As businesses navigate the post-covid return to work, many companies are considering a hybrid work model whereby employees divide their time between working in-office and from home. On paper, the hybrid model sounds ideal: 2020 taught us that much of our work can be accomplished while working from home, but we also learned that after a certain point, we crave the camaraderie of being in an office setting, so giving workers the opportunity to have their cake and eat it too sounds just about perfect. However, the reality is that this is a newer model of doing business and the likelihood of striking gold right out of the gate is slim. After all, even Henry Ford’s revolutionary factory line system is still to this day a work in progress.
With this in mind, we’ve pulled together a list of things to consider as you forget your hybrid work model:
One of the easiest ways to fail before you started is to not put someone in charge of drafting your hybrid work model. Giving employees the autonomy to determine when and if they need to be in the office may seem idyllic, but if members of a team can never be in the office at the same time, they might as well not come in at all. Instead, business leaders should take charge of the scheduling and let employees know when they will be required to be in the office and when they can appropriately work from home.
Keep it flexible
Now, as much as we’re advocating that you set the schedules, that doesn’t mean that you have to be rigid! 2020 taught us that flexibility is key to employee engagement and satisfaction, so keep this momentum going as you plan your hybrid model. Rather than mandating that your whole office work a traditional 9-5 day, consider instead carving out time for collaboration – be it in person or via Zoom – between various team members and departments on specific days during the week. In this way, employees can still entertain a more flexible work schedule without compromising opportunities to work with their peers.
Level the playing field
Where possible, you want to bring teams in on the same days, around the same times, to maximize collaboration. But what if it is a cross-department meeting? Or the logistics mean that only a few folks can attend in-person while the others are stuck listening in from their home computers? Level the playing field by having all meeting participants communicate via computer. This way, the folks physically in the room will avoid the tendency to dominate the meeting and those from home will be able to be a broader part of the conversation.
At this point, grade schoolers are just as adept at navigating a Zoom meeting as the pros in Silicon Valley who developed the platform! However, mastering the various ways in which we can remotely connect does not necessarily protect you from feeling burned out and sometimes using multiple platforms can make it even worse! As such, HR pros recommend that you streamline the technology that you use. Find a virtual meeting platform that gives users the opportunity to interface with multiple visual tools, share screens, virtually “raise hands” to ask questions, or even sort themselves into smaller breakout rooms for more in-depth debates. Similarly, you will want to find a more general IT system or platform that best promotes information sharing and collaboration and that allows members of a team to keep tabs on contributions from others and provide feedback as needed.
Check your connections
When we all went our separate ways and sheltered in place, collaboration took a huge hit! Of course, we have now identified a number of work arounds to foster group work, but it hasn’t done much to help foster relationships. As you draft your hybrid work model, make sure that you are building in social time, be it in the form of some casual catch up time before meetings, a virtual happy hour, team meal events, or even a good ol’ fashioned company picnic. In letting employees know that you care about their social connections, you can help boost morale and improve employee satisfaction.
One of the hardest parts about a hybrid model is figuring out what can be accomplished online and what is better suited to an in-person discussion. One of the particular sticking points in this argument surrounds the notion of providing feedback, particularly if it is negative. You see, when you read something over email, it’s easy to misassign tone or even misinterpret the meaning, particularly if emotions are high. Similarly, praise can be cast aside if it happens days or even weeks after the good deed or is delivered in a way that isn’t meaningful to the employee. Where possible, make sure that feedback is delivered when employees are physically in the office so that tone and intent can be accurately portrayed and there is time to ask questions and clarify next steps.
Give yourself some grace
Let employees know up front that this is a new model that you are piloting and that you expect fumbles along the way. Plan to check in with employees regularly to learn about their experiences under the hybrid model and solicit feedback on what is working and where they feel things are falling short. Incorporate this feedback, where appropriate, then continue to check in and rebuild and reframe your process until it works best for your workers and your business. Setting the expectation that you are open to change will go a long way towards not only getting them on board with the new model, but also making them feel that their opinions are valued.