Business leaders around the globe are wrestling with questions about the most successful path forward for their companies and teams—hybrid, remote, or in-office work. And who better to weigh in than one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers?
In our most-recent live webinar, New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant sat down with The Harris Poll’s Director of Trends and Thought Leadership, Abbey Lunney, and Grammarly’s Global Head of People, Erica Alioto, to discuss the future of work.
Here are the top 10 takeaways from Grant on how leaders can rethink work that supports employees, boosts productivity, and protects company culture.
Think like a scientist
Grant has found adopting a scientist’s mindset increases the odds of success for businesses. Questioning assumptions and treating every opinion as a hypothesis to be tested opens up new possibilities.
In a 2019 experiment, one group of startup founders was assigned to think like scientists while a second group conducted business as usual. The scientist cohort brought in more revenue with a lower failure rate than the control group, which Grant attributes to their willingness to pivot to a new business model based on customer and market feedback.
Don’t neglect pre-covid data when evaluating remote work
When evaluating return-to-work options, Grant cautions against confusing the effects of remote and hybrid work with the effects of the pandemic. To truly understand the pros and cons, he encourages leaders to consider pre-covid studies.
People report better work-life balance when working at least partially remote. This is true when they have the flexibility to take time to attend school events or work out during the day, then decide to finish work after typical hours.
“There are ways that being remote can burn us out,” Grant says, “but the net effect of being remote or hybrid is actually better for our well-being. And that’s especially true for members of non-dominant groups in an organization. We ought to pay attention to the dividends, not just the costs.”
Zoom fatigue is real. According to Grant, it’s caused by sitting too close to a screen for too long while carrying the mental burden of managing nonverbal communication as you stare at your own image. Plus, research shows women are more impacted by Zoom fatigue than men.
Grant recommends turning off the self-view mode during meetings. While video can sometimes be helpful, turning cameras off occasionally can help prevent burnout and improve turn-taking during meetings.
Additionally, Grant describes an experiment that showed giving software engineers uninterrupted blocks of quiet time increased productivity by two-thirds. Protect time for deep work and concentration.
Improve communication to reduce stress
In our State of Business Communication report, Abbey Lunney revealed that increased stress at work is the most common impact of ineffective communication—with business leaders estimating their teams lose nearly 7.5 hours per week due to miscommunication.
Set expectations to improve communication outcomes. For example, Grant explains that people who receive off-hours emails assume more urgency than the sender intended, which triggers unnecessary stress. Senders can alleviate that pressure by simply adding a note clarifying when they expect a response.
Be flexible around when employees work—not just where
Most employees, Grant says, care just as much about when and how much they work as where they do it. He recommends new approaches like flexible working hours and focusing on outcomes achieved over minutes spent “on the clock.”
Especially as teams become more geographically dispersed, flexible hours through asynchronous work and cross-cultural communication should be a priority in supporting workers.
Model asking for support
Grant says that during the pandemic, people have become more transparent about the problems that affect their work life. He encourages leaders to continue normalizing asking for help.
When leaders seek help, it shows employees it’s OK to admit when they’re not OK. Grant describes one manager who told their team to call in sick due to physical ailments—but also told them to call in sad when experiencing mental health struggles.
Maintaining this level of empathy isn’t easy, so leaders should equip their managers to guard against compassion fatigue. Grant believes that organizations will see greater retention, attract better talent, and improve motivation by prioritizing employees’ overall well-being.
Honor everyone’s strengths to create “optimal distinctiveness”
Drive connection and satisfaction, especially in remote environments, by clarifying employees’ goals and roles. Show employees how their work fits into the company mission and how their contributions make a difference. This creates what Grant calls “optimal distinctiveness”: Team members know how they fit in and stand out.
To do this, create an environment where people feel comfortable bringing all of their strengths and values to the table. Lunney says to build an inclusive culture, distribute professional development opportunities equitably—across groups but between in-office and remote employees. Be proactive and mindful about ensuring fair access to career growth milestones, such as involvement in new projects and leading meetings.
Adopt a zero-tolerance policy against toxic culture
Toxic culture is the key driver of attrition. Grant says companies must avoid rewarding or even tolerating employees who undermine others (even if they’re high performers).
Leaders should also be mindful of unintentional behaviors that create a toxic culture. In communication and actions, impact outweighs the intent.
Engineer creative collisions to avoid silos
During the pandemic, Grant found that people were staying in touch with their strongest ties—but lost the opportunity for “creative collisions” with more distant coworkers.
Encourage interactions between weaker connections to help foster the opportunity for unexpected collaborations and ideas. Grant describes how one sales team paired up different members for random lunch meetings and saw a 24% increase in revenue after just four months. Sharing knowledge, learning from one another, and creating stronger connections had a meaningful impact on the team’s success.
End the “always-on” culture
Grant believes leaders need to call out workaholic behaviors to proactively combat the “always-on” culture that can lead to employee burnout. Encourage teams to take and protect their vacation time and consider a policy of automatically blocking emails during PTO.
“We live in a world where people are defined by their work,” Grant says. “And if the organization doesn’t take the lead, it’s too easy for people to always feel like they could be doing more.”
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