Workplace is going hybrid! Prior to the COVID19 pandemic, 76% of corporate companies were reported to work primarily in-office according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to one study, upwards of 82% of companies plan to utilize a hybrid strategy post-pandemic. While there are well documented concerns to diversity enablement, recruiting and retention of talent, and empty buildings on less desirable days, there hasn’t been recommendations around a people oriented approach to solutioning these problems. Most recommendations are around technology, tools, and motivation. But, what about the employee and manager actions, decisions, and responsibility in this widely changing way of working?
Let’s take a step back. The employees of hybrid companies are now going to be flexing in and out of new workplace environments constantly. This is stacked on top of the fact that we are seeing:
- that younger workers find productivity more challenging in a virtual environment. Which isn’t especially surprising as they haven’t had access to training and mentorship that comes with tenure and improves overall knowledge and performance.
- workers in general needed time to get used to the work from home reality. Employers reported an 8% increase in productivity from June 2020 to December 2020 and employees reported a 6% increase in the same time period.
- many workers have only ever known the societal norm of coming to an office prior to this forced Work from Home “WFH” time during COVID19.
We are about to throw them, largely unprepared, into another new way of working with hybrid. Different days and different priorities require different approaches for each individual worker. This will likely be a welcome shift from the “one size fits all” approach of everyone being forced into an office, but hybrid strategies aren’t yet focused on areas that will drive success. We need to see a resurgence of employee choice and support in those choices to prevent the failure of hybrid.
Based on the gaps I am seeing in hybrid strategies, I believe there are five areas companies need to focus on to drive hybrid success:
- Setting clear goals for success for each individual connected to a larger purpose
- Helping employees make constructive workplace decisions
- Training managers on distributed management
- Measuring the ROI of workplace and effectively pivoting based on learnings
- Reducing friction wherever possible
Setting Goals for Success for Each Individual
One of the most important elements to a successful business is alignment which is naturally more difficult in a hybrid (virtual and/or distributed) environment. Companies have experienced this through national and international growth for decades and with the shift to truly intentional distributed strategies (hybrid), it’s time to solve it.
The solve needs to include clear goals for the organization, department, team and individual as well as methodologies to hold people accountable to those goals. Goals are scientifically proven to promote success. The trick is to do this without losing ideas coming from all levels of the organization or bogging people down with rigid or overly structured goal processes. Each company needs to develop a system that works for their unique needs, a way to measure success, and an appetite to pivot should the results show challenges.
A few resources in goal setting:
- Objective and Key Results or “OKR” are used by many top corporations supplying an end to end goal setting process
- Key Performance Indicators or “KPI” are as well known as OKRs but focus more on the target or outcome
- Goals are more effective when written in S.M.A.R.T format
- There are many consultants that specialize in alignment and goal setting, so if you are really at a loss, the most efficient and therefore cheapest way is to find professionals to help.
Helping Employees Make Constructive Workplace Decisions
As outlined above, employees will be embarking on a completely new way to work in a hybrid model. It can’t be expected that they will find efficacy immediately or that they know the levers to pull to pursue efficacy in their chosen workplaces. Historically, they’ve had to fit into the office environment regardless of need, this ability to have choice is a new muscle.
We have an opportunity to promote more effective work for individuals but it truly is individualistic and changes on a daily basis (sometimes even more often). If/when the company allows employees to choose their work location and days we need to help those employees recognize where is best for them to work on the activities they have planned for the day as well as take a step back to assess the overall approach they are taking. One day may bring a need to align with cross-functional team members while another day requires heads down development of a presentation. One employee may prefer to do both of these activities from the office, while another prefers to do both at home. How do you help them reconcile the decisions?
Considerations should include (but are not limited to):
- Will the work of the day involve focused work or collaborative work? If both, what is most dominant?
- Would collaborators be available in the office? All in the same office?
- What type of technology is available to support the work that needs to be done?
- What type of space and environment the individual best perform focused work? Does the individual know examples of space types they can utilize and feel encouraged to experiment?
- Has the individual already built trust and personal connection with those they are collaborating with?
- Does the individual have any feeling of being “stuck” in solutions?
- Does the individual feel aligned with their manager?
- Does the individual feel they have ample career opportunity?
