When the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020, many employers were forced to quickly pivot to a remote working model (ready or not!). At the time, the driving priorities were to 1) keep workers safe and 2) keep workers as productive as possible from home. As employers are considering the future state of their business model, they have the luxury to be more thoughtful and strategic about reimagining and designing a hybrid working model where employees and the business can collectively thrive.
Why should employers consider a hybrid workforce model as a long-term strategy?
On the brink of the great resignation, with 55% or more of the US workforce expecting to search for a new job in the next year (Bankrate, August 2021), it’s more important than ever to focus on retaining employees.
A recent McKinsey survey reports that 52% of employees prefer a more flexible working model after the pandemic. The survey results further state that 30% of employees stated they are likely to switch jobs if their current employer does not offer a long-term hybrid option. (McKinsey & Company, April 2021).
The research is consistent and overwhelming – most employees want a hybrid work schedule post-pandemic. And the truth is, if you don’t offer it they will go to another company that does. To avoid significant talent implications, both in retaining your current workforce and attracting new talent, employers should seriously consider a long-term hybrid working model.
As a best practice, include employees in the design of your hybrid work model.
Involving employees in shaping your future workplace ensures all perspectives are considered, reveals employee needs and priorities, and will ultimately help gain buy-in for the final workforce model. Following an inclusive and collaborative approach will go a long way towards retaining employees. To accomplish this, consider discussing the following with employees:
- What worked and what didn’t work about our model before the pandemic?
- What worked and what didn’t work about our model during the pandemic?
- How do we want to work together going forward?
- What are best practices we can pull through in our future state?
- What are lesson learned that we can correct in our future state?
- In-Office Working Model: all employees work in the office 100% of the time
- Remote Working Model: all employees work from home 100% of the time
- Hybrid Working Model: employees work from the office and from home
When we consider the complexities of a hybrid model, it’s important to embrace a fluid working model that ensures work can be done equally as effective and productive in a remote location as it is can be when in an office location. In this concept, employees have flexibility to maximize both places to accomplish their work as desired.
Shifting to a hybrid work model means a natural shift in how coworkers interact, communicate, collaborate and connect. The methods used to be successful in these critical areas in an in-office environment are different than the methods used to be successful in a remote or hybrid environment.
Below are four (4) critical areas employers need to shift to make a hybrid workforce thrive.
1) Create purpose-driven in-office requirements
Instead of having arbitrary rules around the number of days employees are in the office, be intentional about why employees need to be in the office. Anchor the expectation to be in the office around value-add activities that maximize the time employees are in the office. For instance, research shows that activities best done in person are (McKinsey & Company):
- Cross-functional brainstorming and problem solving, particularly for complex problems requiring innovative solutions
- Making important decisions that have a high degree of ambiguity or uncertainty
- Forming new relationships or new teams
- Fostering informal connections
- Building community and a shared culture
- Learning complex skills
2) Design multi-method communication flows
How employees stay informed in a distributed work environment takes planning to be effective. Hybrid employers need to shift away from informal communication channels as a method to distribute information. An effective communication flow should intentionally support a hybrid workplace by taking different communication channels into account.
Start by evaluating your current communication flows. How do employees find out and share information today? Then determine what the communication flow and agreements should be to maximize your future state working model.
Start by establishing communication standards and setting clear expectations around responsiveness. This is key for communication flow to thrive. Decide what should be accomplished through different communication channels. For instance, consider using these communication channels as follows:
- For quick questions: IM or workplace social media (same day response)
- For complex/lengthy questions: email or a phone call (24 hours response time)
- For topics/questions that require decisions or time to review: reserve for email (48 hours response time)
- Anything complex or sensitive in nature: a meeting or conference call (within 72 hours)
3) Be intentional about creating connections
Building culture and connection for distributed teams requires an intentional, structured approach. This is a shift from informal connections that naturally take place when all employees are together in the office.
Consider your culture around building and maintaining connections before the pandemic. How did your organization, teams and individuals connect? How can you translate those into a hybrid working environment versus not doing them at all?
The absence of connection can leave employees feeling isolated and disconnected resulting in lower levels of performance and contribution. To complement in-person connection opportunities, consider these virtual suggestions to build more frequent and inclusive connections in your organization:
- Monday morning team huddles: A virtual coffee connection at the team level to share weekend adventures and align on critical priorities for the week
- Virtual happy hours: Schedule a monthly virtual happy hour that promotes casual connections. Keep the groups small (10 or less) either at team level or a cross-department mix of employees to promote new connections. Incent employees to participate by offering a gift card, prizes, beverage delivery/reimbursement, etc.
- Maximize online engagement: Many new online engagement tools have hit the market during the pandemic, all designed to help you stay connected with and engage your remote or hybrid workforce. A few that we like:
IMPORTANT TIP: Trying to create an employee connection event that blends in-person and remote employees together at the same time unintentionally leaves the remote employees feeling left out. It’s difficult to hear and participate when there is a group of people casually talking on the other end of the phone. As a best practice, build connection events that are exclusively in-person or exclusively virtual to maximize participation.
4) Maximize technology to create efficiencies in work
Technology is the anchor that ensures work can be performed equally as effective in a remote location and in the office. It is critical to establish technology-driven processes, digital automation and support mechanisms to ensure productivity is maintained.
Additionally, there is an important shift that needs to occur on where and how information is found. Hybrid employers can no longer rely on information being passed verbally between employees. Maximize technology to codify knowledge and house the information in a way that is quickly and easily accessible to all employees.
Start by assessing how technology can maximized to meet organizational or departmental objectives. Having the right technology will create efficiencies for employees to operate most effectively. For example:
- Store documents in a centralized place that is easily accessible to employees no matter where they are working
- Use collaborative tools, such as Google Docs, to drive virtual asynchronous collaboration and iteration
- Consider a knowledge base for frequently asked questions (FAQs) and “how-to” reference guides
In closing, employers can expect that the “workplace” will continuously evolve post-pandemic. Going back to “the way it used to be” may be a detriment to your competitive advantage. The time is ripe for reimagining your long-term workforce strategy and how you accomplish work in order to attract and retain the best talent while maintaining high performing and productive teams.