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Many companies are now (finally!) moving from virtual-first to hybrid working, with a mix of in-person and virtual options for getting work done together. This trend means people will likely have more choice than ever before in how and where they work—good news for people’s well-being, working across geographical boundaries, and for the bottom line. But a hybrid model presents new challenges. For one, it’s logistically difficult to bring together those who are present in person with those who remain virtual, and the result may be inequities in the experiences of these two groups. Yet efforts to make things fair—for example, conducting meetings over Zoom even when some people are physically present in the office together—may interfere with the very benefits of being together in person. At the same time, those who remain virtual will still miss out on certain activities, such as impromptu chats in the hallway or after-work drinks.
This has led us to wonder, what we can understand about who is more likely to return to in person versus remaining virtual, and how might they be affected by the resulting disparate experiences? As leaders, how can we ensure that those who remain virtual will be included in meaningful ways without inhibiting opportunities to connect for those who are present in person? And how should individuals who have the freedom to choose to weigh up the options and trade-offs of face time versus screen time?
Lots of questions, I know, but rest assured we do have some insight into the matter. Our Business Chemistry latest study of more than 8,000 professionals from hundreds of different organisations across the globe suggests that most people want a mix of working virtually and in person; just over 10% say they want to work almost exclusively virtually, and just under 10% almost exclusively in person. The rest are in the middle, with 22% saying they prefer a bit more in-person time, 23% a bit more virtual time, and 35% half and half.1
While we might have expected that, the predictability of the pattern doesn’t make the implications of it any less impactful. If people are given the choice about where they work from, extroverts will spend more time in the office and attending meetings and events in person than introverts will. Why does that matter? Because introverts already tend to experience more challenges than extroverts when it comes to contributing in group settings and tend to feel less psychologically safe than extroverts.
Furthermore, a study we conducted, based on a sample of more than 14,000 professionals, suggests that introverts, more than extroverts, feel discouraged from contributing in a group setting when:
The “extrovert ideal,” which is prevalent in many Western business settings, means introverts may already be viewed less favourably than extroverts. The concern is that this effect may be exacerbated in hybrid working models if introverts don’t return to the office at the same rate as extroverts. Introverts may now feel even less accepted and less safe, and may contribute less often even than before.
Imagine a hybrid meeting with several people together in the office and several others zooming in from home. Those in the office are thrilled to be together and their energy is high. They are also, not coincidentally, quite extroverted, while the people zooming in from home are more introverted. The office extroverts have lots of opinions and ideas and they’re eager to share them. The zooming-in introverts have opinions and ideas, too, but they’re having a hard time following what’s happening. They can’t quite hear everything because the office speaker phone isn’t up to the job. And while they can see the conference room, the individual people are hard to make out. The office camera is aimed toward the whiteboard in the room, but it’s impossible to read. The office extroverts are talkative and lively. They’re riffing off each other’s ideas, interrupting, and feeding off one another’s energy. The zooming-in introverts are feeling a little left out and aren’t sure how to break into a discussion when there’s never a pause. Occasionally one attempts to speak or uses the zoom raise your hand feature, but no one notices. It feels like no one cares about their contribution and eventually they pretty much give up.
If remaining virtual means introverts have more challenges contributing, the impact could be negative for everyone, because diversity of thought makes for better decision-making and more creative problem-solving. We all benefit when introverts contribute. Moreover, extroverts, too, want a mixture of in-person and virtual work, and making a hybrid model effective is important for keeping those options open.
So, what do you do? It may seem a daunting knot to unravel, but it’s not impossible. Prior to the pandemic, many leaders thought virtual-first working models couldn’t be effective, but their people proved them wrong, and hybrid models can work too. Our findings provide important clues for what levers to pull to make hybrid work for everyone.
You as an individual can also:
1 During the period of July 2021 through November 2021, all respondents who completed the online Business Chemistry assessment were asked about their preferences for virtual versus in-person work. More than 8,000 professionals from hundreds of organizations responded. Findings from this study are previously unpublished.
2 During the period of September 2020 through June 2021, all respondents who completed the online Business Chemistry assessment were asked about the conditions that would discourage them from contributing in a group setting. More than 14,000 professionals from hundreds of organizations responded. Findings from this study are previously unpublished.
Andrew is the lead partner Partner of Deloitte’s Finance Transformation team, with over 15 years’ experience working with finance executive teams and CFOs on cost reviews, business diagnostic, assurance and transformation initiatives. Andrew brings a blend of commercial and financial experience gained from working across the public and private sectors. He has designed and delivered a large number of business transformation projects enabling him to focus quickly on material issues and develop appropriate strategies to address these issues. Andrew is a key member of Deloitte’s CFO programme having run numerous labs to assist CFOs moving into new roles as well as Future Finance Leaders programmes.
Jessica founded and leads Deloitte’s Business Chemistry client practice for the UK and North South Europe member firms. A business behavioural tool designed to help teams communicate and collaborate better for greater success, Business Chemistry is a proprietary self-assessment tool used to support boards, executive, and senior leadership teams across the FTSE, private, and public sectors. She helps teams understand each other’s working styles; hold honest conversations; be better leaders of diverse teams; build plans for enhanced collaboration; team deliberately for a common purpose; and build trust quickly to achieve strategic and organisational goals. The book ‘Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Relationships – a guide to putting cognitive diversity to work’ was released in the US and UK in May 2018.