Each company will have a different way of promoting these considerations for individuals. Some will use worksheets to help bring light to available decisions, others will promote managers to lead discussions. Regardless of the methodology, remember, these considerations are not innate for employees.
Training Managers on Distributed Management
There are studies even prior to the pandemic showing that those who work virtually are less likely to get promoted. According to a 2019 study, it’s simple, office based workers are perceived to be working harder. But, that’s exactly it, perception. Empathy is often lost with virtual workers as the visual confirmation of hard work isn’t present. The key here is to change the rhetoric that being in office means you are working harder and replace it with something else tangible, especially when studies are showing people are often more productive in a WFH environment. A few ideas:
- Once clear goals are set, managers need to be trained to effectively hold accountability throughout the gamut of different working and performance styles. I recommend utilizing situational leadership as it is rooted in employee-manager relationships rather than physical presence. Regardless of leadership methodology if an employee isn’t meeting deliverables it is a performance issue, not a workplace issue.
- Regular check in’s. It always surprises me how many managers don’t regularly check in with their team. As a leader, you are restricting your own as well as your team’s success by not enabling touch points. If the team isn’t aligned it slows down their progress and, in turn, your progress as the team leader. At least weekly check-ins are needed especially in a virtual environment.
- Feedback. Feedback. Feedback. If your culture isn’t one that promotes feedback or isn’t training on how to give effective feedback, it’s time to grow the muscle! There is a much higher risk of employees and managers becoming disconnected in a virtual environment, so training managers on modeling feedback is imperative to promote psychological safety. Might even be smart to develop a company norm of the first 5–10min of every 1:1 being dedicated to feedback.
Measuring the ROI of workplace and effectively pivoting based on learnings
There will be lots of data coming out of the predominant focus on hybrid. Setting up tools and systems to look at that data objectively is imperative to identifying and solving issues as they arise. For example:
- Attrition data — Add “flexibility in work location” to off boarding surveys. This is a super direct way to see how workspace is impacting attrition.
- Correlating badge data with individual performance metrics — According to BBC, managers are naturally inclined to give higher performance rankings for those who are in-person. Seems like they need something to remind them of this unconscious bias. Try supplying onsite data to each manager in advance of submitting performance evaluations, if virtual workers are consistently evaluated lower they need to take a step back to look harder at the work and how they are holding accountability. Additionally, companies can look at onsite frequency as correlated to performance metrics after submitted to see if there is an overall differentiation of performance based on the amount of time worked off-site.
- Conference room usage — The technology doesn’t seem to exist yet that levels the experience for those together in a room and those joining that room virtually. We all know there is an advantage to in-person meetings, but how can we level the playing field to see if improvements are available? Try using sensors that tell you exactly how many people are in the room and correlating that with data of how many people are on video (this exists on the backend of zoom). When video participants log off, ask a question about their experience, you will have the data to know and then suggest more optimal situations.
- Engagement Survey — It’s very likely that your company has done some sort of surveying of employees. Look objectively at the questions and decipher where you want to see long term change, then make purposeful action plans for those areas. You will end up with a good pre- and post-change measurement to see if efforts moved the needle.
Reducing Friction Wherever Possible
Pay attention to the small stuff. A big flashy corporate office loses value for workers if parking is challenging. A bad desk chair may not have a negative impact if it is only being used for a day, but will have long term ramifications if it is utilized consistently. It seems like a lot to give a work from home stipend, but it almost always nets out less than the cost of full time real estate.
When thinking through your hybrid strategy, think about how every decision will affect people as humans, where friction can be reduced to allow efficiency whether in-office or virtual. The ultimate goal in work is achieving business objectives, so get the other stuff out of the way. Areas to consider include but are not limited to:
- Health and Safety
- Technology and Equipment
- Furniture and Ergonomics
- Child, Elder and Pet Care
While this is not a full analysis to solve the challenges that will be created in utilizing a hybrid strategy, these thoughts can start to evolve hybrid into something that can change our world of work for the better.
Sara Escobar is a Workplace Leader with over 12 years of experience working with major brands such as Hulu, Honey and Netflix as well as dozens of start up’s. She is deeply entrenched in the mission to make work more “human” as a leader, author and contributor to research studies, panels and publications. Connect with her about human dynamics, workplace or just being imperfectly human on LinkedIn.