Every CEO — regardless of company size — is faced with the same quandary: Should we make the switch to a hybrid work style, ride out the storm adopting a wait-and-watch approach or stick with what we have and know and hope things will get back to normal soon? I’ve spent a lot of time engaging with clients in the U.S., Asia and Europe, as well as reading and researching this topic extensively. Guided by my own business experience, this is how I see the hybrid workplace ecosystem playing out, along with some recommendations.
Over the next 24 months, I think things will improve but may not go back to normal pre-pandemic times, and it’s futile waiting and hoping that things will work out. As the economic recovery gathers speed, my belief is hybrid work models are here to stay and my advice is to prepare for this reality. There are many factors to consider, but here are a few key considerations:
Compile a comprehensive status of your current employees. How many have moved out of range of the office? How many are reluctant to return to the office? How many want to work remotely? A detailed analysis will help you make the right decisions. Remember, the biggest impact is being felt by your employees, and the engagement part is critically important, especially for younger teams and new hires. This needs careful planning. If they don’t understand and buy into the company culture, they’re primed to be poached by another company. You need to approach engagement in a virtual and physical sense.
Schedule your employees’ return on certain days and plan for engagement activities. Keep your finger on the pulse by regularly interacting with teams, finding out what the pain points are and what makes them feel productive, empowered and connected in their day-to-day work. Keep listening, motivating and reflecting. Interestingly, it may be the increase in worker productivity that’s helping to fuel the acceptance of hybrid schedules.
Leverage this time to hire from any location and bring in the best talent. The talent war has only just begun. Unfortunately, the results of a recent survey show that “92% of employers do not have a system in place for determining compensation for employees who work remotely only part of the time.” Yes, it’s your call, but make this a priority. There are no rules but the trend is fast heading in this direction, and companies that don’t embrace the hybrid model could experience significant retention, engagement and talent acquisition challenges.
Look at the full real estate portfolio and realign your workplace locations. They need to be a mix of fixed and flexible spaces that enhance the experience of the work you do. Employees should be able to go into offices close to where they live and have visibility in the workplace. Who’s coming in? When does my manager want me to be there? What’s happening at the workplace? What processes are in place? Do I have a fixed desk, or can I pick and choose a place for the day, week or month? Make it a frictionless experience for employees and they’ll adopt and embrace the hybrid model more readily. By prioritizing workforce experiences, companies will benefit from the productivity gains that flow from a more included, empowered and engaged workforce.
Be clear on what you expect and document it. Here, a hybrid working playbook is important. This will address key guidelines and help managers and their teams be clear on what’s required. It’s a challenge when a manager goes back to work in the office and the team doesn’t know how to react: Should they also go? Is it ok not to go? Will they be disadvantaged if they continue to work at home?
Provide the right tools for employees to make good choices on when to work remotely and when to go to an office. Keeping teams together and having them meet is critical for a collaborative culture to flourish and to maintain and enhance productivity and motivation levels. Encourage teams to plan ahead of time. Ad hoc hybrid has its challenges. What’s the point of heading back into the office if you’re the only one there and you’re still stuck in Zoom calls all day? You might as well not be in the office at all.
Measure everything. As this transformation is going to have profound business implications, measuring the progress and pace of change is critical. If you don’t have all the data available, you can easily make poor and costly decisions in key areas such as vaccination policies, salary decisions, overpaying for unused spaces, differentiating between remote and in-office employees for promotions and an uneven distribution of a hybrid workforce in different departments. The right data will point to the correlation between hybrid working and productivity and outcomes. This is key to the whole process of managing change effectively.
Being a leader means always being ready for change and then effectively managing it when it happens. The hybrid, work-from-anywhere workforce is here for the foreseeable future, and employees want employers to adapt and evolve quickly and intelligently. How you leverage this shift to a hybrid work model will be a defining moment for your business. Embrace it!
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This article was written exclusively for Forbes Technology Council