As rumblings of a vaccine give us all hope that 2021 will be less of an upheaval than 2020 was, it also means that a new term has jumped to the forefront of your conversations: hybrid-working.
Hybrid-working, as the name suggests, is an operational structure that is a hybrid between employees working in a fixed communal office space, and remote workplaces. What’s right for your company will depend on a number of factors, but one thing is certain: if you are planning to have a hybrid-workforce in 2021, you need to plan ahead.
And for every HR director who feels like they just got off the rollercoaster of figuring out how to manage remote-work, don’t worry, the steps below can help.
5 steps to plan for hybrid-working
There are many pros and cons to hybrid-working (here are some you should consider) but the reality is that after 2020, like it or not, this will probably be a part of your culture moving forward.
Here are 5 proactive steps you can take now to prepare your business and employees for what’s to come:
1. Have a formal plan
While the idea of flexible working may make you fear a free-for-all mentality, it doesn’t have to. A formal policy is essential to outline the expectations, boundaries, and communication that will be a part of your hybrid-working structure. How you build this plan will also help shape and define a new stage in your company’s culture. No pressure, right?
Here are some topics you should discuss as a leadership team and clearly define in your hybrid-working policy:
- Who is eligible to participate?
- How will success and productivity be measured?
- Expectations around working hours.
- Response time parameters.
- Requirements for your physical home office environment, equipment, and security.
- Communication: what information do you require your employees to proactively provide? This could include things like their physical location.
The idea is that you need to set the rules and make sure that everyone knows what is expected of them – for managers and employees alike. If you slip into old ways of working and measurement, your plan will fall flat. By mapping out your policy and most importantly, sticking to what you say, you will not only create a manageable structure, but also inspire a culture of trust and security with your staff.
2. Level the playing field
This is a big one.
As you determine the logistics of your hybrid working split, you will also need to consider special circumstances that may make an employee disproportionally skewed to either remote or in-office work. Perhaps their job cannot be done remotely, or conversely, they are not able to return to the office due to an underlying condition.
In most companies, there will never be a perfect scenario where all employees have exactly the same number of days in-office vs. remote. It’s essential that no matter where your employees are working, they have the same tools and opportunities to succeed.
This could include a utility bill stipend or safety training for remote employees to level up their home office. Perhaps it means flexible working hours and defined time-blocks for meetings to help working parents better juggle childcare commitments. Figure out what unique circumstances impact your employees and experiment to find what works best to keep everyone on equal footing.
Clear expectations should also be defined for how success, career progression, and productivity are evaluated. Are you measuring output or hours? Are you unintentionally favouring facetime and slipping into old habits? Be honest about your metrics and clearly communicate them to your staff. Retaining your best talent could be in jeopardy if your system is skewed to favour one group over another.
3. Digital is the default
Another way that companies can ensure that all employees are operating in tandem is to make digital the default. For instance, even if some of the team are physically in the office, and some are working remotely, for joint meetings, digital is the default. If one employee can pop into her manager’s office, but another can’t, consider messaging tools so that everyone is communicating in the same way.
Plan ahead to make sure your company can do this seamlessly. Are you happy with the virtual meeting platforms you used during 2020? Are your physical office spaces set up to conduct virtual meetings that might be confidential or sensitive in nature? Do you have the right messaging tools in place so all employees are communicating through the same means?
4. Invest in leadership training
The success of your new culture will in many ways be driven from the top down. If your managers and senior leaders are reluctant to embrace this new way of working, your staff will feel that. If they are unaccustomed to managing a diverse team, it is likely that they will fall into old ways of leading and unintendedly reward one group over another. It is vital that your leaders have the tools and self-awareness to manage effectively under a hybrid-working structure. Leadership training, open honest dialogue, peer one-on-ones, and ongoing support is a good first step to achieving this.
5. Don’t stop caring
Even as the world (hopefully) starts to resemble something we recognize, and hybrid-working is old news, you still need to keep a pulse on your employees’ experience and engagement. The success of your program will only work if it continually evolves and reflects your company and staff’s changing needs.
In short: define the factors that impact your company’s culture and your staff’s success and forge a systematic plan to track these indicators.
Consider the factors that impact your employees’ overall satisfaction, engagement and productivity. Things like social connection, risk of burn out/overworking, sense of value or uncertainty, if managed properly can add up to a very happy staff, or if not, a sudden spike in turnover.
Similarly, if company goals shift, success criteria and internal metrics need to shift as well. Be proactive about how you are measuring success and make sure it is aligned with your employee’s individual motivators.
2020 was a whirlwind. And while the temptation is to assume 2021 will be smooth sailing once we have a vaccine, a great deal of planning will be necessary to make sure the ship does in fact find calm waters. The physical office will continue to be important, as will facetime and interpersonal office connections; but so will the flexibility and innovation of remote work. Marrying the two in a way that is defined, progressive and thoughtful will help your company thrive in a post-pandemic world.