Over the last few months, we’ve helped several organizations adapt to hybrid and various return-to-work strategies.
One of our customers, a well-known Silicon Valley-based “unicorn," recently needed help overcoming significant challenges with how their teams coordinated effectively, with some teams working on hybrid schedules and others remaining remote.
Since their transition to remote, they had been dealing with complaints and low employee sentiment around decision-making and coordination. Employees reported that it had become harder to get things done and that coordination and decision-making had become slow. What was equally alarming to them is that they were starting to see significant attrition among key talent, partly as a result of these challenges. While they hoped that having many team members return to the office on a hybrid work schedule would solve some of these concerns, there was a good portion of the team still remote, and the client was particularly concerned about further disruption to team collaboration and effectiveness due to the new ways of working.
When we analyzed their collaboration data, we found several signs that their work and coordination patterns had significantly shifted since their move to hybrid.
One key indicator we analyzed first was around meetings and the team meeting culture. We found that meeting volume had drastically increased (by more than 40%) since the team had gone fully remote, and the average team member was now spending over 1.5 days in meetings per week. Despite the move to hybrid, the number of meetings had not gone down, and in fact, had continued to be on the same trendline as before.
Next, we looked at focus time and collaboration metrics to see if the increased volume of meetings had any impact on employees getting time to make decisions and uninterrupted blocks of time for deep work. Here, we found that focus time at the company had dropped significantly (by over 40%) across the same period. Additionally, the average person was now meeting and communicating closely with a far larger group of peers to get things done. With the return to the office, focus time had further dipped due to increased commuting time replacing the time most employees spent doing deep work.
These two metrics indicate high collaborative overhead, meaning that team members often have to interact with many people across many meetings to make decisions and get work done. We ran a driver analysis to show that these patterns of over-collaboration were directly related to some of the negative sentiments picked up in surveys. For instance, one of the strongest predictors of “high stress” in the survey was if someone had over 15 close collaborators in a given week.
By sharing these stories with the broader team, we were able to help them put real numbers to what was previously only a gut feeling about the problem. Once they could quantify and pinpoint the issue, it became easier to take action.
The company started by setting a clear company goal of driving up focus time across the organization. The focus time metric was regularly communicated in all-hands company meetings to help elevate the issue and show progress.
In addition, they took various corrective actions, including introducing a new policy to set designated hours in the day for collaboration time, with the rest of the work day set aside for deep work for their teams.
Once their program was implemented and in place for a couple of months, we started to see their metrics improve significantly. The team focus time specifically increased by about 40% to be back in the normal range.
They also received direct feedback from employees during their subsequent employee survey, where the teams clarified that the increase in focus time greatly impacted their ability to get work done.