Attitudes about hybrid work continue to evolve. In March, just under half (49 percent) of businesses said they planned to bring employees back to the office by fall 2021, but that’s since grown to nearly three-quarters (74 percent), according to the Office Re-Entry Index, published by staffing and recruiting firm LaSalle Network.
But not everyone will be leaving home to work. The majority of respondents to the most recent LaSalle Network survey (77 percent) say they are planning a hybrid office for the future with employees in the office two to three days a week. Recent surges in COVID-19 infections have made it clear that a well-functioning hybrid workspace will be required for the foreseeable future.
That sounds like consensus. However, the road ahead could be rocky as employers and employees negotiate what that looks like. Nearly four out of ten respondents (39 percent) to LaSalle’s June survey expect some conflict between leaders and staff regarding return-to-office policies.
Hybrid work policy templates: 6 factors to emphasize
The last year and a half proved that both remote and hybrid work environments can work. But IT leaders now have the opportunity to make sure they work well.
Creating a consistent and effective hybrid work model will be key to that, and the following factors will be important aspects of hybrid work policies, helping to ensure that IT functions remain flexible enough to retain and attract top talent and also effective in supporting the business.
“Communication in a hybrid workplace takes on an entirely different meaning than that of a fully remote or fully in-office environment,” says Sean Duffy, vice president of product at Igloo Software. “With employees working both on and off-site — even during the same week — the potential for miscommunication or communication siloes to arise is amplified.”
IT leaders can standardize the communication methods, weeding out tools and approaches that do not offer consistency and stability to support an effective hybrid workplace.
“When establishing your company’s hybrid work policies, prioritize making your employees feel connected, informed, and comfortable voicing their opinion,” advises Sam Babic, Chief Innovation Officer of content services provider Hyland. Work policies need to be fully transparent and include an opportunity for employees to have their voices heard. Then “employees likely will feel more comfortable with your company’s return-to-work process once it’s finalized,” says Babic.
IT teams rose to the occasion and did whatever it took to keep working together (and enabling the rest of the organization to do so) since the start of the pandemic. Now is a good time, however, to define expectations for how and when workplace collaboration should occur.
“While quick chats and email messaging cannot hold a candle to the ease and speed of bouncing ideas off of team members in real-time in-person conversations, effective collaboration can be achieved through both synchronous and asynchronous communication,” Duffy says.
Video calls may be the preferred venue for ideation processes while other tasks may lend themselves to digital project management, collaboration platforms, or email. “The hybrid office, by nature, gives rise to asynchronous communication,” Duffy notes.
[ Want more tips? See Hybrid work: 7 ways to enable asynchronous collaboration and Hybrid work: 6 more ways to enable asynchronous collaboration. ]
Be clear about all requirements, such as those times when everyone must be in the office and the number of days employees may work from home. “What you are trying to establish with your policies is some normalcy, structure, and a routine that will be helpful to everyone,” says Leon Goren, president and CEO of PEO Leadership.
Also, provide rules for issues like mask-wearing. “This may become one of the biggest issues over the next few months,” Goren says. “Who has to wear a mask and who doesn’t? How do we protect those employees with immunosuppression challenges?”
Sustaining a corporate identity through digital channels requires diligence. “As employees click ‘end call’ or tap the X on any of the productivity apps utilized by their workplace, the connectivity between remote employees is instantly severed,” Duffy says.
[ For more guidance, read What is a hybrid work culture? 5 essentials. ]
To ensure continuity of culture and a feeling of belonging for all employees will take additional effort, which may fall by the wayside if not part of the policy. “We want employees to be able to make connections and not just on a project level or a team level, but also on a social level,” Duffy says. “While it is imperative to complete projects and assignments in a work setting, there is also undeniable value in taking the time to have game nights, team lunches, or even virtual happy hours.”
Who gets to work remotely? When? Why? For how long? Make sure team members understand the reasoning behind each aspect of the hybrid work. The approaches may vary by department or team, which may cause confusion or resentment. “If you don’t include the 'why,' you’ll have disgruntled employees,” says Goren. Even better — include employees or representatives in developing the hybrid work policy.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
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