As return-to-office dates get closer, many organizations are considering a combination of in-office and remote work, a.k.a. a hybrid work model, with employees flexing between working in the office and remote as they and their employer see fit. Studies show that a hybrid work model is increasingly being thought of as the future of work as it affords the benefits of both in-office and remote work environments and supports employees’ demands for more flexibility.
We’re experiencing this firsthand at CCI Consulting, and we recently shared our return to work learnings and how we plan to evolve our strategy based on the needs of our company, people, and clients moving forward.
There are many advantages to a hybrid work model, including:
- The best of both in-office and remote working environments for employees
- More effective use and utilization of spaces and workstations
- Saved workplace and facility costs through more efficient use of space
- Improved employee experience, which can influence and improve culture
- Access to (and attraction of) a broader talent pool when hiring or expanding
Ideally, hybrid work offers a perfect combination of convenience, safety in terms of exposure to coronavirus, and productivity. However, it also presents unique complexities, especially when it comes to maintaining engagement and productivity. Both remote and hybrid work arrangements wear away the organizational norms that culture and performance rely on, such as trust, cohesion, and shared experiences. They can also lead to the development of two disparate cultures: one in office, one virtual. Additionally, managers may feel challenged in supervising and engaging distributed teams.
With that in mind, here are some ways to maintain engagement and productivity in a hybrid work environment.
Maintain Communication and Visibility
Clear communication is the first step to making sure that a hybrid work model is successful. Every employee of the company, whether they work remotely or in the office, will need clarity around their roles and responsibilities and their working schedules (when they should be in the office or at home) to avoid confusion and conflict.
Miscommunication and inadequate communication are easy traps to fall into, especially when managing dispersed teams. Additionally, employees working remotely might miss out on critical conversations in the office. This can be avoided by scheduling daily or weekly meetings with teams, which enables team members to gain alignment on priorities and expectations, address any concerns, and celebrate achievements—not to mention it provides an opportunity for human connection and helps foster a sense of belonging, which is a key driver of engagement.
Visibility is also important. Managers should encourage their teams to share their work calendars to offer transparency and to minimize any sense of exclusion from remote workers.
Lead with Culture
One thing I’ve learned throughout my career at CCI is the power of organizational culture and its ability to boost engagement, productivity, and commitment while fostering collaboration, communication, and team work—which translates into a positive employee experience, optimal performance and, ultimately, a healthy bottom line.
Every company’s culture is unique, but often it is the reflection of the company’s core values. When the pandemic turned our world upside down, we relied on our company’s core values to help us navigate the uncertainty. By focusing on the essence of who we are, we remained engaged, aligned, and connected despite working miles apart.
Now, as we start to redefine our “new normal” and embrace a new hybrid working model, we continue to lean on our core values as we navigate the unique complexities of a hybrid setup and evolve our culture. Everyone is working toward the same goals, under the same shared values.
Focus on Trust and Expectations
Trust in the workplace is critical, especially in a working environment where all employees are not physically together. A recent study of nearly 4,000 employees and business leaders in 11 countries conducted by The Workforce Institute at UKG found that 55 percent of managers and employees trust people more in a physical environment than a virtual one.
One way to foster trust in a hybrid work environment is to incorporate openness and transparency into your culture. Being honest, vulnerable, giving frequent feedback, setting expectations, and keeping all employees informed and connected are all forms of transparency. Transparency also requires people to hold themselves accountable for the information they receive; focusing on transparency helps ensure both employee and employer expectations are appropriately set and fulfilled.
Another way to build trust and help set expectations in a hybrid work model is to clearly define what trust means for your organization and to ensure everyone is one the same page when it comes to that definition. For instance, does trust in your company mean that all employees will be available and working from 9a.m. to 5p.m. every day? Does trust mean that employees feel comfortable voicing concerns to HR or their manager without fear of judgment or rejection? Does trust mean that a project will be completed on time and with quality work output?
Support Inclusion and Mental Health
Every person’s experience in the past 15 months is unique, with different positive and negative aspects. It’s important for business leaders and HR to understand the effect of the shifts from working full-time in the office to fully remote to now hybrid is having on employees and their wellbeing.
Before you start to think of how your company culture will fit into your hybrid workplace or how you can establish trust, it’s important to understand how the pandemic has affected the mental health and wellbeing of your employees and what every employee needs to feel welcomed and supported by the company.
Social connection and integration are a few of the things that have been missing from our lives while working remotely, and they are undeniably two reasons why employees are looking forward to the return to the office. While some employees might be ready and excited to come back to the workplace, it’s important to include and acknowledge those who may be not feel comfortable returning or who may be dealing with additional stressors such as finding care for family members or children.
Mangers can help foster inclusion and support the mental health of their teams by checking in regularly, having weekly one-on-one meetings, and making it clear that they are available to provide space and support. Additionally, the planning, execution, and follow-up used for meetings all need to be reworked to include both in-office and remote employees.
Set Managers Up for Success
Leadership plays a critical role in the success of a hybrid work environment. While executive leadership helps set the tone, middle management helps engage employees with the company’s culture and execute strategic plans and new business strategies. When a decision like creating and managing a new way of working is made from the top, employees immediately look to their manager for the answers.
Support for managers has always been critical to driving culture. As you adopt a new hybrid workplace model, managers will need extra focus, training, and support to navigate and champion this new way of working. This will require investing differently in manager training, focusing on more foundational skills in delegation, personal resiliency, and leading in uncertainty.
Regularly Collect and Provide Feedback
Listening to your employees is the number one thing you can do to create and maintain a healthy, sustainable culture and it should be part of your hybrid working model.
Your employees know better than anyone which tools and strategies make them more productive, both in-office and remotely. Utilize pulse surveys to ask for feedback from your employees on what they need to complete their work and implement any changes as your business evolves.
Along with collecting feedback, providing feedback can go a long way in maintaining engagement and productivity in a hybrid work model. When face time is minimal, it can be easy for employees to feel as if their contributions go unnoticed. Calling out people’s work and celebrating achievements, no matter how small, will help keep them motivated and feel a sense that their work matters.
Invest in Technology
Technology has become more important than ever as we’ve shifted into the remote workspace. It helped us stay connected to colleagues and clients and transformed the way business gets done.
In order to maintain a productive and connected hybrid workforce, organizations will need to invest in the right mix of technology. What worked when everyone was remote might not be as effective when some employees are remote and others are in the office. For instance, in-office meetings need to include a virtual element, so key people can participate in the discussion regardless of physical location. Some upgrades to the office space that may need to be made include improving the video and sound quality of conferencing technology, putting in place technology that will enable office hoteling or “hot desking”, and adopting workforce collaboration software that can establish cohesiveness among team members no matter where they’re working.
A hybrid work model can be just as effective (if not more so) than having your employees in office fulltime. However, just like any transformation, the move from fully remote work to hybrid requires the right planning. Knowing how to boost productivity and engagement through regular feedback, access to the right tools, and a culture built on trust, communication and collaboration is essential.
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For further guidance on creating a post-pandemic workplace culture that thrives, download our white paper which includes advice from our VP of Talent Development, Adena Johnston.
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