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Hybrid Work Strategy

You have probably heard the hype about how remote and hybrid environments allow you to hire talent from anywhere. While this is an obvious perk, we are also in the midst of the Great Resignation. Employees are quitting in droves, and this trend is only expected to accelerate in the coming years.

There are numerous explanations for the Great Resignation, and we do not have time to discuss every single one of them here, but employees have been rethinking their priorities over the past two years. Now, people are seeking a better work-life-balance and more fulfilling careers. Companies that fail to provide this are likely to have trouble hiring – even when a hybrid work environment gives you access to a bigger talent pool.

The solution? Make sure your hybrid work strategy reflects modern worker needs. Below, we will provide you with a brief guide to get started building a hybrid work strategy.

Hybrid Work: It’s About Culture, Not Just Location

One of the biggest misconceptions about the hybrid work environment is that it’s about location. It is actually about something much deeper than that – company culture.

BBC Worklife provides a broader definition of hybrid work than the definition you may have in mind. On a very literal level, hybrid work does mean that employees work in and out of the office depending on a variety of factors ranging from their job title to the day of the week. However, BBC Worklife also defines hybrid work as a culture that provides more flexibility and independence in terms of when, how, and where work is done.

The pandemic forced many companies to transition to a semi-remote environment, and many businesses have decided to keep a hybrid structure going forward. If you are undergoing such a transition, the biggest mistake you can make is to simply attempt to replicate the office experience in a digital setting.

Think about the invention of cars. Once cars became commonplace, people stopped relying on horses as the primary means of transportation. There are some similarities between a horse and a car in terms of the basic fact – they take you from Point A to Point B – but the differences are vast. A car did not simply replicate the experience of riding a horse; it improved upon it.

Arguably, a hybrid or remote environment is an improvement over an office structure. On a very basic level, it can save you money on resources like office supplies and space, but work-from-home may also boost productivity and improve employee retention.

Instead of trying to replicate the office experience, a good hybrid work strategy seeks to create something even better in its place.  

Reconsidering Employee Needs

In a very broad sense, employees have always needed three things: autotomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy means a sense of freedom over when and how one does their work, mastery means learning and mastering new skills regularly (even skills outside of work), and purpose means a strong connection to a company’s overarching goals and objectives. What has changed in a remote space isn’t these fundamental needs, per se, but the fashion in which they are fulfilled.

Prior to the pandemic, people’s workplace was often also their hub for social interaction. They therefore valued personal connections and personal satisfaction at work. When you spend the majority of time in your office, it naturally becomes very important to have personal relationships there. Now, with more offices either hybrid or fully remote, employees’ hierarchy of needs have shifted.

In the modern workspace, employees tend to value three main things: work-life balance, social interactions, and professional satisfaction. People want flexibility and autonomy to manage their own time, but they also want to remain engaged at work. Engagement now means inclusion in daily conversations and an in-depth understanding of how one’s job fits both into a company’s overarching goals and their individual career trajectories.

This brings us back to something we touched on earlier – a hybrid environment isn’t about replicating an in-office experience, but creating something better in its place. What employees value now is more meaningful than having friends at the office who make their jobs more bearable; with an improved work-life balance, employees can make social connections outside of work. Instead, employees value a deeper connection to the company as a whole and a better understanding of their role within an institution. Building a hybrid work strategy around this can help you harness the power of a hybrid workspace.

Building A Functional Hybrid Culture

Hybrid Is Still Remote In Practice

Remember, remote employees still want to participate in day-to-day activities and conversations, even from home. If you have, say, five in-office employees and 10 remote ones, you don’t want the five people who meet in-person each day to be the only ones privy to certain conversations and the only ones making major decisions.

Every employee, remote or not, should be using the same technology each day. This means everyone logs onto Zoom for meetings, everyone posts ideas and updates on the Slack channel, everyone responds to email threads, everyone brainstorms in the same Google doc, and so on.

This not only ensures transparency and open communication, but it prevents technical bottlenecks. All employees understand how your technology and software works, so there will be less delays over misunderstandings regarding matters like logging into Zoom calls.

