Developing a successful hybrid work environment has become a top-of-mind issue for many organizations that continue to navigate their way through a pandemic and post-pandemic world. While some companies have enacted a strict return-to-office policy, many have recognized the need and potential benefits of creating a hybrid work model.
A recent survey from Glassdoor discovered that 86% of respondents said they would prefer to continue working from home at least part-time after their offices have fully reopened. Many workers have become advocates for hybrid work structures because of the many benefits of working from home while also experiencing some of the potential pitfalls of isolation and lack of social contact.
Furthermore, Envoy and Wakefield Research discovered that nearly half of all employees would look for a new job if their employer doesn’t adopt a flexible working model. With how important this new way of working is becoming, we’re going to take a look at some of the guiding principles in how your organization can develop and execute plans to create a hybrid work environment that works best for your business.
Understand Employee Needs and Concerns
Before you venture down the path of changing your organization to meet the needs of your employees, make sure you first understand them well. Ask your employees what they want whether it’s informally or formally. Consider running anonymous surveys to gauge the needs and desires of your employees and their ideal working setups, both in and out of the office. Also, ask both your managers and employees what potential problems they can anticipate with a hybrid work setup. It’s best to look at all the potential pros and cons of this work model in order to best structure the new model in a way that can mitigate these problems from occurring.
Adjust Mindsets Across the Organization
One of the largest challenges to developing and running a hybrid working model is simply adjusting mindsets. The old way of thinking would heavily favour in-person attendance and treat in-office work as superior to that of remote work. The shift requires a switch to no longer treating the office as the central place where work is accomplished.
Outside of extremely specific and clearly communicated use cases, agreeing to allow for hybrid work demands that any preference toward on-site work and on-site employees is eliminated as much as possible. Part of this shift requires that your planning towards a successful hybrid workplace includes clear definitions of which specific work benefits from in-person collaboration and which doesn’t.
Companies that come to consider remote-first principles such as not worrying about where people work, but rather how they work, will undoubtedly come out ahead in a post-pandemic world.
Perhaps the most important part of any hybrid work plan involves the idea of being flexible. In part, this means rolling out your hybrid work environment gradually without forcing people into a situation they’re not comfortable with. That flexibility should also allow for a larger variety of communication methods, both synchronous and asynchronous. To support this adaptability, you’ll also need to ensure that your communication best practices are clear and available to both employees and contractors.
Flexibility with everyone in your organization requires that you aim to have a higher level of empathy for individual home and family situations. The end goal should be to provide the same quality of working experience, no matter where your employees happen to be physically situated on any given day.
Accommodating disabilities is a given, but inclusiveness in a hybrid work environment also encompasses a broader spectrum of considerations. Remote and in-person work must be treated as equally valid and equally valuable, especially by managers. This may require some re-training as managers have a clear and documented bias to rate in-office workers as higher performers by virtue of their physical presence alone.
Accommodating irregular work hours is also a hugely consequential step in moving your company towards allowing employees to set their schedules. Feeling empowered and performing their best work is often a result of working during specific parts of the day or night when bursts of high productivity are possible.
Another way to promote the lack of bias is to allow senior leaders to set an example by calling in from remote locations to important meetings. When executives work outside the office frequently, it will send the signal that as a valued employee, you don’t need to be on-site at all times to progress your career and that inclusivity and flexibility are not just talking points.
A hybrid work environment must also facilitate on-site and off-site professional development solutions to ensure that your workers are learning and growing in their positions no matter where they spend the majority of their working hours.
Create A Secure IT Infrastructure
Creating an IT infrastructure that is flexible enough and secure enough to meet the needs of your hybrid work team is a challenge. You will need to ensure that your IT infrastructure allows for easy provisioning of new users and management of their devices. You’ll also need security that prevents intrusions by way of external networks which provide new vectors of attack, as well as that doesn’t compromise the simplicity of work and productivity for employees and contractors.
Best-laid plans can still come undone or require adjustment. As your organization rolls out policies and technologies around the switch to hybrid work, there are bound to be obstacles. It’s important to recognize that this doesn’t mean you have to abandon your effort. Deliberate modifications in systems and policy will go a long way to hybrid work productivity gains. Additionally, don’t be afraid to put in new key performance indicators to help you evaluate the impacts of the new way of working. This should help you diagnose any issues and make adjustments as necessary.
A successful hybrid work environment relies on one central digital repository of truth and productivity. It’s a purpose-built digital space that all employees and contractors can use to come together to perform tasks and communicate, regardless of where they are physically working from. But that’s just part of the proper management of a hybrid work environment.
When it comes to promoting employee bonding and social interaction, it’s a good idea to consider setting a digital watercooler of sorts. This may be as simple as scheduled video coffee breaks or as involved as an ongoing Slack channel dedicated to socializing. But these efforts for a casual digital meeting space will only be successful if both remote and on-site workers engage in them, so you may need to urge your staff to participate in them at first. Just remember that most of us have had limited physical human interaction during COVID-19, so it’s important to think proactively about mental health as new work routines are established.
Another common question about how to transition to a hybrid work environment is how to manage the physical office space. Where will workers work if they don’t have a dedicated workstation? As you consider the type of interactions you’d like to reserve for in-office work, consider that you will likely want to design your office around the idea of collaborative meetings and working spaces. Of course, don’t forget that with the increased demands for video conference meetings, you’ll still need to design your office to give employees easy access to quiet and secure space.
Finally, when it comes to managing employees, ensure that your managers and leaders begin to shift their mindset to rewarding employees for efficiency and effectiveness rather than interactivity, along the way, providing them with the autonomy to determine how to achieve this.