The shift to remote workplaces led to many thinking the old way of commuting in the office was over. However, that may be a bit of an overstatement. Instead, the future of our workplaces will be somewhere in between working remotely and in a shared office.
This "in-between" is what is now the hybrid workplace. This article will break down the benefits of hybrid workplaces and some tips for managers who are leading teams both in-person and remotely.
The predictions that our cities will empty and employees will be replaced by freelancers was a little extreme. It is more likely that a hybrid model will replace it. Studies cited by the Economist show that New Zealand and South Korea [countries that were more successful managing COVID earlier on] show a slightly higher percentage of people working remotely for at least one day a week.
Similarly, McKinsey found that "hybrid models of remote work are likely to persist in the wake of the pandemic, mostly for a highly educated, well-paid minority of the workforce."
These studies effectively calm the panicked notion that a massive exodus from office towers to home offices is underway.
Now that employees have grown accustomed to working from home, they would rather have the benefits of a hybrid model rather than choose one over the other. For example, Gartner conducted a study of service employees who traditionally do not get the opportunity to work from home. They found that 70% of service employees "wish to continue working from home in some regular capacity once the pandemic is over." In short, hybrid workplaces offer the best of both worlds, and employees want it.
The majority of employees who work from home are more productive. In addition, in November of 2020, when employees had spent several months getting used to WFH, they cited in a McKinsey study that their confidence in working remotely had increased. With the lack of a commute and [hopefully] more time to be in deep work and not in meetings, hybrid workplaces can get more done in less time.
Gallup's annual survey on employee engagement has shown the U.S. workforce has been lagging for some time. In contrast, remote employees are more engaged with their work despite the challenges that the pandemic caused.
Gallup's wellbeing survey revealed that although wellbeing took a hit because of the pandemic, "employee engagement maintained a better trajectory overall in 2020." So what we see is that for many, work may have been a much-needed distraction from the constant stream of bad news during 2020 and early 2021.
A study on what motivates remote employees explored in an HBR article found that the critical factor in motivating employees is giving them the choice of where they want to work. The flexibility offered by hybrid workplaces empowers employees.
One of the strongest arguments for transitioning your business to a hybrid workplace is that your access to talent expands dramatically. You are not locked into a specific city or region to look for talent, and convincing a potential employee to move is no longer a problem.
In a hybrid model, employees benefit from the pros of both remote and in-office work while mitigating the cons. It is the best of both worlds. However, as managers, the way you manage your teams will have to adapt. Here are six strategies for managing a hybrid team.
This may seem obvious, but working remotely can often lead to Zoom fatigue. Managers try to mitigate this by having fewer meetings, but the effect can be that all virtual meetings are task-oriented. This leads to a lack of casual conversations that help team members foster connections that show they are valued.
As a manager, resist the tendency to jump into work right away. Consider how much face-to-face contact they have had that day and start your calls with conversations about things that matter to them beyond the task at hand.
Remote employees require more autonomy in their work. Showing them that their manager trusts them to do great work is essential to their feelings of empowerment.
The Harvard Business School professor and leading expert in virtual and global work, Tsedal Neeley, suggests in a video discussing her book on managing remote teams how vital trust is. Acknowledging that you are trusting your team instead of monitoring them will positively affect their morale and engagement.
Going back to the problem of Zoom fatigue, the worst way to manage your hybrid team is to jam as many meetings as possible into a single day to make sure they are doing work. The CEO of Zoom even recommends in an article on CNN that teams should "implement a "no internal meetings day" to give yourself and your employees a break."
Instead, transition to asynchronous communication by creating an email or Slack thread where you share your initial thoughts and allow them to formulate their own ideas and share them with you after. In this way, you will have more meaningful conversations and without disrupting one another's schedules.
All teams need clear goals to work towards, or else they will quickly become disorganized. In a hybrid workplace, it is even more critical. Managers need clear key performance indicators [KPIs] to provide direction and focus for their teams. Goals also increase accountability and improve motivation. Adopt a goal-setting framework that clearly outlines the key objectives and plans to meet them.
Employee Resource Groups [ERGs] are voluntary groups that are employee-led and join together workers with similar interests, backgrounds, or demographics. Creating ERGs is an effective way to foster the relationship between employees that strengthen the team and organization.
Find an employee who is enthusiastic about building team culture and appointing them as the ERG leader. They will facilitate meetings with the group to discuss topics around working remotely effectively or participate in activities that build the team culture, like a virtual games night. In addition to building team culture, ERGs can help combat the many challenges of diversity and inclusion within the workplace.
Managers can distill down many of these strategies to simply supporting their teams in building meaningful connections that help them do their best work. As a manager, show your team members that you are invested in their growth and professional development by providing mentorship opportunities for each of them. Who in the organization would be a great person for each team member to connect with? What kind of guidance or advice could they benefit from?
Pairing employees with more senior leaders is a great way to help them feel valued and increase their engagement at work. There is a reason why the best organizations run mentoring programs within their organizations.
Remote work is beginning to evolve into hybrid work as more employees and top talent demands the flexibility of both in-office and remote work. Managers should not panic that their teams will be impossible to manage if they are both in-office and remote.
Instead, managers who foster meaningful connections between all team members and empower them by trusting them with responsibility will see their teams rise to the occasion and do their best work.