In this episode of Lehigh University’s College of Business ilLUminate podcast, we are talking with Ozias Moore about how the unprecedented increase in employees working from home during the pandemic affected teamwork and productivity and what changes may be needed in how we think about the workplace moving forward.

Moore is an assistant professor of management in the College of Business at Lehigh University. His primary research interests focus on team and multi-team effectiveness. He is particularly interested in exploring the multilevel effects of dynamic team composition on team processes, emerging states and team outcomes.

He spoke with Jack Croft, host of the ilLUminate podcast. Listen to the podcast here and subscribe and download Lehigh Business on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Below is an edited excerpt from that conversation. Read the complete podcast transcript

Jack Croft: When the pandemic swept across the United States, offices immediately shut down and millions of American employees were abruptly forced to transition to working from home. How did the almost overnight switch to replacing face-to-face interactions in the office with Zoom meetings affect how teams performed, from what you've seen?

Ozias Moore: It really just accelerated what was already happening. In the workplace, we know that there were two modes of work. We had people who were face to face, and in some cases, workers who were working virtually, or in some cases, workers who were in this hybrid work modality where they were partially virtual and partially face to face. I think what the pandemic has underscored is that most jobs really are not optimized for this remote or hybrid work mode, at least not yet.

We know that what has occurred is that in virtual environments, there is a delay in communication. There is this loss of spontaneity that occurs in face-to-face communication or those spontaneous conversations that happen around the water cooler or in the hallway. And there's also challenges around how to manage the logistics of global collaboration, collaboration across time zones, across different spaces. We know that leaders in the past really weren't expected to have leadership skills or capabilities around managing multimodals.

But now leaders will need to be able to operate in both virtual and face-to-face modes, as well as the workers. Coming out of the pandemic, despite the fact that organizations have embraced the hybrid model, most organizations are still struggling to figure out how to effectively and efficiently manage this mix of virtual and onsite workers. However, we also know that organizations need to answer these questions quickly so that their organizations can be effective at embracing this new way of working.

Four Key Leadership Attributes

Croft: Are there any examples you've seen in the ways that office's teams have held meetings remotely over the last three years that have evolved that might hold some promise for the future?

Moore: I think it's important to really focus around four key leadership functions or leadership attributes. And those four areas are around the people, the structure of the organization or teams, thinking through the team process or organizational process, and the importance of understanding aspects of the technology.

When leaders and individuals of organizations are thinking through the attributes around the people aspect, it's important to have measurements in place to monitor and understand aspects around team cohesion, thinking through what are barriers for ways to build communication, community and rapport, how to build inclusive culture, ways to increase social interactions around this area. Also, … when we think of virtual meetings or the fact that work may be managed in more of a compartmentalized way with people being physically separated, it's important, I think, to have a really strong understanding around role clarity, understanding aspects of accountability and how goals and objectives are shared.

The second important area that I think is critical is this area around structure. My research looks at aspects of how teams are designed, understanding aspects of the configuration of the team, also taking into consideration aspects of structure that look at the interdependence of tasks or task complexity. And research has suggested that aspects of task complexity, task interdependence are important considerations for virtual or hybrid work environments. …

I think it's also important to think about, as a leader or individual worker, what are your KPIs, what are your key performance indicators, as you're thinking of managing structure for decision making, for creating new norms around routines of work, etc.? Also, when we think of the new way of working in organizations, many employees, it's estimated about 44% of U.S. workers are working for more than one manager at a time. So in addition to thinking that people are simultaneously working on more than one team at a time, also in many cases, they're accountable to multiple leaders at one time.

The third area that I mentioned in the framework to consider that is important for leaders as well as teams around process is to think of using team charters. Research has documented the effectiveness in the use of team charters for helping to improve team cohesion, team communication, as well as outcomes around team performance—having documented rules that govern behavior, that govern outcomes, that may be specific to shared ownership, feedback, timelines, etc. I also think that a team charter in this area of process helps to manage these interdependencies in much more of a visible way, and it underscores the need for, I think, greater adaptability in managing these areas.

Lastly, I think what this transition in the way we think of how work is managed and how to be more effective with work is really for leaders and for individual workers to think of technology as a tool that is facilitating productivity and efficiency. It's thinking of how can technology be used to reinforce aspects around how to organize work or how technology will help to reinforce norms around individual or team performance, as well as thinking about ground rules for how different tools are selected, guidance around usage for appropriate technology.

On Quiet Quitting

Croft: [There is] a new term that I think we've all been hearing a lot about lately, which is quiet quitting, which basically just means that more employees are doing the absolute minimum needed to avoid getting fired instead of being engaged with their work. A Gallup poll in September found that at least half of the U.S. workforce, and probably more, are already quiet quitting. In terms of your research, particularly, this would seem to pose a real threat to the concept of teamwork if you've got half the people just doing the bare minimum that they need to instead of really engaging in the work that the team is trying to do. So I wonder if you could talk about that a little and if you have any thoughts on the best ways to combat it.

Moore: I think it's interesting, and many of my research colleagues would agree that this term quiet quitting is kind of this contemporary new term. But as researchers, we've been examining this issue that is related to what are the factors that lead to counterproductive work behaviors or the factors that lead to attenuated worker engagement. That's really what this broader phenomena that's contemporary and popularized called quiet quitting [is]. …

Some of the things that I think are important for leaders and for organizations to think about that research has suggested to be useful considerations are around greater employee involvement when it comes to thinking about the policies and guidelines for bringing people back into the workplace. Creating employee work councils to get feedback throughout this transition, to get other ideas for how to think about ways in which employee policies acknowledges the fact that there is a greater percentage of workers now that are in multigenerational households, that are involved in caregiving roles across the generations.

I think it's important to understand how the policies are more effective by getting more employee involvement in how the policies are shaped, but also understanding the employee involvement around how they're applied. And I think what we're seeing is that most employees prefer more of a flexible work model.

And the challenge, I think, in many cases are the limited capabilities and training that has been applied or rolled out to leaders to make them more effective around managing workers across multiple modes of work—virtual, remote, hybrid, etc. And so it's creating the vision for work in a way that allows the leaders and workers to be more effective.

It also, I think, acknowledges the way in which this transition has occurred, has created higher levels of concern, higher levels of anxiety, stress and burnout that leaders and organizations should be more mindful to consider, as well as involving employees in the solution. … In many cases involving employees in the process, they may not necessarily totally agree with the outcome, but they have a better understanding of what decisions and why the policy is shaped in the way that it is.

And some of the tensions that we see, I think, around the quiet quitting in the popular press relate, in many cases, to organizations that have just arbitrarily, it appears, mandated this return to work without more of a holistic integration of input, more of a thoughtful job analysis across roles to understand ways in which to apply these policies in not such a broad-brush way. And also knowing in some cases that the policies impact certain worker populations in ways differently from others.

So I think employees would appreciate being involved and engaged in an ongoing dialogue that I think most organizations haven't had in a consistent way and in a way that I think allows workers to be drawn into this complex new way in which organizations are having to create much more rapid decision-making models, much more rapid job-design models, and being much more flexible in ways that consider the worker.

Ozias  A. Moore

Ozias A. Moore

Ozias A. Moore, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the department of management at Lehigh Business.