Trust is a two-way street. And so are the norms that lead to successful hybrid work. That’s the key take-away from my interview with Armen Vartanian. As the VP of Workplace at LinkedIn, Vartanian and his team have embraced a hybrid work policy anchored in trust and care, with an emphasis on nurturing social capital and employee experience.
Trust, in particular, is the cornerstone of LinkedIn’s successful transition into the new world of work. However, it is crucial to note that trust isn’t a component that suddenly materializes out of thin air. Nor can it be generated with the mere flip of a switch. It is nurtured, cultivated, and grown over time, through deliberate actions and established norms that honor both the organization and the individuals within it. Vartanian’s experience parallels the advice I give to my clients who I help transition to a return to office and hybrid work.
Social Capital: The Glue that Binds a Hybrid Workplace Together
Imagine social capital as the hidden treasure in an organization, to paraphrase Vartanian. It is the intricate, invisible network of relationships that forms the backbone of a company’s operation. This social capital powers the engine of the organization, driving its mission and propelling it towards its vision. If a company’s culture is compared to a ship, social capital would be the wind in its sails, powering its journey across the vast ocean of the business world.
Building and preserving social capital is akin to cultivating a lush, thriving garden. It demands time, patience, and consistent effort, along with a deep understanding of the ecosystem. Senior employees often already possess a well-established network of relationships across the company, built over years of collaboration and shared experiences. Junior employees, on the other hand, are akin to young seedlings that need to be nourished and nurtured with the right elements to grow and thrive.
Recognizing this disparity, LinkedIn is focusing on employee experience and intentionally engineering the serendipity needed to help employees build and sustain social capital, regardless of their tenure. Given that a majority of their workforce has joined in the past three years, they have deliberately designed their workplace strategy to create environments that are not only dynamic and give employees choice in the type of environment they need to be productive but also promote relationship building and collaboration among team members.
Mentorship and Organizational Norms: Navigating the Hybrid Landscape
Imagine a football team on the field without a playbook, each player attempting to score based on their own understanding of the game. The result would likely be chaos, as every player follows their own individual strategy, leading to a lack of coordination and teamwork. This is exactly what can occur in the absence of clear organizational norms in a hybrid work scenario.
LinkedIn has implemented deliberate mentoring programs to provide a structured path for junior employees to cultivate the necessary relationships for their professional growth. But more than this, they’ve understood that predictability and intentionality are key in a successful hybrid work arrangement. Ensuring that employees derive significant value from the time they spend in the office becomes paramount.
It’s essential to understand that the goal isn’t just to have employees physically present at the office. It is to maximize their interactions, engagement, and value derived during their time there. This isn’t a business reality show where the highest attendance wins. Instead, it’s more like a symphony where every note matters, and the overall harmony created by the combination of notes is what truly counts.
The Hybrid Workplace: More than Just Physical Spaces
In our pursuit of creating an effective hybrid work environment, we must not overlook the crucial role played by the physical workspace. LinkedIn, for instance, has innovated and reimagined their office spaces to better facilitate collaboration and support welcoming employees back into the office whenever they need or choose to come in. Vartanian shared that his team is constantly testing and iterating, recently deliberately constraining the supply of space across offices to bring employees closer together. As a result, LinkedIn saw utilization increase by 82% and employee attendance grow by 24% in its US headquarters office.
However, designing the right physical environment is just a small part of the overall equation. Technology is the other vital component that enables seamless collaboration and communication. A well-structured, intuitive digital space can significantly amplify the effectiveness of a hybrid workspace.
To sum up, as we continue to navigate the new world of work, we must remember that trust and flexibility, social capital, and organizational norms form the foundation of a successful hybrid work environment. They are not just nice-to-haves, but critical must-haves in this brave new world of work. Finally, it is vital to remember that the ultimate goal of a hybrid work model is to foster an environment that supports employees, nourishes relationships, and empowers the organization to reach its true potential. To paraphrase Vartanian, the way we work may have changed, but the why we work has not.
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Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on April 18, 2023