This is Part 4 of our New Talent Challenges Series. In it, we examine the new issues companies have to face when hiring talent, especially in the context of pandemic-related consequences that are still disrupting every industry.
We’ve already said a lot about the future of work and what it means for both companies and employees. It all comes down to this: It’s a reality that remote work is here to stay, but it’s also true that many people on both sides of the equation still want to go back to the office. That means that hybrid work appears as the strongest candidate to become the work model for the upcoming future.
Hybrid work combines the best of both worlds by making people work part-time at home and part-time at the office. That way, employees can get some time as remote workers and enjoy all the benefits that come with working from home while companies won’t lose the possibility of working in-house with their teams. At first glance, it’s a win-win for everyone.
However, embracing hybrid work isn’t without its challenges. The most important one? Maintaining a sense of unity and belonging across the entire team. There might be people that perceive the reality of hybrid work differently than their colleagues. Some might believe that people working remotely enjoy more flexibility and comfort. Remote workers, in turn, can think that in-house workers are more in the loop about everything and have higher chances of promotions.
Naturally, that sentiment can hurt the unity that should reign in every team. If people in your team start to think that others are treated more favorably than them, your productivity can decrease as their sense of belonging plummets. What can you do to prevent that from happening? Ensure everyone is treated with equity. That’s a major challenge in itself, but something achievable if you follow these 7 practices.
1. Boost Trust in Your Leadership
The essential pillar to equity in the hybrid work model is trust. You should get your team to trust that you’re treating everyone equally to avoid envy and suspicion from arising. Doing that implies you’ll have to conduct yourself accordingly: Be transparent about your processes, be open about how work is going, visibilize what it means to work remotely and in-house, address any concern from your employees quickly and candidly, and stay in touch with everyone at all times.
2. Establish a Set of Guiding Principles
Every decision you make should be guided by a set of principles that everyone should be aware of. You can’t trust that people will automatically understand why you make the decisions you make, so it’s important to define what those principles are and lay them out in a way that everyone can see and access them. Those principles can be as comprehensive as you need them to be. Just be sure that they provide a proper framework for the hybrid work model: who can work remotely or in-house, perks, obligations, role expectations, and everything else that affects the model itself.
3. Make Yourself (and Other Leaders) Accessible
Given that hybrid teams won’t have physical proximity, you’ll need to make sure that you create a sense of proximity, especially with the leadership team. It’s easy for remote workers to feel disconnected from the reality of the office and even feel detached from the leaders who work there. Make sure that doesn’t happen by making yourself (and other executives) accessible to all workers. That means more than just an open-door policy—you need to make sure that everyone has the necessary channels to reach out to you with whatever needs they might have.
4. Define What Can Be Done Remotely and What Can’t
As the pandemic has proven, not all jobs need to be done in the office. That’s why you need to take a deep look at how you work to identify the work that needs to be on-site and what can be done remotely. Once you’ve defined that, make sure that you communicate it to your team. That way, everyone knows what to expect when the need to carry out certain tasks arises. For example, if you consider that brainstorming sessions are better in-house, make sure that your remote workers know, so they can expect to be called in to the office for them.
5. Foster Team Relationships
While it might be tempting to think of your team as composed of an in-house group and a remote group, the reality is that they should be all seen as one indivisible group. That can prove harder than it seems, mainly because the physical proximity with people working on-site makes it easier to connect and create relationships with them. That’s why you need to make sure that the people working in-house and those working remotely have opportunities to bond and connect over shared interests that go beyond work matters. Building teams with in-house and remote workers and putting them to work in projects can help, as having shared goals and spending time together can definitely build trust and personal attachment.
6. Address Team Issues and Bad Behaviors
Everyone in the company should be held accountable for their work and their behaviors. It doesn’t matter if they are working from home or going to the office—equal treatment of everyone implies that no one is above the guiding principles you’ve established. That’s why you need to quickly address any team issues that might emerge between team members working remotely and those in the office. Also, you shouldn’t tolerate certain behaviors that might lead to wrong perceptions, such as allowing more flexibility to remote teams or giving a certain kind of project to in-house people.
7. Experiment with the Model
Finally, it’s worth noting that there aren’t flawless approaches to managing hybrid teams. All the suggestions above are generally good advice for most companies, but the most important thing is to define whether they work for you. The only way you can find out is if you are willing to experiment with the model. Try following a set of principles and processes at first but remain open enough to make adjustments on the go. Additionally, make sure that all employees have a say on how you organize work. If the team can provide feedback and help you arrange how tasks are done, they’ll feel more comfortable and valued.
Building Equity Is a Full-Time Job
The hybrid model might be the best way of organizing work moving forward, as it contemplates the needs and wants of different people and of the companies themselves. However, there’s no formula written in stone as to how you can make that model succeed. That’s especially true when it comes to ensuring that your workers are all treated equally.
Because of the nature of the model itself, that’s a thorny subject you’ll have to deal with carefully, as people can quickly feel like others are being treated better than them. Embracing a transparent mindset, following a set of pre-established principles, and basing your team relationships in fairness are the only ways to overcome the challenges that come with creating an equal environment in a hybrid context.
What’s more, doing that will require a continuous effort on your part. This isn’t a once-and-done effort, mainly because work relationships are dynamic and perceptions change. So, you can use the suggestions I’ve made here to start your journey toward a more egalitarian work environment. Just remember to keep a vigilant eye on how that works and be prepared to make adjustments as you need them.