Work-from-home initiatives became the norm in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world slowly emerges from the pandemic, organizations are grappling with whether working from home is the “new norm,” or if employees should be transitioning back into the office. Many organizations have decided somewhere in the middle is best, a hybrid work model. Hybrid work models can take different forms, but, generally, it is a model in which employees can create a work-from-home schedule while still having the option to go into the office when they want to connect with colleagues. If this sounds like it could work for your organization, read on for some issues to consider and questions to ask to get the ball rolling.
Balance Corporate Needs and Employee Wants
Recent PwC, a professional services firm, research found that 68% of executives think employees should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain company culture. However, over half of employees (55%) prefer to continue working remotely at least three days a week. A well-thought out and carefully constructed hybrid work model can help achieve a healthy balance satisfying both executives and employees.
Who and How Often
When constructing a hybrid work model, the first question to tackle is deciding who comes into the office and how often. Among the issues to consider is job-specific criteria and employees’ personal circumstances. Some employees need to physically be present to work an assembly line or provide healthcare services. Others, such as analysts or call center employees, can likely perform their jobs from anywhere. According to Brooke Weddle, a partner at the management consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., a good starting point for employers is to ask themselves the following questions:
- Why does a specific employee need to perform his or her work in the office?
- To what extent does an employee need to collaborate with others?
- To what extent does an employee need to rapidly exchange information?
- To what extent are specific employees innovating rather than performing more-transactional activities?
To address some personal aspects, employers should ask themselves:
- How is someone feeling about working from home versus in the office?
- Is that person feeling disconnected or overwhelmed?
- Is the employee clear about the organization’s strategy and his or her role and responsibilities?
From a teams’ perspective, should all team members be in the office on the same days for in-person meetings, strategizing and collaboration? Are there days when all team members can work from home? By answering these questions, company leadership can begin to zero in on what positions and specific employees and teams are best suited for a hybrid work model.
With some employees coming and others going, keeping employees engaged and connected may prove challenging with a hybrid work model. Managers must be thoughtful about creating and maintaining connections between those working in-house and at home. Protocols must be put in place to keep everyone in sync. Managers can start by asking themselves the following:
- How and when will team members regularly touch base to communicate and ensure cohesion? Is there a day of the week, time each month and period each quarter more conducive to meeting?
- Should all team meetings be online since remote employees may feel disconnected dialing into a meeting attended by others in person? Is it possible to make in-person meetings mandatory?
- Should there be an open discussion among team members about what a typical work day should look like, whether working in-house or at home? Having everyone participate in this visual exercise may take away some of the mystery surrounding what employees are doing when not seen by coworkers.
- Should every meeting start with shared personal news or other group activity that fosters mutual trust and a sense of belonging?
- Should every meeting end with a summary of what was discussed and how the team is contributing to the company’s vision?
Employers embracing a hybrid work model will also need to think about what technology solutions will work best for employees working in hybrid arrangements. Most companies have been dealing with this issue since the onset of the pandemic. However, as hybrid work arrangements become the norm, companies must continue to make technological improvements to ensure data is secure and collaboration tools are present so virtual work is productive. Employers should also reassess the amount of office space and equipment needed given fewer employees are in the office.
Perhaps the biggest unknown concerning the aftereffects of the pandemic and remote work is its effect on culture in the workplace. Studies have repeatedly shown a direct correlation between a strong corporate culture and increased revenue and sales and improved employee morale. Many are concerned corporate culture has taken a hard hit in the midst of the pandemic.
According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, two-thirds of employers are struggling to maintain employee morale, and more than one-third are facing challenges maintaining company culture. All is not lost, however, and there are ways to ensure corporate culture remains strong even for companies moving to a long-term hybrid work model. Next week’s blog will focus on ways in which culture can be sustained and even strengthened for company’s transitioning to a hybrid work model going forward.
Call the Smart HR Experts
With the COVID-19 vaccine becoming more readily available to the masses, 2021 workplaces should start to look very different from 2020 workplaces. Employers need to conduct a thorough analysis now to determine where they see their employees conducting work long-term. If they haven’t already, remote employees will wonder and ask if they should return to the office or continue working remotely. Employers must be ready with an answer. Smart HR can help you weigh the pros and cons of various working arrangements and plan a path forward. Call today.