Written by Alanna Harrington, Senior Research Consultant
As our response to the pandemic has transitioned from crisis mode to managing the status quo, a lot of organizations have adopted a hybrid work strategy. Despite its popularity, many organizations are struggling to implement this in an effective way. A survey on the future of work conducted by AT&T found that 72% of businesses lack a clear strategy when it comes to a hybrid workplace model.
One thing is clear – if you’re going to have a hybrid work schedule policy, it needs to work for the organization and its employees. A poorly designed approach could do more harm than good for an employer’s reputation – see the recent example of Apple, who came under fire for their rigid approach to hybrid working, which involved dictating that all employees attend the office on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday each week.
To avoid these pitfalls and make a hybrid workplace model work for your organization, check out our five tips below:
1. Don’t assume that one size fits all
While it’s true that hybrid work is currently the preference of most workers – a survey conducted by McKinsey in 2021 reports that 52% of workers would prefer a hybrid work arrangement – you can’t assume that everyone has the same preference. There is limited research to date that specifically focuses on hybrid work, but previous research on remote work indicates that individual differences in personality, family status, gender, and age may all play a role.
It may be necessary to specify certain days when the majority of a team should attend the office for collaboration. However, avoid the mistake Apple made by mandating days for the entire company – managers should instead consult with their employees on a team-by-team basis.
2. Set clear intentions for the in-office experience
For many workplaces, there appears to be a lack of consensus on what the office should be used for in a hybrid workplace model. Some show up expecting to have the time and space for focused work, only to be greeted by an office environment that is set up with collaboration in mind and a lack of available desk space. Others go in seeking the interaction they’ve been craving only to find that everyone else decided to stay home that day.
There is not a right or wrong answer to how you should utilize your office space – this will depend on the type of work and may vary for each team. But it is important to communicate clearly what you are trying to achieve with a hybrid arrangement versus fully remote. Perhaps you need to design your workspace to cater to a multitude of needs e.g. designating areas for focused work versus collaboration spaces.
Communicate clearly to workers what the benefits of coming into the office are, and make sure you deliver on those benefits.
3. Fairness and transparency are key
For many organizations, there will be some roles that are more suitable for hybrid working and some which make more sense to be office based. Ensure fairness and transparency in your process for determining who can have a hybrid work arrangement. This includes having clear criteria for determining suitability and equity across similar roles.
Research has established a link between organizational justice perceptions and turnover intentions (e.g. Moon, 2017). If employees perceive a lack of fairness in whether they are granted a hybrid work schedule or in how these decisions are made, they are more likely to want to leave the organization.
Also, be transparent with employees and candidates regarding future plans. Many workers have felt betrayed when organizations that were fully remote during the pandemic have suddenly called them back into the office for a minimum number of days a week, and candidates report feeling duped when they interview for a supposedly remote job only to find out it is only a temporary arrangement or just a vague ‘possibility of remote work.’
4. Create a cohesive cultural experience to reinforce employee engagement
Organizational cultures consist of values, shared practices, and underlying assumptions of an organization. Sustaining organizational culture is more difficult in hybrid and remote environments, as these elements are less visible to employees.
As we shift out of crisis mode, reevaluate your culture and your employee value proposition, and reemphasize this to employees. What is your organization’s purpose? What do you offer to employees that is unique and will make them want to stick around? What are your top priorities and values that set you apart?
It’s important to find ways to transmit your culture and values to all employees, regardless of work arrangement or location. When thinking about a culture change initiative, consider how to implement this across all work settings. For example, if you’re trying to drive a more innovative culture, don’t just create a brainstorming room in your office and call it a day. Find a solution that engages remote and hybrid workers as well.
5. Design an engaging L&D offering that goes beyond e-learning
Learning and development is a key priority for employees in 2022. A recent survey by TalentLMS found that 76% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training. The kneejerk reaction that most organizations had upon going remote for the first time in 2020 was to invest in e-learning or micro-learning. While this is a good first step, it doesn’t address all learning and development needs.
Most e-learning services will not include anything that targets sustained behavior change. Consider other options that can be accessed either remotely or in office – coaching and/or mentoring, collaborative learning, and solutions that leverage behavioral science such as nudging and habit change techniques.