The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated what was already emerging as a trend: moving into a remote work landscape. A year and a half after the vast majority of businesses around the world shut their physical locations and went largely remote, we’re seeing the globe starting to reopen. Yet, the pandemic has made its mark.
Some businesses are continuing to work solely or mostly remotely. Others are starting the return to the workplace. But many are looking at a blend of the 2: the hybrid workplace. A number of huge companies, including Google, Apple, Salesforce, Ford Motor, Infosys, and Microsoft, are embracing this style of work. Is it the right one for your business?
What Is a Hybrid Workplace?
The hybrid workplace is simply a blend of in-person and remote work environments. There are several different models to create this type of environment. For example, in some cases, some employees work in the office on given days and alternate with other employees, who work from home on those days. Then, they switch.
Employees might be assigned a group, or they can decide for themselves. There might be a permanent schedule, with employee set A works in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays and employee set B works in the offices on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or the schedule could be flexible.
There could be an open office plan with flex desks, where employees are not glued to a given workstation, meaning the office itself requires less space. Ultimately, the precise configuration depends on the individual business’ needs.
If that sounds like something you want to adopt, you should know that doing so takes more than just making the decision. You should do the following things as well.
1. Account for the Factors Involved
As you develop a policy to accommodate and define the hybrid work environment, consider the wide range of factors involved. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the current layout? How can we adjust it to best meet the needs of each employee and the company as a whole?
- Where is each employee based? How do the different roles work together?
- What departments work closely together?
- Do employees all have the same schedules? If not, how do they overlap?
- Do we need to account for different time zones?
- What is the hierarchy like? How do managers oversee their teams?
2. Determine Which Employees Need to Be in the Same Physical Location at the Same Time
This may sound relatively simple, but it’s a critical consideration nonetheless: which people need to be physically present simultaneously in order to work together effectively? As you’re adjusting and moving your company to a hybrid model, think about the role of physical proximity and how much it matters. It may be possible that few employees actually need to be in the same room at the same time — that really depends on your business.
Consider, too, whether there are certain collaborative activities that have traditionally been done in person that could feasibly be conducted remotely. For example, perhaps employees can successfully brainstorm together from different locations.
3. Make Expectations Clear
It’s impossible to expect employees to adjust to new circumstances and ways of working without first articulating what the norms and circumstances are. Leaders must articulate their expectations for how a hybrid workplace will function, not only in terms of the schedule but also in terms of accountability, collaboration, communication, and other factors.
This is new for everyone, so be patient while employees adjust and get up to speed with these new expectations.
4. Get Employee Input
This isn’t a solo operation. Your team’s input will prove essential to making this new style of working effective. In order to better understand how your employees approach their jobs and what role the environment plays in this work model, just ask. Survey your employees on what their needs and wants are, remembering that happier employees are more productive workers.
5. Provide the Necessary Technology
In order to make the hybrid workplace a well-run operation, your employees need the tools to do their jobs, whether they’re at home or in the office. Work closely with your IT team to ensure that employees have the applications they need to be installed on their home devices in addition to the work ones. Additionally, you should make a list of company-wide software all employees should have, such as videoconferencing tools and security measures like a VPN.
6. Map It
In order to keep track of everything going on in your hybrid workplace, make sure you know who is working when and what activities are going on at a given time. Harvard Business Review recommends creating a map to address this issue. This visual picture will identify the employees who are in the workplace at a given time, as well as those who are working remotely.
This will allow you to track each individual and the activities they’re undertaking, which will go a long way in facilitating stronger communication and streamlining operations.
7. Train Your Employees
Just as you once onboarded employees when they initially joined the team, you also need to train them on this new working style and environment. This landscape is entirely different from what they’re used to. Even if they’ve been working remotely, they probably haven’t had experience in a hybrid setting, where the norms and expectations are distinct and separate from the emergency pandemic context.
Human resources and leadership should work together to develop a training program, tailored to employees’ individual roles and needs, in order to get everyone up to speed.
The hybrid workplace won’t be without its challenges, of course. After an exceptionally difficult, unprecedented period, it’s only natural that adjusting to a new way of working will be a complex process with hiccups and larger issues along the way. But transitioning into this new way of working could be the answer to many of the issues you faced in the past, too — so long as you approach it with an open mind and tempered expectations.