Like it or not, hybrid work is here to stay. More than three years after the pandemic, flexibility remains top of mind for today’s professionals and, for the great majority of job seekers, remote work options aren’t simply a nice-to-have, they’re a necessity.
What does this mean for businesses? It’s time to start taking the hybrid work model seriously, rethinking outdated processes and deciding how to move forward – while balancing both the business’s needs with those of its employees.
Let’s start from the top: what do we mean by ‘hybrid work model’?
Basically, hybrid work is a sort of compromise between in-office time and days spent working from home. When done properly, this flexible approach offers the best of both worlds to employees, managers and the organization itself.
What do employees like about it?
Well, the flexibility and improved work-life balance, of course, is a big selling point – team members appreciate the ability to choose when, where and how they work, without the burden of having to commute into the office five days a week.
Many fans of the hybrid set up say it allows them to be more productive and to better manage their time, opting to use in-office days for meetings and collaborative projects, and dedicating WFH days to more focused, individual tasks.
Okay, so employees love the hybrid model – but what do employers think?
Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from a hybrid environment; employers who’ve embraced this work model note that it’s more economical, reducing their annual spend on office space and that they’ve seen improved employee engagement, productivity and overall satisfaction as a result – but that’s not all!
Organizations allowing their team more flexible scheduling can expect to have greater success in both their recruitment and retention efforts.
Sounds pretty good, right? Employers are into it, employees are big fans – seems like a win-win to us! Now that you’ve decided to implement a hybrid work model at your company you’re probably wondering, well, how on earth to go about doing that.
Let’s go through some of the most important things to think about in order to make hybrid work work for your employees and your business.
Set your team up for success
Make it easy for your team to do what needs to be done. Seems pretty straight forward, right? This one tends to be one of those ‘easier said than done’ situations.
The long and short of it is this: no matter where an employee’s situated, in the office or on their living room couch, they should be able to do their job (more or less) seamlessly, without encountering any roadblocks that’ll waste both their time and yours.
The biggest thing to consider here is your technology – your employees who are working off-site should have access to the same tools, training, programs and software as those spending their day in the office.
In order to ensure productivity stays high and communication remains on point, make sure you’ve reviewed company processes and invested in the appropriate tech upgrades necessary to give your remote team the ability to do what they do best, with as few obstacles as possible.
Ensure your leadership team is comfortable and confident managing remote employees
Let’s get this out there right out of the gates: managing IRL and managing remote is not the same thing – not by a long shot. If you were assuming all your current managers would just slide into a remote management role seamlessly, we’re sorry to break it to you but that might be wishful thinking.
In some cases, yes – it’ll be a smooth transition. Some of your leadership team will make the shift look easy, but others will need some guidance and support in learning the nuances of managing an off-site team – which often means focusing on elevated communication, the development of soft skills and education on the importance of giving constructive feedback.
Make a good case for the commute
You know how we mentioned “increased productivity” as one of the benefits of a hybrid work model? Well, that wasn’t just us blowing smoke. Employees who don’t have to make the commute into the office are actually working more hours than they did when they were on-site full time.
In addition to not having to stand in a torrential downpour waiting for the bus at seven o’clock in the morning, employees appreciate the respect an employer shows by not insisting them show up in the office just for the sake of, well, being in the office.
Many job duties, projects and, let’s face it, even meetings, can be done virtually. If you’re asking a team member to make an hour long commute (and spend the money on that hour long commute) just to join in on a meeting being held over Zoom, you’re not showing respect for that individual’s time – and, as we all know, “time is money”.
For days that employees are required to be in the office, be sure to make it worth their while – schedule important company meetings, team activities, brainstorms and other collaborative initiatives on these days, things that make more sense to do face-to-face.
Assess on a case-by-case (or team-by-team) basis
Wouldn’t it be nice if one hybrid work schedule was perfect for everybody? It’d make all this so much easier… you know there’s a ‘but’ coming, right? Don’t paint everybody at your company with the same brush.
Just like one employee might be great at research, another’s skilled at public speaking. One team might specialize in tech support, another might lead the company in sales. Consider this when deciding how many days it makes sense for a certain team or individual to be in the office, and how many days they’ll be given the okay to work from home.
Some things to consider:
- Is the work they’re doing independent or does it require collaboration?
- How much collaboration can be done virtually, and how much should be in person?
- Does the task they’re completing require high focus and concentration? Will they be more easily distracted in an office environment?
- Is there a specific reason to have this individual (or this team) in the office on this specific day? For example, an in-person check-in with their manager or a client meeting.