Keep Meetings Efficient

While you may think meetings will inherently be more challenging in a hybrid or remote setting, you actually have a unique opportunity to evaluate how you conduct meetings and identify where there’s room for improvement.

First, no more long video meetings. Studies have shown that staring at videos too long is distracting to employees and can reduce productivity and increase fatigue. You only need to keep your videos on for checking in. After that, allow employees to switch their cameras off unless they are speaking.

Second, keep meetings curated. Meetings should always start on time, as this shows respect to everyone’s schedule, and you should never have a meeting without a detailed agenda. If you get through that agenda early, do not hesitate to end that meeting early. There is no need to use up a full 30 minutes if you finished in 20.

Last, consider reducing or getting rid of one-on-one meetings altogether. If you have five one-on-one meetings with employees who do the same job and have the same responsibilities, why not merge them into a single meeting? This can foster more transparency, collaboration, and teamwork between employees.

Ensure Understanding

While it is tempting to treat the remote or hybrid space the same way we treat an entirely in-office environment, this is not always helpful; refusing to acknowledge there are differences will not set you up for success. When we’re not interacting face-to-face, we can’t always read social cues and body language, but see this as an opportunity to take extra steps to ensure understanding.

First, always repeat key information. If something is very important, say it more than once in a meeting and then reiterate through other mediums like a company-wide email or a post in your main company’s Slack channel.

Second, get validation at least three times. Repeat back what is conveyed to you in your own words to make sure there is complete understanding of what was being said. Going off of that, always have the other party summarize the points you have made in return to make sure messages were conveyed clearly.

Lastly, ask the right questions. Instead of something vague like, “Changing our company-wide meetings from Mondays to Wednesdays would be good, right?” ask something more specific. For example, “What benefits do you think there would be to changing the day of our company-wide meetings?” 

Create Signposts

In the office, there were clear signposts about what should be happening when. Whether it was a whiteboard and a marker indicating it was time to brainstorm or pizza and beer on Fridays to signal it was okay to wind down, these kinds of physical indications are often lacking in a hybrid space. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to create digital signposts. 

When is it time to check in? Can you have a daily meeting for 15 minutes to say hello in the morning and debrief each other on projects? When do you need to collaborate? There are plenty of virtual whiteboard technologies you can use to share ideas. Even just having a running Google doc that everyone can add to helps.

Blowing off steam is also important. Whether it’s checking out at the end of day with fun Slack messages or post-project digital happy hours, there are plenty of ways to let employees know when they can switch off for the day or the weekend.

How you create signposts is up to you. The important thing is that you have them because this allows employees to have one of the biggest benefits of remote or hybrid work – a sense of work/life balance – without losing a connection to their coworkers and jobs.

Give Your Employees Real Direction

Remember, professional satisfaction is more important than ever before and vital for attracting and retaining top talent. A good boss is a coach who wants every employee to succeed in their professional goals, even if that means they one day leave your company. If you are not already invested in your employees’ long-term careers, make that a priority now. 

Traditionally, companies often did yearly reviews where they provided and sought a year’s worth of feedback from employees in a lengthy meeting or survey. You are better off saying more with less. Rather than checking in once a year only, have shorter, but more valuable conversations regularly. Try checking in once a week with employees to ask them one or two questions and provide them with one or two points of feedback instead.

Speaking of feedback, employees feel more professionally fulfilled when they understand what they’re doing right. Make sure to say thanks and show gratitude in public ways, like bringing it up at meetings or posting it in Slack channels. When you do need to privately provide constructive criticism, do it in a “feedforward” way. That is, say, “This is what we need from you going forward…” rather than focusing on a mistake from last week or last month.

Hybrid Work Strategy: The Bottom Line

This is only a brief introduction to a hybrid work strategy, but hopefully the above pointers give you a more nuanced understanding of the cultural touchstones of a hybrid environment. Do not see a hybrid structure as a forced adjustment, but a chance to reevaluate your current processes and create an environment that appeals to the needs of the modern worker. This way, you will attract and retain top talent, even in the midst of the Great Recession.

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