Many of us are in a flex situation as employees venture from their home offices back to the office, transition to staying home full time, or split the difference by working a few days in both. Business leaders must manage this hybrid work model to ensure that it works for all employees.
If you are one of these leaders, you are not alone. Companies worldwide are pondering hybridity and what they can do to make this model work effectively for all employees. The Boston Consulting Group surveyed several countries and found out a “majority of businesses in five countries are considering a flexible remote-work model because of successful use of video conferencing.” Software like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams have changed how we do meetings.
When work works for everyone
Sarah Grimstead, a regional VP for Insperity, describes work fairness as a leveled playing field, and offers questions leaders can ask to pave the way for a smoother transition to the hybrid model:
- Does each employee have access to the resources, tools, and support needed for success?
- How will you recognize the positive contributions of remote employees?
- Will in-person employees get preferential treatment?
- Will remote employees have the same access to leadership?
Consider your answers to these questions carefully and adjust your course of action to give everyone an equal shot at doing their best work.
Navigating hybrid hurdles
Right now, each of us might be experiencing trepidation about our present and future in the workplace. Maybe you feel there is more balance in this new normal, so you are hesitant about returning to the office. You could have concerns about the impacts of staying remote full-time on your career advancement. If you’re a leader, perhaps you’re unsure of the hurdles you’ll face when some of your team is at the office and, some are at home. Navigating these unknowns can produce anxiety in the most seasoned of us, but with every hurdle comes a solution. Aram Lulla, HR recruiting professional and general manager of the Lucus Group in Chicago defines some of these potential hurdles and offers solutions for leaders to consider:
Hurdle: Cultural Integration
Solution: Promote the connection between remote and in-person employees by hosting company social events, town halls, or philanthropy days. There are more ways to connect than just watercooler chats.
Hurdle: Evaluation and Assessment
Solution: Create assessments that do not rely primarily on proximity to peers or manager feedback. Think through the tools you have at your disposal. What could help you assess employees? What could you create to help you evaluate your team?
Hurdle: Balancing Choices
Solution: Evaluate which work is best suited for in the office versus remotely. Provide a blend of structure and choice for employees where they get to choose. You will have happier employees and better engagement.
Hurdle: Monitoring Advancement
Solution: Determine whether the hybrid model has created disparities in advancement, promotion, engagement, and belonging. Assess these items frequently and adjust your approach. Additionally, ensure that you actively solicit feedback from hybrid employees.
Also, take a closer look at how bias can influence the perception of remote and in-person employees. Bhushan Sethi, co-head of PwC’s People and Organizations practice says, “It’s a subconscious bias that can lead to managers or other decision-makers offering more or better opportunities to the people they see, rather than the employees on the phone or video…[which] could create an ‘us versus them’ culture between people who work in the office and those who are remote.”
Building an inclusive culture
Did you have a favorite blanket as a kid? Something you’d snuggle into when you were sick or when life was overwhelming. While we can’t wrap everyone in a safety blanket at work, we can nurture them with an inclusive company culture that helps everyone feel like they belong.
The proximity paradox
Creating and fostering a warm culture takes time and creativity, especially when your workforce spreads across the region, the nation, or the globe. Tracy Brower, Ph.D. sociologist, author, and principal with Steelcase Applied Research & Consulting Group says that “one of the most important determinants of relationship is proximity…this tends to build empathy and connectedness.”
But in a hybrid team, proximity is a big issue. Brower explains that her version of proximity is more about perception. Think about it. Many of us have amazing friendships with people we see once or twice a year, and it isn’t so much about physical proximity as it is about connectedness. The same is true for the hybrid work model. It is about creating real and perceived proximity for people in their workplace culture, which is critical to success.
Dr. Brower describes several tactics to help leaders nurture the perceived proximity to ensure everyone feels secure:
- Shared purpose: Intentionally articulate organizational purpose and how teams connect and intersect with that purpose.
- Fairness: Communicate the fair and equitable outcomes of work completed.
- Visibility and accessibility: Be present and easy to reach.
- Social capital: Encourage people to build networks and offer opportunities for them.
- Accountability: Remind individual employees and teams about the importance of their work.
- Conflict: Manage conflict in productive and constructive ways.
- Transparency: Be open in all communication.
- Place: Create places, both virtually, and in-person, where people want to be.
Think about these tactics and honestly rate your effectiveness in each area. What do you need to change? What areas are your strengths? The biggest homework assignment– think about how you can create and nurture company culture in a hybrid model, so everyone feels connected and productive.
Being a leader in this rapidly changing environment isn’t easy, especially while handling the challenges of leading a remote team. Successfully managing a hybrid team takes a unique skillset and a willingness to remain flexible and put your team's needs first, above your desire to be in proximity with them or your beliefs on in-person work. As you move forward, take some time to audit your team’s current strengths and weaknesses, and determine how to support their growth.
Have one on ones with your employees and establish shared expectations of communication, deadlines, and quality control to ensure everyone is on the same page. Providing your employees a safe space to share their concerns and ideas builds psychological safety and an environment where they can produce great work - regardless of whether they are sitting in their cubicle or at their kitchen table.