Remote work isn’t a passing fad, it’s here to stay. In fact, according to a SHRM study, 65 percent of workers want to continue working remotely post-pandemic, 31 percent want a hybrid model, and just four percent want to return to a traditional office environment. Our own survey fielded in mid-May shows that 68% of our own historically in-office employees wish to lean into remote working, so the stats are speaking the same language. Navigating this new norm with mastery is a goal for leadership teams across the globe, but to say many are tip toeing on unknown territory is an understatement.
For leaders to combat burnout and build productive hybrid work environments, reciprocal trust, empowerment, clearly set expectations, accountability, high flexibility, and a high-performance culture will be crucial. This will require open communication and firmly set expectations to engage workers, while promoting long-term growth and sustainability. Perhaps most importantly, it will require an intentional roadmap to avoid subconscious biases and unwritten rules, which can evolve into potential landmines amongst a culture created amid a more traditional landscape.
Here are four things leaders should keep in mind when cultivating an evolved culture within the new hybrid etiquette:
1. Establish a balance of trust and performance
For a variety of reasons, some employees are eager to return to a more neutral work setting that a company office affords (e.g., face-to-face interaction with coworkers, at-home obstacles). Others are much less receptive as they’ve enjoyed the flexibility of “managing their home” while deftly managing their workload. The workplace of tomorrow will rest on trust in a type of honor system. Instead of rigid policies, organizations should focus on individual style, accountability, and integrity. This model requires reciprocal trust between leaders, managers, and employees.
What we will see is a results-based model, which often comes more comfortably from leaders who foster a high-performance culture. In this arrangement, hiring practices and cultivating a culture of performance means trust and empowerment are granted to workers to perform well regardless of location. If leaders manifest this model, they’ll build autonomy, efficiency, and honor, and “the right” workers are likely to respond with high return and loyalty in spades while feeling more “whole.”
2. Eliminate opportunities for judgement
If organizations enable self-selected employees to remain remote and others choose to come into office at some capacity, there cannot be underlying resentment or judgement that certain employees are more dedicated than others simply because one resides in office and the other at home.
It’s important to create inclusive practices for all workers to feel involved in meetings, culture initiatives, and other events. Through inclusive practices, leaders can ensure connectedness to the company and amongst employees. These same effective hybrid workplace policies should make employees feel equally treated and valued, no matter what their ‘office’ looks like.
3. Practice what you preach
It’s important for leaders to model hybrid workplace behaviors and actions to align with their expectations for staff and lessen any notions of guilt. This could mean not being in the office five days a week, unwittingly putting pressure on others, continuing an always-on video policy, using flexibility to balance work and personal lives, and participating in after-hours bonding events.
4. Ensure connectedness and psychological wellbeing
According to Gartner report, “psychological safety” can be a pressing concern within hybrid models. In the context of remote and hybrid work, psychological safety is “… a shared belief among team members that they feel comfortable about taking interpersonal risks like admitting vulnerabilities and owning their mistakes — which influences workforce productivity, voluntary turnover and discretionary effort.” Leaders should take steps to manage the psychological wellbeing of staff, to ensure no employees feel left behind. This can be accomplished through several tactics including virtual coffee chats and regular check ins with staff. Open communication models improve performance and offer employees a chance to bond and release stress. Ignoring the signs of loneliness and dissatisfaction can lead to poor performance and retention issues.
Whether it’s in-office, remote, or a blend of the two, employees have higher satisfaction and increased productivity when they work in a way that suits their individuality and working style. When employees are happier and healthier, they can better meet the needs of customers with enthusiasm. For leaders to gain a high-ground advantage in the new hybrid workplace, it will require a strategic approach—a mix of air and ground war—to avoid potential landmines that can result in a fractured culture.