In 2022, the hybrid work model will be called, simply, "work." Until it’s the norm, teams will have growing pains making the adjustment. While there is no cookie-cutter approach for all people, roles, or projects, consider these tips to smooth the transition.
1. Co-create the hybrid work model with your organization
There’s no one-size-fits-all hybrid work model for each organization – ultimately, it needs to fit your organization’s culture and people. Co-creating that model with everyone in your company is the key to success.
Because of how it directly affects the people in your organization, avoid making top-down decisions. Ask employees what their preferences are and try to accommodate those. Otherwise, you’ll end up with frustration and resentment, which can quickly fracture culture and morale.
Consider together which types of structures work best for the people in your team. Look after your team, and they’ll look after your customers and organization. Popular hybrid work structures include a remote-first approach with occasional office days or office-first with employees working remotely on set days. Some companies meet in person at the office only once a month.
Agree within the organization on what purpose the office has in the hybrid environment. Is it to enhance collaboration or to foster building relationships? Gather thoughts and ideas from everyone, and don’t just resume office attendance because that’s how it was previously done. Your annual budget might also be thankful if you can find alternatives to your large, empty office.
2. Trust your employees
Let employees work the way they feel is best for them, and the result will be happier and better-performing team members.
Use milestones and deadlines to gauge your team’s progress instead of tracking time. One challenge of remote work is “appearing” to be productive and present to the management team. However, measurement should not be seen as a punitive exercise to catch people out – it should guide employees toward completing their goals.
Most workers don’t work the entire eight hours they’re in the office either, as they’re often engaging in spontaneous meetings and meaningful moments of connection with colleagues. Managers should disregard time as a measure of productivity and trust their employees to do their job to the best of their ability. If goals are being met but the employees feel distant because they don’t need to collaborate as much or that they need to “appear busy,” then the goals are too easy and need to be readjusted.
Be careful to keep engagement and communication high – otherwise, you can end up with the “watermelon effect” – good “green” performance, but below the surface, there’s a big chunk of red, which represents a poor employee experience. In such cases, employees might discuss problems with each other at the (virtual) water cooler, but not necessarily with management.
3. Rethink meetings
We need to learn new ways of working so that not all working hours are spent in back-to-back meetings and the “real work” is done on weekends and evenings. This means we need to incorporate more asynchronous work.
To find new ways of working, adopt a facilitator’s mindset – focus on understanding how human relationships work and designing the work to best suit these habits and needs.
Also, keep the social aspect in mind for all meetings by asking check-in and check-out questions. Having off-topic conversations and connecting as individuals rather than always having an official agenda is essential.
4. Create opportunities for connection and interaction
Think beyond Zoom coffee chats and happy hours, and consider approaches like walk & talks, virtual coworking, music quizzes, open office hours, and buddy systems.
A “work buddy” acts as a mentor to new employees and has regular one-to-one meetings during their first weeks or months at the company to ensure that their integration goes smoothly. This creates opportunities for information-sharing and learning, even during remote work, which has typically been a struggle for younger employees who are looking to older employees for information.
Have walking meetings or catch-ups with your team and encourage your team members to book these with each other. Walk & talks help you achieve two important goals: exercise and social connection. Plus, they help combat the Zoom fatigue we’ve all experienced.
To help foster more spontaneous conversations in a way that doesn’t disturb people’s work, leaders and employees can add open (virtual) office hours to their calendars or status bars. During designated time slots, anyone can then jump on a call with that person to bounce ideas off each other, talk through a challenge they’re facing, or just have a friendly check-in.
Virtual coworking is a way for individuals to work synchronously, but on their own projects. People can join a group video call to each work on their own projects. By keeping cameras and microphones on, people get the sense that they’re sharing the space with others, and it can help some people to boost accountability and productivity.
Having the right tools goes a long way to ensuring that collaboration is smooth and employees are happy. Most dissatisfaction in our day-to-day lives comes from using a tool when a) we don’t understand the purpose behind its use, and b) the tool doesn’t contribute positively to helping our workflows and productivity.
Also, it is important that the tools fit seamlessly within the context of synchronous and asynchronous work. Tools and admin for the sake of it are inherently detrimental, so putting the right tools in the hands of people goes a long way, and hearing their feedback is important. If, after a significant test period, tools are not helping, kill them off. Don’t use them because that’s how it’s always been done.
Considering that people have different energy levels when it comes to social interaction, balance is key here. As a leader, you don’t want employees to feel completely drained or utterly isolated. By taking these tips into consideration, you can help your workforce transition to the hybrid model in such a way that it’ll feel so natural, you’ll be calling it just work in the near future.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]