“Couldn’t I just get one work-from-home day a week?”
Employees have been asking for a hybrid working environment for years, whether during promotion conversations or in hiring. When you’re sitting in traffic on your fifth commute of the week, who wouldn’t love the option of working a day or two from home?
Now, that long-awaited hybrid workforce is here. The pandemic forced companies to create and implement new policies for a remote workforce quickly. But as COVID-19 numbers come down, businesses are welcoming employees back into their offices. It’s also becoming apparent that things won’t be the same as before — and that’s a good thing.
In a hybrid working environment, certain employees work from the office while others do remote work. All employees have greater flexibility to come and go, depending on what is best for them based on their personal lives and job role, and they may rotate office work with other team members.
Some companies are hesitant to embrace the new hybrid working environment. They’re eager to return to “business as usual” and may cling to the idea that the best way to foster collaboration is via in-person meetings. These old-school leaders only adopted Zoom conference call technology to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic — they have no intention of making it a permanent feature in the office.
These companies are, unfortunately, ignoring both the evidence and the preferences of their people. Employees proved in 2020 that they could maintain equally high productivity levels while working from home. Businesses would be wise to reward this commitment with more freedom and hybrid optionality.
Structure First: The Hybrid Management Style
It’s not that a hybrid working environment is a “switch on, switch off” affair. As you design one for your organization, think about any structural issues you face that could be brought into an even sharper focus in a hybrid model. How can you proactively design your workplace based on your specific business model? How can you use that design to attract the best and brightest talent?
For example, think of the time wasted in superfluous meetings and emails. How can you structure a hybrid workforce to help manage these bottlenecks? Perhaps you can suggest that employees consider adding “NNTR” (no need to reply) to isolated FYI emails. Or maybe they could use your instant messaging system for quick questions to accommodate co-workers doing remote work.
This can be hard work for a company, but the rewards are worth it. Use these four proactive steps as you make your transition to a workforce of the future:
1. Make sure key performance indicators reflect digital roles.
As you review your talent management practices to include digital literacy and remote work competencies, make sure KPIs and performance goals match up. Your policies should not provide an unfair advantage to anyone — employees at the office or those at home. Those KPIs should make sense based on employees’ roles and access to resources.
2. Use your value proposition to promote a hybrid management style.
It’s always a good practice to regularly review your company’s value proposition — especially in times of transition. Consider how you can demonstrate the ways you meet employees’ needs in your value proposition. An excellent way to convey your new value prop is via team launches, which provide an opportunity for managers and team members to discuss how to work best with one another.
3. Make structural changes to support and track your transition.
As the saying goes, “What gets measured gets done.” Find ways to track and communicate your team’s progress in adopting a hybrid office structure. Create a “hybridity configuration” map, and make it detailed enough that there are no questions about how individual teams will function. For instance, you might call out things like “Paul works in the office full time,” “Camila is working remotely on Mondays,” and so forth.
4. Support HR in its new strategic role.
After HR departments around the world had to pivot their roles last year, they gained new credibility with leadership teams as a strategic partner in day-to-day management. Not only did HR recruit and manage talent, but they also created on-the-fly strategies and plans for remote work guidelines, mental health resources, and more.
As a result, many organizations are changing their HR and talent management practices to be more adaptive. These agile talent practices should include understanding how employees — including those working in HR — handle the new hybrid office. HR needs to plan for an expanded role in a hybrid company, and they’ll need leadership’s support.
Transitioning to a hybrid environment will not be seamless, but it’s worth the hard work. The post-pandemic work environment is iterative. While quick fixes and Band-Aids may have been enough to stop the bleeding last year, long-term efficacy means companies must be sustainable as well as scalable. Proactive measures are required to stay digital and outperform your peers in the age of the hybrid work environment.