At the beginning of the year, companies were faced with a choice – bring their teams back to the office, stay remote, or take the best parts of each and adopt a hybrid workplace.
New data from the Future Forum by Slack, a global study of knowledge workers, found that workers with little to no ability to set their own work hours are 2.6x as likely to look for a new job in the coming year, compared to those with schedule flexibility.
Unsurprisingly, many companies chose the hybrid route to maintain flexibility in the workplace, which is what employees have told us they want.
Those who decided to go with hybrid are now in the early stages of executing it – some approaches are working well, some less so. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
As with any fundamental shift in our culture, a reasonably steep learning curve will occur before we get everything about hybrid work right. What has emerged is a clear picture of the biggest challenges companies face during this transition.
The most common argument against remote work has consistently been that it’s hard to collaborate as effectively or productively at a distance. Despite all the innovations and successes in video conferencing, there are still some benefits of in-person collaboration that are simply hard to replicate in a remote setting.
With fewer shared experiences and less time in the office for casual conversations around the proverbial water cooler, it’s difficult for employees to build the deep relationships they had with colleagues in the past. In addition to looser social ties, the Financial Times suggests the phenomenon may also weaken attachment to employers more broadly as well.
In a new hybrid world, organizations are finding it important to reassess how they train, onboard, coach, and develop talent. In the long run, these processes may end up being more effective than ever before, but as with any rapid and substantial change, it’s a learning process.
Older models like shadowing and apprenticeships that are so dependent on being in the same room may be more difficult to deliver from a distance or with less frequent in-person time.
Newer employees are arguably the most vulnerable to shortened tenures, and much has been written about how hard it can be to acculturate in hybrid and remote organizational cultures.
Now that we’ve identified some of the core difficulties companies come up against with the hybrid work model, here are four ways forward-thinking companies can overcome them.
As companies moved to remote work – and now into hybrid work – it became apparent that what works for company A may not be the best fit for company B.
Some companies have found having specific in-office days for employees suits their needs. Others have various departments collaborating in person on alternate days. In contrast, some have looked to a self-service approach where collaboration options exist when and where workers choose.
A successful transition to hybrid work isn’t based on processes and policies alone. Enabling it also takes the right tools, physical spaces, and cultural norms – not to mention the right messaging.
As with any change management process, some will embrace it, and others will not. Companies will have to win employees’ trust and rally them behind proposed changes to drive adoption.
Successful transition to hybrid work in one organization can be a model for another, but mimicking another company’s policies wholesale won’t necessarily mean success. The best move is to adapt and tailor the right strategies to fit your business.
The right messaging starts with a stake in the ground. It’s time to stop sitting on the fence and take a stand. Are you a remote-first company, or is your business identity centered around an in-person headquarters?
That distinction can say a lot about your culture, how you approach the future of work, and create trust with current and future employees.
In some companies, remote workers will be the exception, while in others, they’re the rule. This distinction becomes all the more important when attracting and setting expectations for new talent. You want to ensure that your hybrid work model is connected to your company’s culture and that the language used to describe and implement it ties back to your core values.
These decisions are part of what creates a company’s identity. Still, it’s not just about defining what hybrid means for your team – it’s also about articulating why it makes sense for your organization.
For example, if your organization encourages employees to live full lives both at work and outside of it, a hybrid work schedule that provides opportunities to balance other commitments may be a great model to pursue.
It’s up to leadership and management to define the core values within an organization and embody them. Only then can workers and employers, no matter where they are located, make good decisions about whether they are a good fit for the company or not, which inevitably influences peoples’ enthusiasm, success, and future prospects with the organization.
Tapping someone in your organization – such as a Remote Work Czar, one of 2021’s most highly-sought management positions – to oversee and manage the remote elements of hybrid work is one way to drive hybrid success.
A current employee or employees can help fill this role to develop and communicate ways to enhance the employee experience within the hybrid work model.
Making a successful hybrid transition takes a concerted, intentional effort to train – and retrain – your workforce to operate within the new model. As with anything else, recognizing that it takes work and resourcing it effectively is the first step toward actively driving success. Demonstrating its importance through leadership engagement in the process is the second.
These workers – from C-suite executives overseeing the hybrid shift to the administrators making it happen – help the company culture adapt and improve overall cultural resilience at the same time.
The past few years have given companies a deeper awareness of the reality of remote work’s benefits and pitfalls. But the parts that do work bear keeping. As we pivot once again, it’s wise not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Change is a lot easier to accept when it’s incremental, not monumental.
After so much time working apart, attempting a 180-degree return to a fully-in-office workplace is tempting. And many companies are taking this approach. But the broader workforce – and talent market – have clearly signaled a hesitation to go back to how things were.
Many lessons learned from the shift to remote work remain relevant to this day and are worth maintaining.
Keep an open mind and open eyes. Identify the great ideas that work from around the organization fast and propagate them quickly to the rest of the organization so everyone can benefit from them.
There’s a reason Apple CEO Tim Cook called remote work “The mother of all experiments.”
Now that we’re returning to some version of a more structured workspace, adopting an experimental mindset will be a powerful key to success. Finding a happy medium that combines the best of remote and in-office work into a successful hybrid model will require many rounds of testing, learning, tweaking, and testing again. The work won’t likely ever end.
The four steps outlined above are designed to help establish that experimental mindset and the flexibility that will be needed to navigate these unchartered waters ahead. They’re also aimed to help create a partnership between employees and employers so they can learn and deploy together what works best for their company’s continued success.
By doing that well, companies can unlock one of the great test benefits expected of the hybrid approach: the ability to attract and retain great talent.
By giving people the flexibility they need along with enough structure to drive productivity, proponents of the hybrid model tout its ability to elevate employee satisfaction, widen the pool of recruiting candidates, and enhance the diversity of thought and ideas.
While the final chapter has yet to be written, early signs are bullish as long as we keep improving with each step taken.