According to Accenture's Future of Work Study, more than 80% of workers prefer the flexibility of a hybrid environment, and nearly two-thirds of companies are giving them that choice. The age of the hybrid workplace has arrived, and it looks like it is here to stay. However, nurturing a supportive hybrid work environment is easier said than done.
Workers have an inconsistent experience on-site and at home. Communicating can be difficult. Managers struggle in leading teams where part of the team is working from home. Those who work from home miss out on the social aspect of working, and they fear on-site workers will get more opportunities to grow. By addressing these challenges and nurturing a supportive hybrid work environment, organizations can get higher productivity, better employee engagement, and better retention.
Provide a consistent hybrid work environment
A lack of access to technology is a hindrance when working remotely. In fact, 27% of workers believe they have easier access to technology when working on-site. The workers’ experience changes every time they switch between working on-site and at home. Employers can make this experience consistent with adjustments to technology, resources, and infrastructure.
Employees working from home require an internet connection just as fast as at the office, a laptop that can handle the office technology stack, and a printer (if needed). By providing the technology workers need to do their job, employers make life easier for employees and get the same productivity from on-site and remote workers.
One way to provide a consistent experience to on-site and remote employees is to switch everyone to laptops from desktop computers. Workers who work a few days from the office and the rest from home will take their laptops with them and use the same machine irrespective of their location. Employers can make sure all the necessary software is installed on the laptop and no one but the employee can access it.
Besides providing an adequate laptop and internet connection to hybrid employees, employers can work with team leads to find out what their staff needs in terms of technology to give them a consistent experience. You can use SurveyMonkey to collect this information from your employees or go for an employee experience platform such as Microsoft Viva to gain additional insights.
An adequate home office setup goes a long way in ensuring the worker’s peace of mind and productivity. A home office can cost anywhere from $240 to $2,450 and more, depending on the employee’s needs. At the very least, the worker will have to buy an office chair and desk for the laptop. Some people will not have enough space for a work-from-home setup. They might work from their living rooms or bedrooms, go to a nearby coffee shop, or utilize a coworking space. Employers can help by reimbursing the worker for the cost or providing the equipment depending on the situation.
The kind of setup each employee needs will vary based on their job description as well as their style of doing things. For example, a designer may be more than comfortable working from their bed or kitchen table, but a support rep who spends most of their day on call with customers may want a better space. The best way to standardize resources is to deliver home office equipment to every employee (if they have the space for it). The employers can also form partnerships with coworking spaces to facilitate employees who want to go that route.
Remote workers face issues with infrastructure that inconvenience them and put data security at risk. Their laptop is connected to their home Wi-Fi, which is connected to multiple other devices at home, which makes it vulnerable to cyber-attacks. According to a study by Tenable, more than 67% of cyber-attacks target remote employees. The sites they visit using their work laptop, the links they click on, the way they store personal and business information, all of that increases the vulnerability of the company’s data. This can be addressed by providing additional cybersecurity training to hybrid employees.
The ‘Work from home deployment kit’ by SANS and the ‘cybersecurity practices for remote workers’ by CIRA are good examples of cybersecurity courses for remote workers. These courses cover the basics of cyber security for remote workers, such as using stronger passwords and securing home Wi-Fi. They also cover information on different types of cyber-attacks and tips on protecting confidential information. On top of courses, employers can also install single sign on (SSO), multi-factor authentication, antivirus software, and VPNs on every employee’s laptop for additional security.
Define the standards for communication
Gaps in communication are bound to happen in any workplace, especially with staff working flexible hours or in different locations. This challenge can be overcome by establishing clear guidelines for company communication.
Those guidelines should clearly define the rules for synchronous and asynchronous communication. Especially with asynchronous communication, every employee should know when to expect an email and when to expect a message on a collaboration tool. For example, designers and developers usually collaborate on tools such as Adobe XD. So, Adobe XD should be the place where both parties discuss a particular design or a feature. If the developer sends an email, and the designer replies on Slack and so on, there will be gaps in communication. Other communication areas to consider include:
- How to contact each other
- What channels to use
- When to send an email and when to use Slack (or a similar tool)
- How teams will know each other’s availability
- When to call or text someone
On-site workers hear about the latest developments at the office from each other – this will not be the case with a hybrid office without the appropriate communication standards. So, consider how you will communicate everything from important company changes to day-to-day work tasks. Sending out meeting notes or emails about the smallest of updates will help keep everyone in the loop.
Installing the proper infrastructure on-site (cameras, speakers, and projectors for the conference room) can also bridge the gap between on-site and remote workers. When you have a hybrid meeting that involves people working from the office and others working from home, a conference room with the setup to support a zoom call will come in handy – the other alternative is everyone on-site joining the zoom call from their workstations which people sitting right next to each other will not want to do. With a conference room equipped to handle video conferencing for the entire team, it’ll be easier to make remote workers feel as if they were on-site and vice versa.
