PaperCut: How to assess the performance of your hybrid workforce

PORTLAND, Ore., March 1, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Laura White, PaperCut Head of Talent, provides industry insights: 

Laura White, PaperCut Software’s Head of Talent

The Covid-19 pandemic pushed hybrid working into the mainstream, and it looks like the trend is here to stay. While employees are slowly starting to return to office, many prefer to continue working from home for at least part of the week.

I felt deeply during Covid that we were going to swing back to office work very quickly. But people have built their life on being at home five days a week for about two years. They’ve moved away, there are cost of living rises and family care for children to consider, so employers must manage the expectations of how feasible that is.

But with traditional talent evaluation based on visibility and performance, how can organizations assess their employees’ commitment and leadership in a hybrid working environment?

Understanding the challenges

According to my colleague Caz Butcher, Global Head of People and Culture at PaperCut, one of the key challenges in a hybrid working environment is employee engagement. For a global organization like PaperCut, it’s important not only to connect people with their direct team but across functions as well.

“The engagement element is about how you share knowledge and bring people together – getting people aligned outside of individual teams is a big thing,” Caz says. “If your business is growing, you need to build those foundational elements of communication and connection when people are new. That’s much harder in a global and hybrid business, so things take longer, and your expectations might need to change.”

Particularly when organizations have employees around the world and across time zones, effective communication is critical to ensuring everyone is on the same page. “From the business perspective, it’s how you communicate your strategy, your purpose, and your values so that it lands, even though people are all working at different times,” Caz says.

From performance reviews to feedback loops

While the move towards remote work has accelerated since the pandemic, a broader shift was already taking place in how companies review and assess talent. There was a school of thought that was evolving prior to hybrid: some people are throwing out the annual review process altogether and instead having more regular feedback though consistent check-ins.

Because hybrid working has limited face-to-face time between managers and direct reports, this has impacted on the ability to provide immediate feedback and to ensure people are prioritizing the right work. Says Caz: “Feedback is always difficult but it’s even harder over a virtual meeting. In a global hybrid business, giving feedback is something you really have to work at.”

In a hybrid environment, managers may also be at home for much of the week – forcing a change to their approach to assessing performance. They rely on a lot of virtual connection with the team, measuring output through deliverables and milestones, and really optimizing their time when they do come into the office.

For many organizations, this has actually led to a more structured approach to feedback. PaperCut is working on putting systems in place such as 360-degree feedback surveys to determine a more holistic performance rating. With hybrid working, businesses need to be more intentional in creating feedback because they can’t just grab someone at any time of the day in the office and have a chat.

Nurturing talent in a hybrid environment

Although hybrid working has become commonplace, not all workers are impacted equally. There’s a combination of lifestyle and economic factors that make it easier for senior leaders to come into the office more often. They’re more likely to live closer to the city because they can afford it; they may be older and have children already at school, so care isn’t as big of an issue.

In fact, people seeking remote-only roles will find themselves competing among the highest level of job applications – putting them at an immediate disadvantage for career opportunities. But even employees who are in the office only part of the week run the risk of being less visible than their peers, which is a more significant issue for those who are in junior positions or new to the business.

Work is still very much a relationship-driven environment. The more junior you are in your career and the newer you are in your organization, the more time you realistically need to spend in the office, to build up those capabilities and contacts.

But employers can take steps to nurture hybrid talent through coaching and mentorship programs that connect workers with more senior team members. If you have relationships at all levels, then you have multiple people looking out for you. That must be more prevalent in this environment because we don’t learn by osmosis from having people around us every day like we used to.

The next generation of hybrid workers

So where is hybrid work headed?  A generational shift is also underway as Millennials start taking on senior management roles and Gen Z move up in the workforce. The greater role played by younger talent is driving a change in attitudes towards both work and technology.

 Young people understand that you can stay highly connected without being face-to-face. At the same time, they’re requesting more flexibility than any previous generation. They’re forcing us to adapt to their needs because we already have a talent shortage, and we don’t want to lose out on great talent.

As the baton for executive leadership is handed between generations over the coming years, we’re likely to see a greater push for new models of talent evaluation. I think we have an opportunity to evolve how we assess the quality of someone’s output.

We’ll get better at understanding that just because you can’t see someone physically, doesn’t mean they aren’t a huge asset to the organisation – and therefore would be great for promotion or leadership position or investment in their development.