Hybrid Workplace: 8 Tips for Efficiency
In the spring of 2020, nearly every company across the U.S. was forced to reevaluate its technology capabilities as employees were sent home to work remotely due to COVID-19.
“A lot of companies found almost immediately that they needed to adopt new tools for their day-to-day communication," said Taryn Schawillie, a vice president with First American Equipment Finance, a City National Bank subsidiary. “We quickly learned how to use Zoom and Microsoft Teams features more effectively. These were platforms that we had access to before the pandemic but were not using to their fullest potential."
While the rush to adapt created glitches for many businesses in the early days of the pandemic, the latest shift — to a hybrid workforce with employees cycling in and out of the office — has its own challenges. Some companies will return to their former fulltime, on-site work models. But a study by Willis Towers Watson found that employers expect 37% of their employees to be working remotely at the end of 2021, compared to 11% prior to the pandemic. Many of those workers will split their time between their home and the office.
“Recruiters are often asked if there's an option for remote work," said Kamaria Rutland, founder of OTM Coaching Group, a consulting and corporate training firm. “If you want to attract and keep talent, you need to offer flexibility, including remote work."
While the details may look different for every company, a functional business with a hybrid workforce may need increased training for leaders to keep the corporate culture thriving.
Challenges for the Hybrid Workforce
Once it became clear that employees would need to work from home for more than a few weeks after the pandemic began, one of 2020's big challenges for employers was creating a seamless work experience for staff at home and in the office.
“The home office needs to be as good if not better than the main office, so companies needed to double their investment in laptops, workstations and other IT necessities for their employees," said Schawillie, whose company provides financing solutions for business equipment investments.
Internet access, and Wi-Fi connections that could handle large files and multiple family members on simultaneous video conferences, became another issue for many firms.
“Employees working at home needed the ability to access the IT department virtually, since they weren't able to address issues in person," said Schawillie.
Beyond the physical and technological constraints for managers and workers, the next challenge became how to create a virtual work culture, Rutland noted.
“Employees already know they want flexibility and balance for home and work life, so the onus was on managers to research effective ways to manage a remote work team," said Rutland. “Managers and business owners will have to continue to enhance their skills in order to meet the challenges of team building, coaching and performance management for a hybrid workforce."
Practical Tips for Managers and Employees
As workers gradually return to the office, even if it's part-time over the coming weeks and months, it's important to create a safe workplace, said Schawillie.
She encourages her clients to evaluate their real estate footprint and set it up to be flexible to allow for different configurations as safety protocols evolve and their workforce adapts.
A collaborative workforce with employees that includes those who are onsite and offsite may be strengthened by these techniques.
Open Communications on Remote Work Expectations
One way to ensure that all colleagues are on the same page is to have clear policies on remote work expectations so that everyone is on an even playing field. It's important employees feel they are contributing no matter where they are, said Schawillie.
Collaborative Calendar Syncing
While many companies are flexible on the hours their remote workers can work to allow for childcare or other activities, it's important for team members to collaboratively decide on the times of day when they can meet to work together, said Rutland. For example, a team can establish a two-hour window each day when everyone is working and can communicate quickly.
When hosting a meeting with a mix of in-person and virtual participants, it's important for the team leader to maintain balance among the participants rather than allow the people in the office to dominate, said Schawillie. Encouraging participants to have their camera on can help maintain visibility for everyone. In addition, she recommends having the remote participants speak first so they're engaged and to make everyone aware of their presence.
Virtual Office Hours
In-person office workers often stop by someone's desk for a quick brainstorming session, which can be invaluable, said Rutland. “You can create a virtual equivalent by sending a message to colleagues to ask if they have a second to chat," Rutland said. “Every organization should establish a method to reach out this way, whether it's to connect by chat, text, video or email."
Teambuilding can naturally occur when everyone is in the office to share a light moment or celebrate a success, but deepening relationships takes a more deliberate approach with a hybrid team, said Rutland. She recommends teambuilding activities such as virtual cooking lessons, scavenger hunts or bingo. “Shared experiences are extremely important, so even if you can't all volunteer together, you can participate at the same time and on the same day in something like a community clean-up or working at a local food bank," said Rutland. “Everyone can share photos after the community service event and talk about their experience in a video meeting."
Coaching and mentoring often happen organically in an office environment, but they need to be more intentional and more frequent with a hybrid workforce where people don't see each other regularly, said Rutland. She recommends scheduling informal one-on-one video meetings with cameras on to make sure people are engaged in their work and have an opportunity to ask questions. A monthly or bimonthly tech training for groups of employees can be helpful too, since many software programs have frequent updates that could smooth collaboration between employees, advised Rutland.
Managers and coworkers should embrace new ways to recognize the success of all colleague accomplishments even when people are not in the office to celebrate together, said Schawillie. Whether it's calling someone out for a win in a company-wide meeting, sending an email to the full company acknowledging a career milestone or applauding an employee during a virtual team meeting, it's important to be inclusive and spread the message that every employee is valuable wherever they work.
Systematic Approach to Measure Performance
Some supervisors rely on physical observations and time cards to determine whether employees' work is satisfactory, said Rutland, but a new approach is needed for a hybrid workforce. She suggests that managers create clear guidelines to set expectations and come up with a tangible way to measure productivity that fits the business. Watching the clock typically does not work when employees are remote and logging on early in the morning or late at night from home, she said.
Overcoming Pitfalls of a Hybrid Workforce
Rutland identified several vulnerabilities that managers and business owners may need to address.
“Employees want to be seen and heard, regardless of whether they're working from home or in the office," said Rutland. “Leaders need to be mindful to ask for contributions from everyone and to resist the urge to get consensus from just the employees in the office."
Most importantly, Rutland said, is to be transparent and to delegate projects throughout the entire team to demonstrate fairness and build trust. Recognizing the strength of each employee no matter where they physically work can improve their loyalty to the organization and to the company's bottom line.
“Some people know they're more productive in a meeting when they attend in person, so they'll go to the office for that," said Schawillie. “That same person may feel like they can concentrate more at home if they need to work on a project. The idea is to make the workplace adaptable enough to accommodate that flexibility."
Companies that remain nimble and embrace the technology that allows a hybrid workforce to thrive are more likely to successfully attract and retain the talent they need in this competitive job market.
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