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The nature of how we work has evolved to allow for more people to choose whether they want to work remotely, solely in the office, or a mix of both. This once gradual shift has accelerated swiftly since the Covid-19 pandemic, and the future of work has become the present. In JLL’s “Reimagining Human Experience” report, 72% of employees want to continue working from home regularly post-crisis, and a majority want to do so at least two days a week. In the same study, 74% of employees said they would like to have the ability to come to a dedicated office when they choose. While this newfound flexibility has been incredibly beneficial in many regards, it also comes with some challenges. Some of those challenges include:

  • Employees feeling isolated 
  • Misalignment between in-office employees and remote employees
  • More difficult to build and maintain company culture
  • Burnout for remote employees who feel there may be no work/life balance 

How can companies keep employees engaged and productive when far more employees are not working in one centralized location?

SCHEDULE REGULAR COLLABORATIVE MEETINGS 

Back when everyone was in office, most workplaces’ challenge was making sure everyone was on the same page. This has become even more difficult since the advent of more hybrid teams. With so many people working in different physical locations, it’s easy for employees to feel like they are working independently in silos. That is why it is more crucial in today’s modern workplace to regularly schedule collaborative meetings that align team members towards common goals. Companies should consider instituting team meetings that aren’t just about issuing directives, but foster collaboration. This starts with checking in on team members to see where they are with projects and to gain insight into what they may be struggling to finish. In this way, employees feel more comfortable asking for help from colleagues because they interact with them more regularly even when they aren’t physically near them. Additionally, this helps accomplish projects with greater velocity because everyone feels like part of a whole rather than an individual piece.

DEPLOY THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY

The entire advent of hybrid work has been made possible by leaps in technology that allow people to maximize their productivity even when not sitting in a centralized office. One of the keys to ensuring hybrid teams will be successful is to deploy the right mix of technology that can incorporate all types of working arrangements. Typical investments for hybrid companies include:

  • Virtual collaborative workspaces 
  • Project management software 
  • Company messaging platforms 
  • Virtual meeting programs
  • Virtual time clocks
  • Document sharing applications

Platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, and WebEx have closed the distance between people. They have created an interconnected work environment that can rival or even surpass the productivity in a traditional office environment. The key to incorporating any kind of technology in the workplace is to gain buy-in from employees and ensure they are adequately trained in whatever tools the organization puts in place.  In many cases, outsourcing technical support to ease this technological transition and help employees adopt new tools is beneficial and efficient.

MAINTAIN AND CREATE CULTURE

When people found themselves primarily in a physical office there were chance watercooler encounters, chats at the lunchroom or cafeteria, and probably some work banter before a meeting or in passing. These conversations lead to people feeling a level of closeness with their co-workers, which helps build culture. When people feel invested personally with one another, their effort increases because they don’t want to let anyone down. It also allows for constructive feedback to be accepted more readily, as you are more likely to feel open to it when it’s coming from someone with whom you have a personal connection. When people are scattered across locations, establishing culture is more challenging. Work can then feel purposeless and transactional – where employees may just see each other as gears in a machine. Over time, this feeling negatively affects retention.

 “Studies show that at least one-third of job seekers would pass up the perfect job if the corporate culture was a bad fit. In one survey, 72% of workers cited corporate culture as a factor influencing their decision to work at a given company. Even more staggering, on a Jobvite survey of jobseekers who had left a job within the first 90 days, 32% listed company culture as the reason.”- SelectOne 

What can companies do to enhance their culture amidst hybrid work?

  • Set aside a little time once a week for people to speak freely about their lives outside work 
  • Create opportunities to bring people together either through virtual happy hours or with in-person team events 
  • Show appreciation for employees regularly by praising them when appropriate for a job well done
  • Treat in-office employees and remote ones similarly as to avoid a bifurcated culture in your organization

TRUST EMPLOYEES TO ACHIEVE OBJECTIVES

As a result of these hybrid work arrangements, more trust is needed between management and employees to get the job done without micromanagement. In the past, it was easy for management to just pop into someone’s office or at their desk and check in with employees. This is not possible with hybrid work teams and requires giving employees more agency over their work. Since it’s not always possible to know where your remote workers are or what they’re up to, organizations will have to learn to trust that employees will deliver on their promises and finish their work on time. This means adopting a results-driven culture in which you are more concerned with the outcomes of their work than with how they arrive at those outcomes. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals that allow workers to understand their roles and expectations as it relates to projects and tasks. 

FOCUS ON BURNOUT AND MENTAL HEALTH

While hybrid work has offered employees the benefit of flexible work arrangements that may be more suited to their lifestyle, it has also blurred the line between work and home. This disappearing distinction might make workers feel like they are always on the clock and need to be as responsive as they would be if they were in the office. If you compound this with the feeling of isolation that remote workers might feel from not seeing their colleagues in person, you have a recipe for burnout that can be hard to reverse. In order to maintain workplace harmony, it’s imperative to deploy strategies to prevent this kind of drag on morale and productivity. 

Here are some steps an organization can take to relieve burnout:

  • Encourage vacations and paid time off
  • Checking in beyond just project status but about workload and satisfaction
  • Providing wellness programs like gym memberships, meditation classes, massages, etc.

These steps will go a long way to relieve stress and make employees feel cared for, thus creating more organizational buy-in.

CONCLUSION

Although hybrid team management differs from traditional management, many of the same ideas apply. Effective management has always required good communication; the only difference in hybrid teams is that communication becomes less frequent face to face. That means companies need to focus on enhancing collaboration, emphasizing culture, deploying technology that aids employees, building more trust, and focusing on mental health and burnout. Following up with team members to learn about their issues, optimizing processes and operations as needed, and leading with empathy and transparency gets the best out of hybrid teams.