The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way we work, with office buildings around the world going dark as employers adopted new work-from-home policies to keep their teams safe.
Nearly three-quarters of organizations went almost entirely remote within the last year, according to ShareGate’s 2021 State of Microsoft 365 report, and 70% expect their workforce to continue working remotely through 2021. But whether it’s because they want to or need to, many employees are now headed back to the office — at least some of the time.
This hybrid working model is poised to become the norm, with high-performing organizations like Slack, Twitter, Microsoft, and HubSpot publicly leading the way. Companies that follow their lead stand to reap significant benefits, such as improved productivity and employee satisfaction.
Hybrid working means some of an organization’s employees work on-site some or all of the time, and remotely (from home or another location) some or all of the time.
But there’s no one hybrid approach that will work for every organization. A majority of executives surveyed by McKinsey expect that employees in roles that can be performed off-site will work in the office between 21% and 80% of the time — that’s a lot of wiggle room.
Among the executives surveyed in the McKinsey study, nine out of 10 say they plan to embrace a hybrid model post-pandemic. Those companies stand the best chance of attracting top talent.
A record 4 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs in April, and, according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their current job. With the cost of employee turnover so high, it’s incumbent upon employers to draw — and retain — skilled workers.
Embracing a hybrid working model is a good way to do that, with 70% of the employees surveyed by Microsoft wanting remote options to continue, while more than 65% said they crave “more in-person time with their teams.”
And employers are listening: 66% of decision makers in the Microsoft survey are thinking about redesigning their office space to accommodate hybrid work, and Google, Citigroup, and Prudential Financial have announced plans to implement a hybrid model this year.
Financial services firm TIAA announced in March that their new hybrid policy would take effect starting in 2022.
"We really feel like that's an opportunity for us to be a leader in this area," said TIAA's head of associate experience and employee relations, Andy Habenicht. "To really put a stake in the ground so our people know that we're committed and to give them a chance to start processing what it's like to work in a hybrid model."
Hybrid working is not without its challenges. For example, scheduling becomes more complicated, along with employee-manager meetings, and getting remote workers access to the same equipment as their in-house counterparts.
The bigger concerns, however, are centered on intangibles like establishing (and maintaining) a healthy company culture and ensuring equity (both real and perceived) between on-site and remote employees.
Some team members will see remote work — and the flexibility that comes with it — as the better deal, while others will consider on-site working an advantage for visibility and advancement. For many, the grass will appear greener on the opposite side.
“Hybrid work presents new challenges like making sure everyone feels included and engaged regardless of role or location,” Microsoft’s Executive Vice President Kurt DelBene wrote on the company blog. “It is important that we are intentional about creating space for inclusive conversations and define new ways of working together.”
If they can overcome the challenges presented by hybrid working, organizations can enjoy considerable benefits, including:
“As a company that’s dedicated to diversity, inclusion, and belonging, we’re actively working on diversifying our candidate community and believe remote work will be fundamental in that,” HubSpot’s Chief People Officer Katie Burke wrote in a blog post. “Creating more remote jobs in tech isn’t just a benefit to organizations, either. It can create more opportunities for people to build work around their lives, and not the other way around.” (HubSpot, incidentally, was ranked #4 on Glassdoor’s 2021 Employee Choice Awards.)
Getting hybrid right won’t happen without some trial and error, so communication and flexibility are imperative. Employers will likely experiment with the five different models of hybrid working to determine the best fit for their teams and company culture.
“Frequent and transparent communication with our employees has become more critical than ever, establishing a meaningful feedback loop that allows us all to learn and iterate,” said DelBene.
Here are some more tips for making hybrid work:
Engage your employees: Solicit the input and consider the needs of individual team members. For example, a veteran worker with a quiet home office might excel remotely, but a new hire with three roommates would benefit from spending time on-site.
Create connections: Give employees the opportunity to get to know their colleagues, wherever they are. Set aside time for “watercooler chats” so team members can get to know each other on a more personal level. (You can use a tool like Donut to facilitate these encounters.)
Encourage open communication: Create a culture of psychological safety and trust, where workers feel empowered to ask questions and voice concerns. Hold monthly AMAs (Ask Me Anything) where employees can submit questions for the leadership team — anonymously, if they choose.
Train team leaders: Managing a hybrid workforce requires a nuanced approach. Invest in training to avoid proximity bias (or even the appearance of it!) and ensure equitable treatment of on-site and remote employees. This starts with employee onboarding and continues until an employee's last day.
Check in regularly: Reevaluate your policy at set intervals (not just in response to an employee departure or other negative outcome). Interview your employees and leadership team to see what challenges they’re facing and explore possible solutions.
Take your time designing your hybrid working model, and be prepared to adapt. There will be bumps along the way, but devoting the research, thought, and effort required will minimize their impact.
Hybrid teams need to assign tasks, collaborate on projects, and share knowledge with their colleagues just as in-house teams do. Arming your employees with the right tools not only makes this possible but can streamline your processes to save time and increase productivity.
Organizations started adopting tools like Slack and Zoom to facilitate remote and hybrid work during the pandemic. Now they’re looking for ways to optimize their hybrid environments with tools that increase collaboration, productivity, and knowledge sharing.
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