Many organizations have made it clear that the future of work is hybrid work.
Businesses such as Ford Motor Co., British Airways and Salesforce are just some of the major companies that have announced plans to allow employees to keep working remotely at least partially once the pandemic ends.
To be sure, balancing businesses’ needs and workers’ wants into a workable hybrid business model will be one of the biggest challenges for organizations.
A 2020 PwC survey found that more than half of workers said they would like to work from home at least three days a week once it is safe to return to the office. At the same time, about 70 percent of executives told the consulting firm that a “typical employee” should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain “a distinct company culture,” the report says.
That said, it’s one thing for companies to announce their plans for hybrid work, but enacting sound management strategies around the issue is another. That’s why smart businesses must not delay in preparing their hybrid-work policies, experts say.
Here are four key hybrid-work policies that business experts suggest every organization should consider implementing:
Level the hybrid-work playing field
“One norm to help level the playing field might be that, if some members of a team are working remotely, team meetings should be conducted as if everyone were working remotely —including colleagues in the office who connect from their desks,” Boston Consulting Group said in a post on its website. “That way, members working from home would not miss out on side conversations and the dynamics of the meeting in the conference room. And everyone would be visible at full size on the screen, instead of being thumbnail-size figures in a cavernous conference room.”
In addition, as more employees return to the physical workplace, “the playing field may tilt even more sharply in favor of those who can return,” it added.
“If people must continue to work entirely from home, those whose homes lack adequate workspaces will be at a disadvantage,” the consulting group said. “Employers can actively relevel the playing field, at both the corporate level and the team level, to ensure that all employees can succeed.”
Get the technology right
Companies also need to make it easy for office workers and remote employees to collaborate seamlessly, according to experts such as Deniz Caglar.
Caglar, a Chicago-based principal at PwC, the business-advisory giant, recommends that businesses deploy cloud-based software that secures “endpoints” such as laptops, desktops and mobile phones so that workers can access corporate networks safely.
He also recommends that companies ensure that their communications platforms support voice, video and content sharing securely from remote locations.
In addition, businesses should use “listening tools” to “understand the pulse of your people,” Caglar said.
“We’re seeing a bit of ‘shiny new object’ syndrome: too many companies are trying to solve this with technology alone, and in the worst cases, using redundant and duplicative technologies versus being more intentionally focused on experience and the what, where, how of work,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges facing hybrid companies is scheduling. Caglar recommends businesses find project-management software that can support work planning, track employee time, manage janitorial services and allow for the reconfiguration of office space to ensure that social-distancing protocols are met.
Be flexible and engage your people
Organizations must establish clear guidelines about acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a hybrid workplace to avoid arguments and misunderstandings, according to Mercer Consulting’s Christina Boiler.
“It is also important to set expectations around what choices employees will or will not have,” Boiler said. “Engaging employees in flexible [work] decisions, when possible, can benefit an organization as they may be in the best position to determine where they can be most productive. Setting expectations and guardrails around options provides clarity and enables a consistent and equitable employee experience across the organization.”
While employers could try to force workers to return to the office by a specific date, experts argue that forcing the issue isn’t a good policy.
“Dictating employees to be in the office could backfire for some companies,” said PwC’s Caglar. “Companies should listen to their employees’ wishes, evaluate the implications of flexible work on their business overall and make a call on their flexibility policies.”
Management must be proactive, sensitive
According to Caglar, businesses must be careful not to do too much, too fast.
For example, some companies are launching tools for employees without providing them with sufficient training, he said.
John Jones, the head of the talent business in North America at Willis Towers Watson, a global advisory, broking and solutions company, says planning is critical for a successful hybrid transformation. He stresses the need for leadership to take an active role in the change to a hybrid-work model and reach out to their virtual workers to ensure they are OK.
“How do you continue to build a culture and community when new hires never step into the office, or when people who are looking to advance their career don’t have good relationships with people that they might have developed in happenstance?” Jones said.
“A scheduled 15-minute Zoom call is not the same thing [as] walking to go get a cup of coffee and having some sort of meaningful conversation for 45 minutes,” he said.
According to Jones, a key part of maintaining a corporate culture in a hybrid environment is ensuring a proper onboarding process for new employees. Managers need to be provided the time to mentor new hires and to assist them in adjusting to their roles at the company.
“Clients are sorting through culture changes now – how they plan to keep the current culture or how culture is supported in an ongoing virtual environment and unfolding in real-time,” he added. “Organizations are surveying employees on their well-being needs and are focused on providing the right level of support and guidance to continue and improve employee engagement and retention.”
“Many clients are not looking to bring people back on a full-time basis – and when they are bringing employees back, they are taking measured steps to understand how often and at what cadence it may be required,” Jones said.