Remote work: How to balance flexibility and productivity

Hybrid and remote work is fast becoming the standard at many organizations, but this new work model can bring challenges. Consider this advice to keep your teams balanced and productive
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The Great Resignation has made evident not only what employees want but what they expect and demand. For instance, in the United States, missed employee expectations can be seen in month-after-month high quit rates, including March numbers of 4.5M.

Our recent research found that 74 percent of employees will look for new jobs if required to work in the office three or more days a week. We continue to see this play out at companies large and small. Recently, tech employees have spoken up against strict in-office policies and in some cases have resigned.

We know that hybrid and flexible work are the most desirable ways of working for employees, but they are also the most difficult to implement for organizations in a way that promotes engagement, inclusivity, equity, connection, and productivity.

[ Also read Hybrid work: 4 ways to strengthen relationships. ]

3 tips for creating a healthy remote workplace culture

How can IT leaders create a workplace that works?

1. Refine your approach

Reorienting your entire workforce is no small task, but the transition to hybrid offices is the new standard and it’s here to stay. Many areas of the organization need to be re-evaluated on a regular basis to ensure employees feel supported and connected in hybrid working environments. It’s time to thoughtfully craft hybrid programs and strategies that go beyond just working and enable employees to best serve the customer.

The ETHOS approach helps leaders navigate the complexities to ensure teams are aligned:

Engagement: Do you have hybrid meeting norms and practices to ensure all participants are engaged and involved, whether they are in the room together or on video?

Talent: Are your talent processes designed to address proximity bias for growth opportunities and promotions in a hybrid working environment?

Health: Do you have a customizable benefits structure to support employees no matter their preferred work location?

Operations: Have you designed your office space to allow for optimal hybrid meetings?

Systems: Are your systems supporting your employees in hybrid meetings and engagement models?

Reset why and when you gather, including being more intentional about the types of team collaboration. Be more diligent in meeting preparation and determine a clear purpose for your meetings in advance. By clearly defining objectives, you can prevent meeting fatigue and ensure teams are engaged and motivated to meet when it is time to connect.

2. Design your digital HQ

Just like the design of a physical HQ, the design of your digital HQ affects employee experience and ease of doing work. By removing roadblocks and streamlining access, you can reduce the time spent navigating systems, which ultimately impacts the bottom line.

Today’s IT employees are connecting, collaborating, onboarding, networking, brainstorming, and planning online. Channels, chats, emails, and video conferencing are all part of our everyday work. Without the ability to stop by someone’s desk for a quick question or grab a room for an impromptu brainstorm, it’s important to put integrated digital solutions in place to collaborate and work efficiently as a hybrid team.

Beyond enabling virtual work, tech leaders should set up their systems to remove friction, streamline access and sharing, support team alignment, and encourage collaboration. There is going to be an increased need for technical solutions that enable effective hybrid collaboration.

As you implement new technology solutions and programs, keep the employee experience top of mind.

As you implement new technology solutions and programs, keep the employee experience top of mind. For example, many remote companies are experimenting with solutions that monitor employee productivity, but this can feel invasive and evoke a feeling of distrust in the workplace. According to a recent study, roughly half of tech employees shared that they would rather resign than be subject to facial recognition or having their employer record them. It’s important to consider all factors – including employee and manager experience, ease of use, output, and cost – when evaluating solutions for your team.

Don’t forget about your physical office space and finetune your footprint to match the new ways of working. For example, during the pandemic, many audio calls became video calls; “Zoom rooms” can help limit background distractions and noises.

3. Prepare managers

It’s important to prepare leaders from the top down to enable productivity and champion flexibility. At the foundation, hybrid managers need to intentionally build trust and understanding with each individual and across the team. The role of the manager is rapidly changing – in this new way of work, they must balance remote and in-person teams and support both.

To help train leaders, develop a specific scenario-based hybrid working curriculum that enables leaders to practice having these important conversations and interactions with hybrid teams. Check-in with your team to get their perspective on what’s working well and areas for improvement. A simple check-in can help the team excel and help leaders better manage in real-time.

This is a once-in-a-generation moment for organizations to reimagine work. Tech leaders who get this right will help attract and retain employees, drive stronger collaboration, and strengthen customer loyalty and confidence.

[ Want more advice on leading hybrid work? Read What is a hybrid work model? and Hybrid work model: 5 advantages. ]

Amalia Goodwin is managing director of global business advisory service and one of the architects of the ETHOS model at Slalom. Amalia has a passion for developing organizations, leaders and teams through a continuous improvement and a growth mindset approach.