To further standardize communication, you can ask everyone to use a standard zoom background. This will result in a consistent experience for remote and in-office employees as well as customers that meet you online (or in-person). You can also provide cameras and mics to each employee for standardized video and audio quality.
In a hybrid setting, the best way to communicate is to over-communicate. Record every meeting and place it on a shared knowledge base such as Tettra (or a similar tool) so people who couldn’t attend the meeting have access to it. You can host the videos on Google Drive or One Drive, but having a central knowledge base will also help you tackle the issue of information silos that form as a result of remote workers only communicating with their immediate team members.
Train your leaders in managing hybrid teams
Harvard Business Review says around 40% of managers think they don’t have the skills to manage a remote team. And Enboarder says 68% of hybrid workers feel that collaboration got tougher after going hybrid and it became difficult to make sure everyone does their part for work to run smoothly.
To lead hybrid teams, managers need to constantly shift between managing on-site workers and remote workers. It is important to balance the needs of the two groups to make sure everyone has the support they need to be productive and achieve their goals. Some of the skills needed to manage a remote team include:
- Communicating expectations, setting goals, and trusting your team to achieve them
- Building strong relationships with the members of your team
- Leveraging communication tools to include remote workers in different projects
By using these skills, managers leading hybrid teams can treat remote workers as if they are on-site and be as available to them as they are to on-site workers. Also, managers should work remotely a few days a week to encourage remote work.
Employers can also train managers in leading hybrid teams through courses such as the ‘Happy Hybrid Teams’ course by Udemy and the ‘Managing Hybrid Teams’ course by ITML Institute. Both courses focus on overcoming communication-based challenges and keeping remote and on-site employees equally engaged.
Introduce team-building exercises
When working exclusively on-site, people spend eight hours together. They form friendships, meaningful connections, learn from each other, and work on projects together; with a hybrid work environment, the social aspect of work can be compromised. Managers can make up for the lack of social interaction by introducing team-building exercises and coaching/training sessions.
Introducing a culture of knowledge sharing can also bridge the gap between remote and on-site team members. For example, one of your high-performing sales reps can do an interactive, online session on what makes their sales pitches successful. Remote members can join from home, while on-site members can join from the conference room. The session can then be recorded and placed in your central knowledge base for everyone to access.
Hybrid team events and team-building exercises are another good way to make up for the lack of social interaction between remote and on-site workers. Zoom’s breakout rooms – a feature where you can assign temporary rooms to small groups of people – can be used for games such as Twins & Opposites and Shark Tank.
In Twin & Opposites, the person hosting the Zoom meeting asks everyone to show a prop (such as an heirloom or a snack) on their screens and discuss its similarities and differences. In Shark Tank, everyone comes up with an exciting new idea and pitches it to their peers. Both games are ideal for small groups of people to have discussions on topics that interest them and to connect with each other.
Introduce more clarity in performance reviews
A hybrid work environment will not work if remote workers feel on-site workers are getting additional opportunities for growth. With some of the members of the team working from the office and others working from home, remote workers have the disadvantage of not being observed at work by their peers and managers. Being observed at work by others leads to career advancement, and remote workers know that, which leads to a less-than-healthy hybrid environment.
For example, a manager can see an on-site sales rep working really hard on a deal. They see the effort, the hours, and the hard work going into it and appreciate the sales rep even if they end up not winning that deal. For a remote worker, the manager would only be able to see some back-and-forth emails and the final communication that the deal didn’t go through. When it’s time for a promotion or a pay raise, the on-site worker will have the added advantage of having showcased their commitment to achieving their goals even though both sales reps may have turned in similar numbers. To overcome this, managers can make it clear that employee performance is being judged by objectives and key results (OKRs), and in-office employees are not getting an unfair advantage. In the example we just discussed, if both sales reps have similar numbers, they should receive a similar pay raise.
In a hybrid setting, it’s important to celebrate the achievements of your team and workers publicly (on shared digital channels) so everyone knows who is getting rewarded and why. You can create a special Slack channel just for shout-outs and appreciation, use employee recognition software such as Nectar, or use your official LinkedIn page or Twitter handle to appreciate your employees.
Survey your employees to measure motivation
Hybrid work environments are new to you as well as your team. While using the suggestions in this article is a good start, your employees will make the best suggestions to improve your hybrid work environment.
After taking different initiatives to nurture a supportive hybrid work environment, gather information through periodic surveys and get employee feedback on how to facilitate remote workers and hybrid teams in a better way. Using a test-and-learn approach to process redesign is a good way to find what works for your company and your team.
Improve your hybrid work environment with this checklist
Thinking about implementing a hybrid workplace model? Check out the hybrid work checklist by Officely. It’s a great resource for businesses thinking about going hybrid, as well as businesses that have implemented a hybrid work environment but are struggling to reap its benefits. It covers everything from choosing your hybrid work model to repurposing your office for hybrid work and more. Get your copy today.