Create your long-term hybrid workplace strategy in 5 questions
It has become plainly obvious that we cannot just copy-paste our office life to our home life. Most organisations now realise they need a robust strategy as a foundation to lay their future-proof hybrid work model on. But how do you make sure you get it right for the long haul? The best thing to do is to ask the right questions - and answer them with your organisation's needs in mind. Here are 5 questions to help you get started!
#1 "Which approach to hybrid work is best for my organisation?"
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all hybrid work model. If you want your organisation to thrive on this next-gen way of working, it is important to take its history and culture into account. For example, if your company has a culture of rigid standards and documentation, then it makes sense spell out the rules and processes for hybrid work in detail.
But if your company has a more flexible approach, then a policy for hybrid work can be primarily context-driven. This is how a client of American research and consulting firm Gallup Inc ended up defining its remote work policy in just two words: "Work Appropriately". While that might seem vague, the employees understood it intuitively because it matched their experiences. That company's dress code? "Dress Appropriately". Flexible policies like these empower managers to have ongoing conversations about each employee's role, responsibilities, team, personality and life. So you see: successful hybrid work arrangements can take many forms!
#2 "How do I make important decisions remotely?"
At the height of the pandemic, remote work was not "business as usual" remote work. Managers had to discover how to manage remotely. Now that so many organisations have embraced hybrid work, it is important for them to be able to make crucial decisions remotely.
Since their approach heavily influences team performance and wellbeing, it makes sense to invest in training and developing your managers. Connecting communication, empathy and leadership are some of the cornerstones of good leadership. Well-equipped managers will then have the confidence and skills they need to help their staff navigate this once-in-a-generation transition. And this way, you will prevent bumps, pauses and false starts from ending up on the CEO's or HR Director's plate.
#3 "How do I get all staff members on board?
When crafting a hybrid work strategy, be sure to let the voice of your employees guide your approach. Otherwise, you run the risk of disengaging employees. While managers cannot expect to satisfy everyone 100%, you will appear out of touch with your people's needs if you do not understand and address common concerns and expectations.
Middle management has an important role to play in this area, as they serve as an essential bridge between high-level decisions and frontline execution. So work with your middle managers and run regular qualitative and quantitative pulse surveys. Use them as a resource to find out what's really going on inside the company. The right feedback channels will tell you what employees want, what they need and their greatest fears, and you can then use this information to design your policy. Another big change in the post-pandemic workplace is the need to justify the benefits of in-person work. This is what we call the "workplace value proposition".
How do you provide each and every employee with space for focused and productive work (for example, separate pods or designated quiet areas)? How do you make your workplace a welcoming place for group identity creation and relationship building (e.g. after-work drinks, stand-ups, etc.)? And how do you take people's mental, physical, and social wellbeing into account (e.g. walking meetings, on-site wellbeing initiatives)? In other words, employers should ensure their workplace offers a compelling draw for people instead of forcing employees to work in the office.
#4 "How can I use this as a cost-cutting opportunity?"
Much has already been written about the potential cost savings of hybrid work. Organisations with smaller offices - or no offices - can significantly reduce their fixed and variable costs.
But employers should perhaps consider shifting, rather than only decreasing, costs. An example: the run-of-the-mill office coffee pot. As a replacement, you might consider paying a barista to come on a few select days to treat people to a more exciting cappuccino or caffe latte. And what about all those desks: do you really need that many? Maybe you could replace some of them with acoustic pods? As a manager, this is a great opportunity to rethink and reallocate resources to better stoke collaboration and adapt to new needs.
#5 "How do I know if my strategy is working?"
With every transition, it is important to find out what works (and what doesn't), and to make adjustments where necessary. And information is power! Surveys can be a way to measure employee satisfaction and productivity, but these parameters can be difficult to gauge for some roles.
Employee engagement (combined with hard costs) can be an ideal measure, as it is highly correlated with a variety of business outcomes, including profitability, retention and performance.
The bottom line? Be sure to create a framework for defining success, and measure it. Otherwise, you won't know if your hybrid strategy is working a few months or years from now.