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Balancing remote and on-site work is vital to business

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Reiser's Pieces: Achieving the right mix in a hybrid world

It was absolutely amazing to be back in person at our home away from home (don’t we wish?), The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Annual Meeting.

Jason Reiser

Jason Reiser

The in-person meetings and interactions that occurred were personally satisfying and much more impactful and action-oriented than I’ve found with virtual. I had new appreciation for how much each participant brings to the table and the deep level of learning and partnership that takes place before and after the actual meeting.

This return to “normal” engagement, though, raised my concerns for the future of our industry as we transition to a “hybrid” return. Over 60% of high-growth organizations have enabled “productivity anywhere” models, reports Accenture; nine of 10 organizations plan a hybrid work environment, says McKinsey. But what this will actually look like depends on the meaning of “hybrid.” Seeking quick clarity, I did what most people do and “googled” it. I struck out at first (“the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties, such as a mule”), eventually landing on “a thing made by combining two different elements — a mixture.”

But I’m finding that this “mixture” of remote and on-site work is anything but. Instead of a balanced mix of equal parts, remote work is the overriding focus, and in-person engagement is relegated to a last resort or cannot-avoid scenario. This lopsided approach devalues face-to-face, clearly missing the mark when it comes to maximizing the potential of our people and partnerships.

Why is a balanced hybrid return vital to your business? Here’s why:

• Individual personal development depends on in-person interaction. The future leaders of this industry are today’s rank-and-file individual contributors. While meeting online all day, with barely a break (sorry, did I say that out loud?), it’s almost always on a specific topic and rarely leaves time for deep discussion. The hallway conversation, impromptu lunch and office “drive-by” have all become a thing of the past yet are critical to the development of high-potential employee careers. How many times have you had an ad hoc conversation that led you to think differently about a challenge, opportunity or go-forward strategy? If you value your people and consider them your best competitive advantage, as we do, then mentoring through true face-time — not FaceTime — needs to rise to the top.

• The action happens in stores and not at home. We have become “barn sour” — you’ll need to look it up if you don’t know what it means; I’ve done too much googling already today. Not making regular retail store visits to all classes of trade will make your knowledge base stale and very quickly outdated in today’s constantly evolving omnichannel environment. We did not do enough of this pre-pandemic and now it’s nearly nonexistent. Assessing how you show up in stores and how your competition is going to market is essential and rich with insights each and every time. Quite frankly, clicking around on websites from home gives you about 1/50th of what you need to know. Be a student of the products, pricing, promotions and placement — yes, the 4Ps. Add a 5th P, People. Fully understand the consumers and the employees at each retailer to know what impact you and your offerings are having on people’s lives. This is so critical in creating a path forward to drive business growth. But it cannot be done from a home office chair.

• This is and always will be a “people” business. This industry was built on deep and meaningful partnerships, both internal and external. The kind that, when successful, boosts everyone’s careers, and when failing, is profoundly damaging for both parties. This type of relationship is nurtured over time and ultimately builds a high level of trust. It cannot be fast-forwarded, and, in my experience, it cannot be achieved by virtual interaction alone. How can anyone be expected to drive next-level conversations without personal, in-person engagement, even breaking bread together during a meal?

Meeting live at NACDS was a significant first step in achieving the right mix in our new hybrid world. As long as it remains safe to do so, let’s continue to build those in-person connections and take care not to short-change the power of personal engagement.

Jason Reiser is president of Market Performance Group, a CPG/retail consultancy and managed sales services firm. More information about the company can be found on the MPG website: https://marketperformancegroup.com


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