- Has this person displayed greater productivity working on their own or around others? (Note: for many introverts, working from home has been a dream come true, and they’ve really been able to thrive in this setting. In contrast, some extroverts need a few days a week in the office in order to feel energized and balanced.)
Communicate clearly (and constantly!)
In order for the hybrid work model to be a success, communication is everything. We repeat: IT. IS. EVERYTHING.
When you’re working in the office together, communication is important. When you’re working remotely, communication is absolutely essential. Leadership should endeavour to be as transparent as possible with the team, providing clear, consistent communication and encouraging their teams to be candid about their recent achievements, new projects they’re working on and any roadblocks they’re currently dealing with along the way.
And, on the flip side, it’s up to you to make sure your management team is actively creating an environment where your employees feel safe and comfortable, empowered to speak up and share their feedback and ideas. When possible, show you’ve taken your team’s feedback to heart by acknowledging it and putting these ideas into action.
The moral of the story? When in doubt, overcommunicate.
Build a strong foundation of trust and accountability
Trust and accountability go hand in hand with communication – they’re the second and third most important ingredients in this hybrid work recipe we’re whipping up.
Be sure you and your management team are setting clear expectations early on, explaining to your team what you expect from them and what they, in turn, can expect from you. The goal is to be actively creating an environment where your employees feel safe and comfortable – vocalize your trust in them and their abilities.
The last thing you want is to create a workplace where people feel overlooked, micromanaged or like they aren’t given the autonomy to complete their day-to-day tasks without interference.
In a perfect (hybrid) world, your team will be happy, engaged, supported and empowered to speak up and share feedback and ideas that will be acknowledged and, when possible, put into action.
Ensure everybody’s on a level playing field
Let’s say, hypothetically, that you’re someone who thinks everybody should be in their seat, at the office, five days a week. That’s okay! That’s your preference – but you can’t let your personal opinion on in-office vs. remote work influence the way you treat your team.
Opportunity for somebody to be promoted? Make sure your entire team knows about it. There should never be a time where someone who’s off-site feels like they missed out on something because of not being there in person.
Whether miles away or seated in the desk just next to you, every employee should be given the same opportunities and visibility. Once again, communication is essential here – invite idea-sharing, open communication and ensure all information is shared to each member of the team, not just those standing next to the water cooler.
Words are important, but actions speak louder
Put simply: don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Few things are worse for your company’s credibility than claiming you have a culture that doesn’t actually exist. Find ways to show that your values are more than just a bunch of nice words.
When you’re managing a distributed team, this is even more important, and, naturally, even more challenging. It’s going to be crucial that you’re intentional about highlighting examples of your culture in action, and that your leadership team is fully bought in on the value of remote work and actively modelling behaviour that reflects the company values.
Let’s go through a few examples:
What you say: Your organization understands the importance of a flexible schedule and promotes work-life balance
What you do: Make it clear that you don’t encourage your team to work later than necessary. Don’t expect employees to be available outside of work hours or checking their email 24/7. Reiterate the importance of taking vacation days, even if there’s nowhere to go
What you say: Your team is fun, close-knit and genuinely enjoys spending time together – whether it’s in-person or online
What you do: Take to social media and share photos of those infamous happy hours, trivia nights or soccer games, ask your staff to write short testimonials or Glassdoor reviews about their experience working with you
What you say: Your company is invested in the community, actively involved with local charitable organizations
What you do: Establish partnerships with charities and associations that align with your company’s values, and organize initiatives that make it easy for your team to get involved – no matter where they’re located
Keep mental health + workplace wellness top of mind
We’re all juggling a lot right now, and with so much on our plates (and on our minds), keeping the mental health and wellness of your employees top of mind is essential.
Not everyone has a designated office space at home, so understand some people may be working from their couch or kitchen table. Some people will be wrangling kids, or cats, or both – while also trying to keep a straight face on a Zoom call. Sometimes WiFi drops out, your upstairs neighbour’s got his music playing on full blast, your dishwasher’s flooded your kitchen or any number of other what-in-the-actual-heck moments that can happen in any given day – just be patient.
Encourage your employees to be open about any challenges they’re facing (obnoxious neighbours aside, burnout’s a big one), give them the flexibility to pop out to pick up their little one from school or get that long overdue check-up at the dentist. As you fine-tune your hybrid work model to work for your business, remember to be mindful that your team is doing their best to balance a work life and a home life, and dodging obstacles along the way – just like you!