Report

Performance culture in a hybrid world

Boost performance no matter where your people work

Research from Eagle Hill Consulting reveals that 38% of hybrid employees find it very challenging to get constructive feedback from team leaders and managers. Given the key role that the hybrid work environment plays in today’s evolving workplace, how can organizations create a supportive performance culture that serves all employees? 

Necessity drove the first wave of virtual work during the pandemic. Organizations rushed to make working from home possible, focusing on technology enablement and their people’s health and wellbeing. Today, hybrid work models are more than a temporary part of the transition to the new normal. They are a permanent workplace fixture across industries—according to Zippia, 74% of U.S. companies report they are currently using hybrid models or expect to implement one. 

Managing performance has changed—and it is more important than ever

As organizations formalize their hybrid and virtual work strategies, it’s important to revisit what sustains and enhances performance, especially given retention challenges and a difficult economic climate. The metrics and competencies that managers and employees are accountable for haven’t changed. But the ways to manage and perform against them have. 

This change comes largely from the fact that managers, teams, and employees don’t have as much in-person time anymore. When people aren’t with each other in the office every day, they can’t share immediate feedback, check in on workstreams, stop by a colleague’s desk for a quick chat, or collaborate spontaneously. Plus, managing hybrid and virtual employees requires a level of trust that some leaders are not accustomed to or comfortable with, particularly those who manage by inputs rather than outcomes.

Performance management is evolving as employees are focusing more on their own performance across day-to-day responsibilities and career path. Our research reveals that 83% of employees want to know more about how performance is measured, and only about one in five employees has a clear idea of what success looks like in their role. Organizations that close these understanding gaps can stand apart in a competitive labor market—and help improve organizational performance.

Same performance expectations, new worries

Leaders

“I wish I could have talked to him right after that meeting, but we’re back-to-back today!”

“I hope they’re doing okay on this project. I wonder if they need any help.”

“Is my team moving on what it needs to?”

illustration of concerned employees

Employees

“I wonder how that meeting went? Did I say anything wrong?”

“How is the rest of the team tackling their deliverables? I’m not seeing the big picture.” 

“I feel like my manager doesn’t trust me.”

It’s time to get intentional about performance

Improving performance in hybrid and virtual work (and in all work environments) means creating a performance culture of transparency, communication, and feedback. This requires being intentional about making performance expectations clear. It starts at the organizational level—clearly articulating expectations across the business and supporting employees to meet them. And it cascades to teams and employees—clarifying expectations and seeking guidance and feedback. 

Transparency, communication, and feedback—tied together by clear performance expectations—are the key drivers of performance culture

What are employees’ day-to-day struggles with performance? 

To understand hybrid employees’ perspectives on performance management—and how they compare to virtual and in-person workers—we surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. employees across industries. The survey reveals that all employees need better performance management. Here are their views of key performance priorities: 

Expectations
All employees are struggling to get a clear understanding of career expectations. No matter where they work, employees are most interested in the same thing when talking with managers. They want to ensure they are on the same page in terms of realistic goals and priorities. However, hybrid employees are the most likely to find it challenging to get clarity around goals and metrics. In fact, they say this is one of their biggest challenges. More than half (51%) of hybrid employees believe their manager needs skills to clearly communicate team expectations for success, compared to 40% of in-person employees and 36% of virtual employees

51% of hybrid employees say their managers need skills to clearly communicate team expectations for success 

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting

51% of hybrid employees say their managers need skills to clearly communicate team expectations for success 

Support and feedback
A greater percentage of hybrid (74%) and in-person workers (67%) say they feel more pressure to perform well since the pandemic began versus the 50% of virtual workers who are feeling more pressure. This may be because virtual employees’ way of working has been the most consistent since they left the office in 2020. Nearly one-third of all employees feels less recognized since the pandemic began. Hybrid employees find getting constructive feedback difficult—38% struggle here compared to 21% of virtual and 19% of in-person employees. Hybrid workers are also at the biggest disadvantage in getting support to succeed in their work environment. They are the most likely to need training and development with team leads.

74% of hybrid employees feel more pressure to perform well since the pandemic began

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting

74% of hybrid employees feel more pressure to perform well since the pandemic began

Collaboration
Hybrid employees are fairly optimistic about their career advancement opportunities. Interestingly, both hybrid and virtual employees are more likely to feel this way than people who work only in the office. The caution? Forty percent of hybrid workers report that one of the biggest challenges facing their teams is innovation and idea generation. Compare this to 26% of virtual and 22% of in-person workers. Idea generation may be hampered by the lack of benchmarks for peers’ work and limited access to collaboration tools that support the exchange of ideas. Overall, less collaboration with others can stifle individual performance by making it difficult to break out of existing thought patterns and perspectives.

40% of hybrid employees find innovation and generating ideas challenging  

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting

40% of hybrid employees find innovation and generating ideas challenging  

Creating a performance culture is everyone’s job

How to get started

Build a clear hybrid strategy. Develop your hybrid strategy to address concerns that teams and employees have expressed and to align with the business strategy. Take an inventory of current and future roles, identifying which can and can’t be hybrid or virtual. Assess current and future talent needs against this inventory, determining if the solution is changing ways of working, developing new competencies, or both. Take an outcomes-based approach to rethinking team and individual performance metrics, modernizing performance processes and ensuring employees are clear on the performance indicators they will be measured on.

Prepare people to lead differently. Give managers and employees support, tools, and permission to change and be more purposeful about fostering team interactions. Use qualitative and quantitative data to pinpoint who is struggling and help them through centralized training. Ensure that employees are clear on the actions they should take to get feedback. At the same time, regularly equip managers with practical insights and approaches they can use to manage hybrid workforces. Expose leaders to timely considerations, such as performance equity and biases, that could arise in the workplace based on who they see in person and who they connect with virtually. 

Clarify what is expected—and when. Be clear and intentional about what things employees should accomplish every week, and how to accomplish them. Go beyond making a list of tasks to discuss what quality work looks like and what steps are needed to deliver. Provide opportunities for employees to lead this discussion and connect with one another to share best practices. Work with them to develop timelines that include clear deadlines and accountability nudges, such as check-in meetings. Be accessible and create ways to collect and share best practices across teams and the organization. 

icon of mountain with flag on top

Reinvent how you think about performance. Revisit traditional ways of working and reinvent them as needed. Assess if mechanisms for providing feedback are still relevant to employees and managers in a hybrid environment. Determine if employee recognition and reward programs align with modern ways of working. Champion a culture change that embraces the idea that what matters isn’t where employees do the work, it’s how they do it. Put the operational structures in place to act on this mindset.

Create informal performance touchpoints. Create new norms with your team to provide feedback regularly. Assign specific spaces and times to discuss career goals and give feedback. Produce relevant and clear communication around the performance culture. Consider which communication tools and channels fit people’s needs, balancing bombarding them with too many messages and frustrating them with too few. Strengthen team connections to create a ripple effect of performance benefits. 

Organizations should revisit how they measure and manage performance amid hybrid and virtual work. This is key to help employees realize their career goals, teams successfully work together, and organizations achieve their objectives. Doing this requires intentionality in shaping the norms and behaviors that make up a performance culture—greater transparency, communication, and feedback. 

Methodology

The Eagle Hill Performance Management Survey 2022 was conducted online by Ipsos the week of May 10-12, 2022. The survey included 1,001 respondents from a random sample of employees across the United States. The survey polled respondents on their views of performance management.