When businesses transitioned to remote work at the start of the pandemic, their leaders and supervisors learned how to manage a virtual workforce. Now managers face another big upheaval: the rise of the hybrid workplace.
In the coming months, companies will reopen their office spaces and allow employees to return―with a few key differences. Many firms expect to adopt a hybrid approach, in which employees split their time between the company's facilities and their home office.
That's right. Just as you thought you had remote work all figured out, now there are a whole new set of challenges.
However, managers are the linchpin in this scenario and the way you approach the transition can make all the difference in the success (and happiness) of your team. There will be new routines to master; but as the group leader, you're in a unique position to set the tone. Think of it as a chance to reset routines and refresh processes and rules.
As you map your return-to-work plan, take advantage of some expert recommendations. These steps will help you and your team navigate a more complex, yet exciting work environment.
1. Design a Healthier Culture
As much as work itself can be rewarding, it also comes with a fair amount of stress. However, the hybrid approach offers managers a chance to reset the culture and reduce workplace pressures.
Remote work presents challenges because employees tend to work longer hours. But that can create health issues. The World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently raised concerns about how teleworking blurs the lines between home and work―and may impact health. According to a study the organization conducted before the pandemic, the risk of dying from stroke and heart disease is higher if you work more than 55 hours a week.
On the other hand, being in the office comes with its own challenges. In one survey, 61% of employees say workplace stress made them sick, while 7% said they'd been hospitalized as a result.
The hybrid approach could alleviate both problems. The return to the office offers an unprecedented opportunity to change the work culture. Blending time in the office with work at home, employees may benefit from a better balance, finding it easier to log off on remote days and finally getting that social connection on in-person days. In addition, managers can improve workplace culture by actively fostering positive connections and relationships with and among team members, further helping to reduce stress levels.
2. Take Steps to Eliminate "Proximity Bias"
Managers and employees are both at risk of falling into the same trap - relying on or trusting those we see most often. Experts call this "proximity bias": the unconscious tendency to favor those near you or whom you see most often.
To keep remote employees from feeling disconnected, employers will need to take steps to strengthen connections.
Experts recommend several hacks you can use to keep both remote and in-office workers equally engaged:
- Create and set expectations about how team members will communicate with each other. For instance, set guidelines for who should be invited to each meeting.
- Pay attention to how you spend your day and be sure you give all team members a fair shake.
- Set a basic rule that all meetings should be held on videoconference―whether employees are in the office or not.
- You're less likely to overlook remote workers (such as leaving them off meeting invitations) if you have clear communication policies in place.
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3. Ensure the Right Communications Tools are Available
Employees adapted easily to new communications tools at the start of the pandemic. But videoconferencing, web chat, and other collaboration tools will retain their importance in the hybrid environment.
In fact, some upgrades to the company's office space will be required to manage the needs of both types of workers. For instance, Deniz Caglar, principal, organization, and workforce strategy at PwC, believes businesses will need to improve the video and sound quality of conferencing technology, as well as provide the right resources for hoteling.
Keep in mind your remote working technology should enable employees to switch easily between the company's workspace and their in-home offices seamlessly.
4. Reconsider Productivity Measures
In the pre-pandemic world, managers often drew a direct line between an employee's time in the office and their productivity. One study estimates that U.S. productivity will rise by 5%, mostly due to savings in commuting time.
Still, how should managers evaluate individual performance in a hybrid world? Gallup research suggests the better approach is to manage productivity rather than measure it.
In conversations with 150 chief human resource officers, the firm identified several themes and pieces of wisdom, including:
- Inspire your team by focusing on your organization's mission and purpose.
- Support and care for your employees, and they'll go the extra mile for you.
- Communicate more, and when you do, be more transparent.
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5. Focus on Mentoring
Mentoring is another tool at your disposal. The value of coaching and cultivating employees through a structured program has long been extolled. In fact, 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs.
In the hybrid workplace, you can establish mentor relationships to cultivate employee development and retention, as well as elevate your team's well-being, cohesion, and productivity levels.
What's the best approach to mentoring employees both in the office space and at home? In Harvard Business Review, Marianna Tu and Michael Li of the nonprofit America Needs You (ANY), suggest a few tips to be a great mentor.
One strategy is to use open communication to build trust. Tu and Li recommend holding more one-to-one meetings and using the time to discuss both work and personal issues. As it becomes harder to separate work from personal life, creating an understanding of individual pressures can lead to collaborative solutions that help relieve stress.
The authors also suggest managers collaborate with employees in real-time on goals. It's more effective than simply sharing or telling an employee what needs to be done. In addition, using tools like screen-sharing will increase efficiency, effectiveness, and buy-in.
The new world of hybrid work may seem daunting and challenging at first, but managers have an incredible opportunity to build a better culture for their teams. These steps are a great way to start.