Prior to the pandemic, remote employees comprised six percent of the total workforce. In that office-centric era, those not physically working in the office often dealt with slow VPNs, cumbersome layers of security, limited access, and other factors that degraded their experience.
The rapid adoption of remote work forced everyone into a digital environment and caused widespread compromise around security and human connection. A two-dimensional engagement model has enabled productivity but also brought screen fatigue and a lack of personal connectivity. The transition to hybrid work and returning to physical offices may actually accelerate these challenges – along with employees’ frustration levels.
As leaders tasked with the well-being and success of our employees, we need to recognize that the hybrid work experience is likely to be disjointed. To enable a sustainable, distributed workforce, business leaders should re-examine what defines the employee experience – from both a technology perspective and a cultural one.
[ Related read: Hybrid work: 3 cultural pitfalls to avoid. ]
Here are three foundational ways to lead and support employees in this new iteration of the modern workforce.
1. Build workspaces, not workplaces
Leaders need to foster an equal opportunity environment that celebrates in-person collaboration without penalizing the distributed workforce. Lack of face-to-face interaction, frequent staff and leadership changes, difficulty absorbing the mission or feeling connected, and a frustrating digital experience can all cause valuable people to resign if you don’t put in the effort to ensure that they feel valued and worthwhile.
Pre-pandemic, you might recall the feeling of “watching meetings” remotely versus truly being a part of them. When people feel like they are watching meetings from a distance (which remains a common perspective even today), they are less likely to participate and more likely to simply disconnect from the experience. Worse, if this detached feeling describes their typical work experience, you can assume they will soon look for an employer that better understands their needs.
Culture should not apply only to in-person, on-premises activities and events. Connection needs to be a daily event – independent of location and inclusive of every type of employee.
2. Make digital the primary experience
Leaders should build their experiences from the digital space outwards. In our meetings, for example, we ask folks to be “cameras on,” allowing both remote and in-person workers to see each other’s faces and speak to them directly. If the meeting is hybrid, everyone needs to be digital – the most important thing is that everyone is together.
Today’s workforce should operate within a digital-first common experience where virtual presence is the norm and physical interaction is a “nice-to-have.” This means you should assume that the remote experience is always the standard – even for local employees.
3. Security should be environment-agnostic
Security strategies should not be network- or location-dependent, nor should they present obstacles to a productive and fulfilling user experience.
A well-designed, secure digital strategy ensures that access is optimized for performance, collaboration, and security. The pandemic forced many companies to enact Band-Aid solutions rather than providing a comprehensive team strategy. As we shift toward a permanent hybrid model, leaders must prioritize solutions that will secure and support virtual employees for the long haul. It’s no longer enough to safeguard what lies within your office walls – technology and IT infrastructure must support the evolving remote and in-office battleground.
For today’s workforce to succeed, leaders must model how to connect and engage in a hybrid world. If you claim to support a “work-from-anywhere” model but your entire leadership team is in the office, your remote employees will feel alienated. Don’t let the “lead by example” model erode employee trust. Turn your camera on, use the digital and physical collaboration spaces, and put energy into both sides of the experience.
The Great Resignation is about more than just higher compensation. Individuals are making choices about what kind of work they want to do and how that work fits into their broader lives. By addressing each employee as a whole person, understanding their long-term goals, and ensuring that you have designed an environment where all employees can thrive regardless of their location, your company can benefit from a truly inclusive “work-from-anywhere” culture.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]