office.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: And so, they’re saying, well, I’m jealous. Like, why can’t I do this? And so, what I have my clients do, and what works really well is shift from a culture of inputs to a culture of excellence from anywhere. What that means is you’re not judged on where you work, you’re judged on your deliverables, what are you actually producing? So, if what you deliver, if the outcomes that you’re producing require you to be in the office and access physical resources, like if you’re a worker on the shop floor, or if you are in research and development staff or one of my clients is the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California, and that is an information and processing institute. I research learning, cyber networks, cyber security, all of that sort of stuff. Now, some of their access to resources, they need to be in the office at some secure government contract they have various clearances for and they need to be in the office for that and that’s fine. So then to do your work, you need to be in office. But if you don’t need to be in the office, why do you need other people to be in the office? That’s just spite. You need to establish a culture of excellence from anywhere where people are judged on their deliverables.
Gabe Howard: Let’s talk about accountability. It’s always a big subject asking people to manage themselves, especially when they’re outside of their leader and their employers and their supervisors’ eyes. How do we facilitate accountability in a hybrid and remote workspace?
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: A great question and it really ties in well to the previous one because this is another aspect of proximity bias. So, proximity bias, one element is a sort of jealousy toward other people who are not in the office. Another aspect of proximity bias is this worry that, hey, if I’m not there near my manager, then my manager will ignore me and forget about me and I will not advance in my career. And the worry from the manager side is that well, if the person is not near me, if there’s not that proximity, if I can’t look over their shoulder, then will they actually be working? I mentioned excellence from anywhere. So, excellence from anywhere that involves a focus on deliverables and to focus on deliverables. That means that you need to actually talk about what are people delivering and you need to measure their deliverables. A really excellent approach to this is to have weekly or every two weeks meetings with employees. So, in your one on one, that’s something that’s kind of a standard activity where manager has a one-on-one meeting with each employee once a week or once every two weeks.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: And what you do is you integrate into that one-on-one meeting a goal orientation and performance evaluation. Goal and performance. So, each week an employee sets three goals in agreement with their manager and what they will accomplish that week. Something that can be SMART, so Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timely for that upcoming week.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: The manager evaluates how well the employee performed on those goals, the performance evaluation, so making sure the employee is accountable and then they agree on what the next set of goals is for the next upcoming week. And the manager either agrees on or revises the performance evaluation of the employee and may coach the employee on how to solve the problems that they run into better. And that is an excellent way of maintaining accountability because then you know what the employee is doing each week. The manager knows, the employee knows and solves the problem of proximity bias because the employee always knows where they stand, which is much, much better than that annual performance evaluation, where that’s the one time and the annual review that you know where you stand. So, you know, constantly each week where you stand and that performance rating. But the employee gets each week head into a continuous promotion and review system so the employees can get constantly evaluated and much, much smaller and smaller stakes, lower stakes evaluations and a huge once a year, super anxiety inducing annual review. This is a very, very helpful approach.
Gabe Howard: Dr. Tsipursky, I know that we’re running out of time, but I just have one more question. Let’s talk about collaboration. If everybody is separated and you just miss those hallway conversations, you miss those, you know, running into what are they called watercooler conversations,
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: That’s right. That’s right.
Gabe Howard: How do you facilitate collaboration in a hybrid and remote work environment?
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: What you need to do again is not do zoom happy hours or anything that’s office centric, so not transpose those office centric methods onto hybrid remote work. You need to establish hybrid and remote first modalities. And there are modalities that I recommend to my clients, which they have found very helpful. One is called Virtual Coworking that is meant to replace the experience of working in a shared open office environment with your coworkers. So, what you do is you sign into a video conference call and you work on your individual tasks. And it’s not about directly collaborating. So, it’s about working on your individual tasks and what just like you would in that shared office environment. But you keep your microphone off, you keep your speakers on video optional. You know, people who are more extroverted preferred their video on introverted people prefer it off. And so, what you do is whenever you have a question that you run into when you’re doing your work, you can turn on your microphone and ask the question and then you can get some team help. Problem solving, brainstorming about new ideas, things like this. This is very helpful methodology for especially integrating junior team members. A lot of companies have a lot of trouble with integrating junior staff into this hybrid and remote setting, and so this very, very valuable methodology.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: So that’s virtual coworking. Another methodology that I strongly recommend to my clients is mentoring. One of the biggest challenges with hybrid and remote work is the loss of connections across teams. So, you actually see research showing that connections within teams have strengthened in remote and hybrid settings, but connections across teams have weakened. So, it’s kind of not surprising when you look at the psychology, right? You’re running into each other less when you’re working, not working in that same office space. That’s not a surprise. The way to address that is to have mentoring and specifically mentoring, not simply from your own team. So, establish mentoring for junior staff from one person, senior person from their own team who can help them with on-the-job training, answering questions quickly. And that’s very helpful. But you also want a mentor from outside the team, ideally a different business unit. And the goal of that person would be to help that the junior staff member integrate into the broader organizational culture, develop their career and build connections across that organization, introducing that person to relevant other people.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: Building collaboration, that’s the second methodology that I would recommend. And the third one I would recommend is actually virtual water coolers. So whatever collaboration software you use, whether you Slack, Microsoft Teams, Trello set up a channel for private conversation for each 6 to 8 people team. And as part of that each morning every person is asked as they’re kind of checking into work is to share how are they feeling right now? What’s going on in their personal life lately? An interesting fact about themselves or the world that others don’t know, and then what they plan to focus on and work that day. That’s first. And then they respond to three other people. That takes about 5 minutes. And it’s very effective for that virtual water cooler experience where you connect with other people and get humanized to each other. So be human to each other.
Gabe Howard: Dr. Tsipursky, thank you so much. He is, of course, the author of the best-selling book, “Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage,” which you can find on Amazon. And he also maintains a website that I highly recommend. Where is that website?
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: It’s called DisasterAvoidanceExperts.com. So DisasterAvoidanceExperts.com. And if you want to check out my resources on the future of work, including a questionnaire on addressing these blind spots that we just talked about. So, an assessment on this question go to DisasterAvoidanceExperts.com/subscribe.
Gabe Howard: Dr. Tsipursky, thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: Thank you so much for inviting me back again, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: Well, you are very welcome. And a big thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon, or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me just by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free. And do me a favor recommend the show to a friend, family member or colleague. Sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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