New Rules Of Engagement For Hybrid Workplaces: With much of the world reopening, many organizations are now determining how they will usher a smooth return of employees to the office and wondering what changes will come along with them. Although we are going back to the office, the experience of returning to traditional office life after more than a year of remote work will be different for everyone and therefore requires a thoughtful approach.
As a leader, it’s important to have a close understanding of your employees’ concerns around transitioning back to “business-as-usual.” For some employees, that could mean returning to the office, continuing to work remotely or a combination of both. Many employees have made it clear they want to have some flexibility to work from home as we all look to define what today’s workforce looks like. This hybrid workforce model is becoming much more common and accepted as offices reopen in the wake of the pandemic.
More than 70% of worker respondents want flexible remote work options to continue post-pandemic, according to a 2021 report from Microsoft. Taking this one step further, a survey from May 2021 showed that 39% of 1,000 adults surveyed would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. Supporting employees who prefer to work from home, or a mix of home and office will be key for leaders looking to attract and retain a motivated and resilient workforce.
But it doesn’t stop there. Leaders of hybrid workforces should find the right balance between keeping employees in the office engaged and those at home who may have a harder time feeling connected and part of the team. Leaders would be wise to view this hybrid model as an opportunity to foster greater productivity, resilience and connection and understand that it will continue to evolve as both sets of employees acclimate to a new way of working together.
Curbing the fear of missing out when half the team is at home.
Keeping remote workers engaged is understandably a more challenging feat as new tactics will need to be developed and tested. Part of keeping remote workers feeling involved in “office life” is to continue to empathize with them and recognize that the line between their work life and personal life is still blurred. As a result of widespread remote work, 31% of respondents in the report from Microsoft are less likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed when their home life shows up at work. While one employee may be in the office for a conference call, another employee may be taking it from home with barking dogs in the background, and that must be seen as okay. This was commonplace during the pandemic and really helped in supporting employee success, therefore it’s crucial that it continues for remote employees.
Leaders should also continue to adopt video calls in a hybrid model to keep employees connected no matter their location. Seeing colleagues on camera was a silver lining during the pandemic and helped foster connectivity. Encouraging remote employees to use their cameras as often as they feel comfortable will be key. Further, employers should think about adding video conferencing to office conference rooms to make it easier for in-person employees to connect via video in a group setting.
Employee engagement programs can also help bridge the gap between home and office. At my organization, our program was created to bring employees from all over the world together in casual settings and help drive employee satisfaction. Before the pandemic, many activities occurred in person and were tailored to a singular office. When the workforce became remote, the events were transitioned to virtual settings and opened up to employees across offices and even countries. As we head back to the office, maintaining inclusive, virtual activities will be an important part of the engagement mix to ensure all employees have ample access to opportunities for connection.
Listen to employees, measure satisfaction and prepare to pivot.
As teams transition back to the office, keeping a pulse on employees’ engagement and the challenges or successes they’re facing will be instrumental in helping leaders gauge who is thriving in this environment, who isn’t — and why. While managers often have a sense of how their teams are faring, hearing feedback directly from employees can provide leadership with insights that may not have come to light otherwise and helps them feel like they’re contributing to the organization’s success.
At my organization, employee feedback has been part of our back-to-office process from the start as we took into consideration their positive feelings towards flexible work schedules, which led us to take a more organic approach to manage a hybrid workforce. We built a democratic process to ask employees for their preference on worksite and accommodated their choices as often as possible.
As the hybrid workforce takes form over the next couple of months, it will be important for leaders to continually measure employee satisfaction and success. I recommend using a combination of methods. Survey tools that are specific to the environment and current state of operation as well as ones that measure a standard set of metrics like employee engagement are a great way to get fast insights from a breadth of employees. Another fundamental activity I do and urge all leaders to do is regular coffee chats with smaller groups of employees to hear feedback directly from the source in a casual and safe space where voicing concerns is welcome. Be prepared to adapt your strategies and tactics based on how your employees are feeling.
There are likely bumps in the road ahead, but leaders shouldn’t be afraid to change course as employees adjust to new work settings. Open communication will be key to overcoming hurdles and surfacing new approaches to ensure a successful, sustainable hybrid workforce model.