After over a year of pandemic-induced remote work, businesses across the country are preparing for employees to return to in-person offices in some form. Spoiler alert: no one has this figured out quite yet, and getting it right will take a lot of trial and error.
A recent benchmarking survey of CFO|Circle members revealed that over 70% were planning on adopting a hybrid work model for 2021, with both in-person and remote teams. With key insight from VIPs Meghana Reddy, VP of People and Operations at Loom, and Rob Sadow, CEO and Co-Founder of Scoop, the CFO|Circle dug into the best practices for setting the policies and norms for successful hybrid work. Meghana and Rob’s perspectives stem from being leaders of and service providers for hybrid teams. Here are the takeaways from our conversation:
The Hybrid Work Journey
According to research from Scoop’s recently published e-book, the future of work is definitely hybrid, with 89% of US employees and 80% of US employers indicating their desire to work from home at least part of the time post-pandemic. While in-person activities in the workplace will continue to provide employees with opportunities to socialize and collaborate with their co-workers, a hybrid work environment provides the flexibility to incorporate remote work in ways that work for employees. In order to build a successful hybrid work model that meets the company’s unique needs, businesses must consider impacts on Health & Safety, Space & Logistics, and People.
Health & Safety
Considering it was the impact of a global pandemic that forced a transition to a remote work environment, ensuring the health and safety of employees is more important than ever. Successful hybrid work policies will give employees the confidence that they can come into the office safely. Communicating a clear plan of action in accordance with medical guidelines will significantly reduce employees’ anxiety about returning to the workplace. Ensuring that the employees who do return to the office are symptom-free should be the first priority of any reopening plan; for example, a company might require employees to provide some kind of confirmation of no symptoms prior to arriving at the office. The question of whether employers can require vaccination or vaccination status disclosure is a complicated one – it’s best to work with your own legal counsel to determine how best to handle within your organization.
Space & Logistics
Concerns about space and logistics present plenty of challenges when developing a hybrid work plan but allow companies to reimagine the office. Companies need to consider how their real estate and capacity needs have evolved. With fewer employees returning to the workplace at the same time, employers can experiment with different sized spaces and layouts and can also reconsider the breakdown of square footage for collaborative versus individual work. Further, a hybrid model presents employers with the opportunity to reevaluate the services provided at the office, such as food, beverages, or cleaning.
When considering a hybrid work environment, leaders must remember that flexibility is inevitable. In-demand talent will have a plethora of flexible options to consider, and companies will find it hard to scale if they cannot accommodate some sort of hybrid work.
There is still no consensus on the best way to implement a hybrid work plan. As companies and teams work to adjust to the new normal, there will be growing pains, and the most important thing that managers can do is to encourage ownership of creating a model that works for both managers and employees. When every employee owns this process by committing to sharing feedback and recommending improvements, the hybrid plan consistently improves, and employees remain engaged.
Meghana and Rob each provided suggestions for how businesses and managers can address the People Impacts of the hybrid work environment. Both stressed the importance of setting consistent norms for how work is completed and shared amongst teams; specifically, ensuring that all employees both have equal access to pertinent information and feel invested in the decision-making process is key to maintaining team culture and individual engagement.
Setting and communicating a consistent policy around how work gets done – in-person or remotely – should be a manager’s first priority when devising a hybrid work plan. This includes expectations on when and where teams should be working, as well as how they communicate — specifically what is discussed synchronously versus asynchronously, when decisions are made, and where they are recorded. While there should be general norms and procedures that apply across divisions, individual teams have the opportunity to figure out what works best for them. Managers should set communication norms early, developing practices that ensure both in-person and remote employees have access to relevant decisions and information.
While managers should always be as transparent as possible about how policies are developing, it is also important that they project optimism and confidence that the team can and will figure this out together, while following all norms and policies to a T so that they are truly ‘walking the talk.’ Uncertainty and pandemic burn-out can cause people to lose confidence, and it is imperative that leaders work to ease these anxieties.
When implementing a hybrid work model, leaders need to stay attuned to how employees are responding to the new environment – monitoring closely for any drops in engagement or performance based on levels of workplace usage. Further, managers must consider whether the variance of workplace usage among employees is affecting career advancement or workplace equity; for example, a promotion cycle that intentionally or unintentionally rewards the employees that perform more in-person work will have a significant negative impact on both the individual remote employees and team culture as a whole.
Connection + Collaboration
While the pandemic severely limited opportunities for social interaction with coworkers, the transition to hybrid work presents a unique chance to re-imagine what these social interactions look like. For example, Meghana shared how Loom looked to redistribute their facilities budget into an events budget, where the funds are used to help all employees travel to offsite events that build trust and connection. Further, local offices are another way to bring back social interaction for a dispersed employee base, with smaller locations available as meeting spaces for local employees in the region.
Performing all work in the cloud grants employees the flexibility to complete their work from anywhere; however, while it’s possible to be flexible about workplace location, our VIPs agreed that there should be intentional coordination around time zones, with different teams making sure they still have the opportunity to interact synchronously at times.
From a hybrid collaboration standpoint, Rob recommended evaluating the experience of hybrid meetings from the perspective of remote employees to ensure that those participating virtually in a physical meeting feel equally engaged in the process; for example, managers can arrange conference rooms to direct attention toward those on the screen rather than just on those physically present. A simple way to do this would be to put all in-person attendees on one side of a table that faces the screen and a camera that connects to remote team members.
Data + Metrics
Meghana and Rob also discussed the value of collecting and analyzing data on employee tendencies to tailor the hybrid work experience to their needs. For example, Meghana shared that Loom tracks how much time its employees spend using virtual tools like Zoom, Loom, and Slack and uses these metrics to balance the mediums that keep the workday engaging. Further, Rob recommended comparing attendance data to HR data to observe the subdivisions between which employees are working remote versus in-person and make adjustments to activity accordingly. Both agreed that frequent pulse surveys and longer employee engagement surveys were valuable tools that help managers track how their employees are handling the adjustment to hybrid work overtime.