The Great Resignation, leadership, and hybrid workforces

Jason Hoffer
The Great Resignation, leadership, and hybrid workforces

Originally featured on for Crowe BrandVoice.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt transition to working from home for millions of people, norms related to being physically present in the office have changed dramatically. For many knowledge workers, the evolving expectations about time in the office have resulted in immense improvements in quality of life. But the emergence of trends such as quiet quitting and the Great Resignation demonstrate that these changing norms also have been destabilizing for the workforce.

Technology played an essential role in making COVID-era shifts in the workplace possible – and it has great potential to be an ongoing enabler of a successful and productive remote work economy. But despite the ways in which technology has changed the workplace, it is not a substitute for leadership. Leaders today face the challenge of harnessing the capabilities of technology while retaining a sense of culture and community that can keep employees engaged and motivated for the long term.

Creating connection without physical proximity

More than two years after the start of the pandemic, organizations have a much clearer understanding of how technology can create connection and help increase productivity in the virtual workplace. In the absence of a physical office, companies should implement tech solutions that place as many functions as possible under one roof. Platforms such as Microsoft Teams™ and Slack can provide an essential, integrated hub for ideas and tools, allowing workers to move freely between spaces. Teams, for example, integrates with SharePoint™, which integrates with OneDrive™ and OneNote™.

In comparison to startups, which are more likely to have launched with one of these integrated platforms, legacy organizations can find themselves at a disadvantage, piecing together different tech solutions and online communication tools over time. But these types of organizations should not shy away from overhauling their approach to technology by adopting or migrating to integrated collaboration and business platforms. In a future in which the necessity of physical office space is changing, having integrated platforms in place can be a grounding force for employees. Moreover, tying several functionalities to a single platform can reduce some of the security risks that an online work environment presents.

Teams and Slack are essential tools, but companies can consider other tech solutions, too. Examples include virtual whiteboarding tools, like Mural, and organizational tools like Notion. And, of course, video: the irreplaceable alternative to in-person contact. While people love to hate Zoom video conferencing calls, seeing coworkers’ faces helps facilitate engagement across a hybrid workforce.

Technology and leadership go hand in hand

As some executives have learned through high rates of attrition during the last couple of years, no matter how good a company’s tech solutions are, technology cannot replace leadership. Leaders need to consider how to maximize the capabilities of tech tools to support culture, set the tone of the business, and determine how and when to gather virtually and in person.

Part of the challenge for leaders is contemplating the hybrid workforce they want to establish: How and when should employees gather in person? Even in primarily virtual work arrangements, intentional intermittent in-person interactions can have a hugely positive impact on culture. Many people hired and onboarded during the pandemic have yet to meet in person, and meeting each other face-to-face can elevate those professional relationships.

To this point, leaders also need to think about the evolving utility of physical office space. Many companies will continue to have a need for a physical presence, but that need might no longer be for a daily, fixed setup. Rather than having permanent offices and cubicles, office space for a hybrid workforce can be more productive if it is modular and easily manipulated to suit different needs, with an emphasis on collaborative spaces for meetings.

Replicating real life in the virtual world

In a traditional, in-person office environment, walking over to someone’s desk to ask a question or puzzle through a problem presents an opportunity to say hello to other co-workers and perhaps solicit insights of colleagues who happen to be nearby. Those casual, unplanned interactions offer many benefits to employees, both productive and social, and they are among the most difficult aspects of the physical office to replicate virtually.

In time, the metaverse could present a solution to this problem, allowing employees to gather in new ways as they – or rather, their avatars – move about an online office. The metaverse could present additional opportunities for workers to let their personalities show through as well, by dressing their avatars or arranging their office spaces to match their personal interests.

For now, however, companies and leaders should encourage their employees to allow the visible part of their home offices to reflect their personalities and personal lives. An important component of people’s professional happiness is getting to know colleagues – and letting colleagues get to know them. The inevitable interruptions that happen such as kids or pets appearing on-screen during video calls should not be discouraged, but rather they should be welcomed as occasional windows into people’s lives outside of work.

Proactive culture building as a driver of loyalty

Company executives need to be proactive about culture building in order to keep existing workers engaged and to rapidly engage new hires, despite the lack of a consistent physical presence. Where there used to be ping pong tables and beverages on tap at the office, companies today should prioritize benefits like expensed, take-out lunches for one-on-one meetings, or virtual lunch-and-learns and virtual happy hours with online games.

Finally, leaders should engender the mindset that everyone is learning together how to navigate remote and hybrid workforces. Giving workers a voice by seeking feedback and incorporating their ideas into the business will give them a greater sense of control and autonomy, and ultimately stronger feelings of attachment and loyalty to their companies.

Microsoft, OneDrive, OneNote, SharePoint, and Teams are trademarks of the Microsoft group of companies.

Related articles: Crowe digital transformation article series presented with Forbes

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Simon Riley
Simon Riley
Principal, Finance
Alejandro Alvarez
Alejandro Alvarez
Principal, Consulting
Jason Hoffer
Jason Hoffer