Meet the Harvard professor revolutionizing how we think about the digital workplace

Published Apr 19, 2022

It’s no secret that the way we work has changed dramatically over the past two years. Not only did countless employees shift remote during the pandemic, but companies responded to the new reality by doubling down on their investments in software and digital infrastructure. Now, with employees starting to come back into the office, many organizations find themselves at a crossroads. How do they optimize the hybrid work experience? How have employee expectations changed? What are the best ways to think about onboarding, work-life balance, and app fatigue in a hybrid context? 

Tsedal Neeley, the Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, has spent much of her career thinking about these and other questions related to remote work, global teams, and developing a digital mindset. As the closing keynote at Pendo’s Guide: The Digital Adoption Summit event on May 10 (the same day on which her new book The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI will be published), she’ll be sharing deep insights about how employees can thrive in the digital workplace, and how business technology leaders can help them do so. 

Done right, hybrid work boosts productivity

Some of Neeley’s key findings relate to how the reality of hybrid work ended up undermining dated assumptions about it. Managers fearing being remote would hinder productivity ended up seeing the opposite. The reason for this ultimately comes down to employees having greater control over how they work. “With less stressful commutes and more flexibility, most of us are more available to bring our A game to work,” she writes in the Wall Street Journal. “The question is whether bosses are prepared to accept this.”

As pandemic restrictions lift, Neeley stresses that different work arrangements work best for different teams depending on their dynamics and needs. Some may decide to meet more frequently in person if they find it helps drive effective collaboration; some may decide to lean into remote. But no matter what the specific decision, it should be arrived at by teams as a whole, without the influence of managerial bias. “We need to make sure that there are centralized and equitable guidelines, which managers and teams can interpret together,” she argues in the same piece.

Choosing the right digital tools for the right contexts

Managers and business technology leaders have an array of digital tools at their disposal, and it’s important that they not overuse any one set in a way that leads to frustration among employees. Overuse of video conferencing, for example, can result in meeting fatigue, overbooked calendars, and a lack of productivity. When considering the utility of a tool for a given purpose, Neeley breaks them down into two categories: lean media (think email), which conveys information to the point but lacking in detailed context, and rich media (for example video), which carries more information and context. 

These two categories of media have different strengths and weaknesses–newly formed teams lacking personal rapport and familiarity with one another may benefit more from using rich media than lean, for example. The important thing is that everyone has a voice in deciding what works best when. “Managers must include the whole team in discussions about which to use going forward,” Neeley counsels in a recent piece for Harvard Business Review

Embrace the uncertainty

No one knows exactly what the future holds when it comes to the digital workplace, and companies shouldn’t act as if they do. “Ultimately, the biggest mistake managers may fall prey to with returning workers is overconfidence,” Neeley warns. What will set successful organizations apart from others when navigating the post-pandemic workplace is a willingness to experiment with different approaches and incorporate the voice of the employee into decisions. By making empathy for employees their guiding star, managers can ensure their teams come out stronger. 

Ready to learn more from Tsedal Neeley and other leading experts about empowering employees in the digital workplace? Register for Guide: The Digital Adoption Summit today.