27 September 2023

Getting the best out of hybrid working

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Dan Schawbel* believes the most successful organisations over the next few years will be those who anticipate and address the pros and cons of hybrid work.

Over the past few years we’ve witnessed a near constant state of change in the world of work.

It ranges from how and where people get their work done, to what they expect from their employers in terms of benefits and support.

One notable shift is that many organisations now recognise there’s no need for their employees to go back into an office full time.

Hybrid work models have become the way forward in nearly every industry that can accommodate remote working.

Like any new change in the workplace, there’s a significant learning curve associated with hybrid working and the model continues to evolve and improve.

Leaders are figuring out what works best for their business, employees are voicing their concerns and needs, and both groups are making compromises.

Here are a few suggestions, along with some new research, insights, and examples.

Redesign your office with new employee expectations in mind.

People don’t need to commute into an office just to sit at a desk all day.

The hybrid office should be much more focused on creating those serendipitous ‘water cooler’ moments that drive connections and a true sense of culture.

As Chief Executive of Airbnb, Brian Chesky recently said: “The office has to do something a home can’t do.

“People will still go to offices, but it’ll be for different purposes, for collaboration spaces.”

Many offices are setting the example by replacing cubicles and assigned desks with flexible spaces geared toward team gatherings and social interactions.

Don’t let office workdays turn into a free-for-all where people have to rush to find a workspace.

As organisations have downsized their real estate, some have neglected to think through how this will actually work.

Even if your organisation has a rotating schedule for when your staff go into the building, that doesn’t mean people will neatly sort themselves out.

I can’t emphasise enough how critical is it that employers give workers the tools they need to book workspaces in advance.

Focus on the employee groups that are more likely to feel excluded and face career repercussions.

It’s easy to think that everyone would prefer a hybrid work arrangement over full-time office work.

However, one study found that 40 per cent of university students and recent graduates prefer fully in-person work in order to get enough mentoring and networking opportunities.

A recent Fortune article highlighted that nearly 60 per cent of women in a hybrid arrangement say they’ve been excluded from important meetings.

Organisations need to pay special attention to these employee groups as they evaluate their hybrid model.

Don’t expect fairness issues to just ‘work themselves out’ or tell people to come into the office more often if they feel left out.

The value of face-time is very real, and employers and managers have to put actual measures in place to address this.

Expecting people to come in more often essentially punishes workers for making use of their hybrid arrangements.

Eventually, this might create a situation where everyone feels compelled to go in and the hybrid model ceases to exist.

Take a flexible approach and be open to evolving your policy.

Companies like Apple are already facing pushback for requiring people to be in the office on set days.

If there isn’t a business reason to do this, err on the side of offering more flexibility rather than less.

Giving people the ability to make their own scheduling decisions shows you trust them, and it lets them optimise their workweek in a way that truly improves their work-life balance.

It’s okay that you might not perfect your hybrid policy right away — the most successful hybrid companies are receptive to feedback and change.

Don’t mislead employees about your policy.

There are lots of examples of employees who were told they’d receive a certain amount of flexibility, only to discover they’d been misled.

It’s tempting to advertise hybrid work arrangements as a benefit you offer, but be careful about how you approach this or there could be significant repercussions on worker morale.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make any updates to your policy — things may change — but try to find the right balance.

If you have to pull back on some aspects of your hybrid policy, be as transparent as possible about why you’re making those decisions.

Invest in the right technologies.

I don’t just mean Zoom.

Hybrid workers do need standard tools that enable effective communication, document-sharing, and collaboration.

However, they can also benefit from technologies that support virtual social interactions, workspace booking, and unique types of collaboration (e.g., online whiteboards).

Don’t offer tools without integration capabilities, and don’t expect employees to get up-to-speed right away.

Best-in-class technologies designed to support hybrid working will always integrate with commonly-used services like Office 365 or Google Drive.

Don’t settle for anything less, or be prepared to deal with disgruntled workers who now have to juggle a standalone tool in an already complex technology ecosystem.

Another important tip is to build in a learning curve for any new tools you adopt.

Although I’m a strong advocate for hybrid working, I recognise that getting this right will involve some trial and error.

The organisations making the best progress are those that are paying close attention to the latest research and observing what other companies are doing right (or wrong).

*Dan Schawbel is a bestselling author and Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence, a research and advisory firm helping HR adapt to trends, drive performance and prepare for the future.

This article is part of his Workplace Intelligence Weekly series.

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