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Embracing Hybrid Work? Here's How Not to Mess It Up

Jen Dewar
Aug 20, 2021 7:15:00 AM

If you’re embracing hybrid work long-term, you’re in good company. Nine out of ten organizations will be combining remote and on-site working in the post-pandemic world.

But for all the many benefits of hybrid work—from improved flexibility, productivity, and retention—it can be the most difficult to get right. Remote team members can inadvertently be left out of meetings. Old tools don’t necessarily work for hybrid teams. Communication can break down. And in-office team members can be given preferential treatment.

The good news is that you still have some time to figure this out. Unlike the abrupt transition to remote work, the transition to hybrid work can be done more intentionally over the coming months as we prepare for our next normal. Here are some things to consider in this transition.

Outline your hybrid approach and expectations with team members

Hybrid work comes in many shapes and sizes. It could mean team members are allowed to work remotely as needed. It could mean some team members can work remotely while others work in the office. Or it could mean that all team members work in the office some days and remotely on others. 

No matter your approach, communicate it with your team members early and often. Clearly define who can work remotely and when, as well as any other expectations you may have. Document this policy, share it with your employees, and be prepared to explain the company's reasons around why some roles may not be eligible for remote work.

For instance, will you have core work hours where you expect everyone to be online and available whether they’re in-office or remote? Will there be specific days you expect team members to be available in-person, whether on a weekly, quarterly, or annual basis? Will managers have the final say on remote work schedules? 

In addition to any roles that may not be a good fit for remote work, will there be other exceptions? For example, can those more vulnerable to COVID-19 work from home full-time, even if most team members are required to come into the workplace twice a week? Can team members work remotely if they’re feeling ill, or if their child’s school closes unexpectedly? Is any documentation required in those cases?

Outline your approach, eligibility, expectations, and exceptions in your remote work policy so it can be communicated clearly and applied consistently.

Be careful not to create a two-tier class system

Remote workers might feel left out, be overlooked for promotions and raises, and be inadvertently excluded from important conversations, decisions, or projects. For instance, employees who mainly work remotely are less than half as likely to be promoted than all other employees. 

Create career ladders that define the requirements needed to progress between roles. Make sure all team members have clear goals, opportunities for development, and regular feedback on their performance and progress. This can enable more transparency and help both managers and team members objectively recognize when a raise or promotion is due.

Track team member remote status so you know which people work fully in the office, which are fully remote, and which are hybrid workers. This can come in handy to compare performance, promotions, compensation, and other focus areas between cohorts so you can ensure fair treatment for all groups.

Put the right tools in place to support your hybrid workforce, whether they’re working in the office or remotely. This includes chat tools and a project management solution to enable better collaboration. It also includes things like a performance management system and compensation management software that enable your HR team to provide a consistent employee experience across your team.

A focus on remote inclusion can help all employees feel like a valuable part of your team, no matter where they work. Look for opportunities to bridge the gap between in-office and remote team members, whether that means providing a home office stipend or providing a budget for remote team members to attend in-person meetings and events.

Get team member feedback

Communication needs to go both ways. Regularly request team member input and feedback so you can make informed decisions, garner buy-in, and continually improve.

For instance, you could send out a hybrid work survey before planning or finalizing your hybrid transition plans. Use it to gather team member feedback on remote work, returning to the workplace, and what the "next normal" should look like. 

Collect ongoing feedback through employee engagement and Pulse surveys, including a question to indicate whether the team member is in-office, remote, or hybrid. This will provide context for their experiences, allow you to look for trends in each cohort, and help you make necessary improvements.

For instance, the solution for low employee engagement may be different for in-office and remote team members. Office-based employees may feel less work-life balance, and benefit from flex hours or encouragement to take time off. Remote workers may be falling victim to “Golden Handcuffs” if they’re being paid a higher global compensation rate in an area with a lower cost of living. In that case, an honest conversation may be in order to encourage that team member to find an opportunity that would better suit them.

Final thoughts

Going from fully (or mostly) in-office, to fully remote, to hybrid work in the span of a couple years is a lot to handle—and hybrid is arguably the most complex model. Spend the time to think it through, learn from peers, and listen to your team members. Mistakes will be made; learn from them. Hybrid work will inevitably evolve in the coming years as part of our new normal, so just do your best to help it get off to a good start.

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