Heading into 2021, many employees and leaders were under the impression they’d be back in the office by mid-year on a semifrequent basis. Now 2021 has come and gone, with headlines seemingly every day of delayed return-to-office plans and the overwhelming desire of U.S. workers to continue working remotely in some capacity, even post-pandemic. And, of course, the daily twists and turns of Covid-19 are telling us that we need flexibility and agility for the foreseeable future.
While some leaders might yearn for the days before the pandemic — when commutes were long and conference rooms were in short supply — it’s becoming increasingly clear that hybrid and remote work should be considered more permanent fixtures in the workplace rather than temporary solutions. And with this consideration comes different management strategies. Below are four “resolutions” leaders might consider incorporating to effectively manage hybrid teams and help workers feel valued, included and engaged in the new year.
1. Keep an open mind.
Today’s return-to-office plans do not so much signal a delay as they do a new reality of today’s work experience. While many truly love the energy that comes from being in person, and it does have an important spot in the workplace, your workforce likely includes many employees who value having the option of working virtually anywhere. Diverse generations, personalities and home situations can create a wide array of preferences that change over time.
It’s time to break away from the “old school” orthodoxy that gives credence to the notion that employees can only be productive under one roof and their manager’s watchful eye. Those companies that win today’s war for talent will likely be leaders in the hybrid and remote working space that understand how to bring together the best of both worlds.
2. Practice frequent, transparent communication with your team.
While the way we work might have changed, employees’ desires for feedback, support and mentorship certainly haven’t. And simply giving performance reviews on a semiannual or quarterly basis isn’t enough. If you ask, your teams will tell you what they need. Do they want more connection? Are they juggling complicated home commitments? Are they feeling isolated?
From larger group surveys to personal check-ins, leaders should keep a pulse on their teams to gauge their productivity and well-being. These check-ins should provide open forums for your employees to be candid and transparent about their workloads, along with wellness resources they may need if they’re struggling with symptoms of burnout or having difficulty coping with the stress of the current environment.
3. Be flexible, thoughtful and attentive to employee needs.
Whether employees are fully remote or on a hybrid schedule, what many workers really want at this time is flexibility and a company culture that fits their personal needs. Organizations that don’t emphasize flexibility — or that require their employees to work in person when it’s not necessary — will likely miss out on some amazing talent.
If possible, provide employees with flexible working hours so they can get personal and professional to-dos done in ways that suit them. With lines of communication open, your employees will also understand that this is a two-way street. There will be times where preferences cannot be accommodated, but fostering a feeling of support matters. Additionally, be intentional about evolving the “art of hybrid.” This is new to all of us; we are all learning together how to better engage with one another in different ways. The collaboration technology landscape is evolving quickly, and innovative capabilities emerge daily. This allows you to build muscle around how you gather your teams through both in-person and virtual means.
4. Focus on culture and the talent experience.
So many of us have spent the past two years surviving that we haven’t had much time to figure out how we thrive in this world. Different ways of working change norms and team dynamics, and it’s essential to reimagine what the workplace could be for your team members. How do you blend the old and the new? There’s a chance you’ve never met some of your team members in person, while others have been under your leadership for years now.
While some haven’t had those magical in-person bonding moments, keep in mind that you’ve likely bonded in other ways. We’ve all had a glimpse into one another’s daily lives. We’ve met one another’s families and pets as they pass by our screens. We’ve shared stories of joy and sadness through our common pandemic experiences. We’ve adjusted on the fly when school-age children were sent home to quarantine and meetings were interrupted by a family member. And we’ve collectively rolled our eyes over the phrase, “You’re on mute!” These experiences have shaped our workplace relationships, bringing an empathetic lens to home life that we didn’t necessarily appreciate when we only interacted in the office.
In 2022, leaders need to bring these worlds together and create a talent experience that genuinely has the best of both ways of working. Be intentional about what your culture will look like and define new norms as teams. Hold yourself to a stronger standard of inclusivity that makes everyone feel like part of the team.
Although we’ve made adjustments and progressively acclimated ourselves, it will take a concerted effort from leaders in 2022 to normalize, embrace and leverage remote and hybrid work models to bring in and retain top talent. Coming together in these moments that matter helps remind us that we are not facing the future alone.