The world of work has undergone a colossal revolution. The “business as usual” mentality toward how we approach work is a thing of the past. Gartner research shows that 83% of employees today want to work in a hybrid environment – and four in ten workers indicate willingness to leave if forced back into the office full-time.
Organizations stand to gain a lot from embracing a hybrid structure, transforming the workplace, and hiring hybrid.
But managing a hybrid team isn’t as simple as letting your employees work from home or remotely some of the time. Leaders are realizing they need to rethink their approach to company culture, workplace design, and the employee experience.
The challenge, of course, is knowing how to undertake this reinvention successfully.
How can companies transcend geographical boundaries to create an engaging, inclusive culture? How do managers empower employees to be productive no matter where they are? And how can leaders, ultimately, reimagine the workplace so that their people thrive?
To answer these questions and more, we spoke with four business leaders who are making hybrid work – work.
Here’s what they had to say.
Managing a hybrid team poses many challenges. Namely, you might worry about social capital: the uplifting value that genuine, human connection brings to organizations in terms of collaboration and community.
In the traditional office environment, social capital often developed naturally. Interactions between people occurred unplanned and effortlessly: in the elevator, by the water cooler, over lunch, etc.
These conversations, while small in themselves, contributed to a larger picture. It’s how employees build trust and nurture a sense of camaraderie.
The hybrid work environment creates challenges in this paradigm. When people aren’t in the office, they don’t experience spontaneous, accidental interactions.
To foster social capital in your organization, you’ll need a strategy.
For Matt Goebel, Director of Acquisitions at Expansive, technology has become the lynchpin of hybrid and remote communications, empowering employees to feel connected no matter where they are.
“We use various channels of communication like text messages, phone calls, Slack and Zoom. These tools help our team to stay in touch, and also create opportunities for different styles of exchanges and interaction. In the office, you have different interactions based on whether you’re in a hallway or the boardroom. We wanted to embed this into our hybrid approach.”Matt Goebel, Director of Acquisitions at Expansive
Echoing this, Joe Marhamati, Co-Founder of Sunvoy, has found chat platforms invaluable for nurturing connections and building a sense of community.
“Slack has been a huge success for us.”Joe Marhamati, Co-Founder, Sunvoy
“Our team has really embraced the platform. It makes them feel close with each other whatever the physical distance.”
How organizations approach employee wellbeing and happiness needs to evolve for hybrid work. While many companies introduced flexible working policies during the pandemic, workers are saying they find hybrid more exhausting than 100% remote positions and more taxing than being in office full time.
The way forward?
Leading with empathy and intentionality. Managers need to put themselves in the shoes of their employees and draft workplace expectations that are fair, considerate, and adaptable.
“As leaders, it’s our job to remain understanding and flexible. This is how we create a culture of trust.”Adrian Davis, Co-Founder and managing member at Prime Partners Engineering
Not only does this approach improve employee wellbeing, but it can also boost the bottom line.
Gartner analysis shows that leaders with high levels of empathy have 3X the impact on their employees’ performance than those who display low levels.
A primary reason employees love hybrid work is the opportunity for more autonomy and self-direction. However, this ideal is often squandered by managers who hold the reins too tight.
Rather than feeling empowered and independent, micro-managed employees may end up feeling resentful. They’re more likely to become disengaged and may end up looking for roles elsewhere.
On the flip side, organizations with trust-based cultures are winning at hybrid work. Research shows that trusted employees are 76% more engaged, 50% more productive, and 40% less likely to experience burnout than those working in low-trust cultures.
But trust, in itself, isn’t enough. It needs to be balanced with accountability. Otherwise, your employees won’t know what’s expected of them.
The best managers set explicit expectations about working practices. These act as guard rails for employees, giving them a sense of direction and safety within which they can unleash their creativity and perform to their optimum.
“Solidifying a culture of trust and accountability was critical to managing the continuously changing work environment.Adrian Davis
“We put tangible protocols in place, like regular morning check-ins and manager/direct report touchpoints.
“Then we focused on the intangibles – and these were so important for our success. As a leadership team, we thought about how we can drive our company values forward. Accountability, teamwork, integrity, and the pursuit of excellence were our guiding principles through the hybrid transition.”
While some managers may find having less control an intimidating prospect, it’s undoubtedly a win-win.
“When you get it right, hybrid work empowers employees like never before. They appreciate being trusted and, in turn, feel motivated to demonstrate they can handle that freedom.”Matt Goebel
Many people find that they’re more productive when working from home – but this doesn’t mean the office is becoming obsolete.
In fact, the opposite is true.
More than half of employees say they miss in-person connections when working remotely. In a hybrid world, leaders have a fantastic opportunity to reimagine the role of the physical workspace as a hub for meaningful interactions.
For example, Chris Klare, Director of Capital at Expansive, schedules in-office team days for tasks that require collaboration and group creativity.
“We focus on making together time as valuable as possible, especially since it’s limited.Chris Klare, Director of Capital at Expansive
“Our strategy is to use office days to do things that are better in person, like one-on-one meetings, group discussions, and brainstorms.”
For Joe Marhamati and his team, in-person time has become a way to champion belonging and reinvigorate human connection:
“Forget making employees more productive; humans are social creatures who want to be together. We avoid coercing our employees into the office. It’s completely voluntary, but people come a lot.”Joe Marhamati
Sunvoy has adopted a flex workspace that enriches the employee experience, offering people a chance to connect, have fun, and feel part of something bigger than themselves.
His leadership team also hosts monthly events like go-karting, tubing, and crazy golf to build a sense of community and friendship amongst the team.
“Our hybrid model means employees can come into the office when they want to, but they don’t have to. There’s so much value in getting people together for its own sake. We found people came back to the office because we made it an attractive proposition – and we haven’t forced it.”Joe Marhamati
Successfully building a hybrid workplace requires an agile outlook. You need to be open-minded, willing to experiment, and view failure as a stepping stone toward success.
Not every initiative you implement will be perfect from the outset, and that’s ok. By cultivating a growth mindset, you’ll see challenges as opportunities and better ride the waves of disruption.
Of course, navigating change from a financial perspective can be risky. This is where intelligent choices and strategic thinking become vital. Joe Marhamati found Expansive’s flexible solutions perfect for his company’s needs.
“Expansive is flexible. It’s modular. It’s easy to access the technology you need, to add on to the space, or move to something smaller.”Joe Marhamati
This willingness to think quickly, adapt, and embrace the new approach has also helped Adrian Davis’s team to thrive during the move to hybrid work.
“The constant change has been tough at times, but it’s created opportunities to learn, develop these learnings and become better people leaders.”Adrian Davis
And this, ultimately, is the inspirational approach that enabled these four leaders to become high-performing hybrid organizations. Rather than returning to the old ways of working, they embraced innovation with courage, optimism, and an underlying commitment to creating companies where people want to work.
Whether investing in new, exciting collaboration tools or unlocking the potential of innovative workspace environments, they have navigated through disruption, rather than being disrupted.
For organizations that are yet to start their hybrid journey or are perhaps struggling to reap the rewards, it’s clear that it’s time for a cultural reinvention.
With the right mindset, tools, and physical spaces, leaders can turn hybrid work into a competitive differentiator that makes them stand out from the crowd.