The culture shift to a hybrid workforce
Today’s workforce looks radically different to earlier counterparts for many businesses. In just a few short years, we’ve witnessed a global cultural shift in how we approach day-to-day work. Between the large-scale move to remote work and the focus on employee wellbeing in conversations around company culture, it’s clear that leaders are changing how they view what the workplace should look like, and in turn, how employee performance and productivity play out. Current trends show that as the modern workplace continues to evolve, more and more leaders are embracing the hybrid work model for their teams.
Why are we going hybrid?
With leaders facing ongoing uncertainty over the past few years, in general, we’re split on whether or not there will be a definitive “return to the office”. Beyond just the logistical concerns, it’s quickly become clear that some employees have hang-ups about disrupting their “work-from-home” set ups, with some being eager to return to the office, and some rejecting that proposal entirely.
A poll of 1000 adults in the US, conducted by The Morning Consult for Bloomberg News, showed that 39% would consider quitting their job if their employer didn’t offer flexible work options. The numbers were even higher for specifically Gen Z and millennial employees, with 49% of them saying they would rather quit their roles rather than be forced to return to work.
The hybrid workforce model has, therefore, emerged as an obvious solution for many. The model offers the most flexibility to teams allowing employees the choice of either easing back into the workplace, or continuing to work from home. Hybrid teams also allow companies to broaden their horizons when it comes to recruiting talent or expanding their organizations as they are no longer restricted by geographical limitations.
The challenges of a hybrid work model
While the hybrid workforce solves for some of the challenges of the modern workforce, it does give rise to others. According to intelliHR’s 2022 State of HR Report, 53% of HR teams don’t have initiatives in place to maintain culture across hybrid teams. This shows that while leaders might want to shift to this more flexible model for work, they might not be prepared for the reality of what this entails.
There’s a mismatch between desire and logistics which gives rise to challenges around the ability to maintain employee performance and a strong culture across organizations. These issues can often derail business objectives and hinder employee success.
Some of the most common pain points that leaders face when embracing a hybrid workplace model can be divided into the following three categories:
1. Communication and hybrid collaboration
Employers report that one of the biggest challenges they face in a hybrid work model is enabling effective communication and collaboration within their team. As one might expect, the modes of communication between two employees may totally differ based on whether or not they’re physically present in the same workplace. If that communication happens across multiple departments or groups of people, with some being in the same physical space, and others working remotely, there are multiple channels that should be used to ensure that everybody involved is on the same page.
There’s a fear that within hybrid team models, remote employees are missing out on essential communication or opportunities to collaborate that can easily occur between people who are working face-to-face (which can have negative effects on performance and engagement).
After all, isn’t it easier to simply ask the person in front of you for help with a task as opposed to reaching out to someone who might be miles away by email, messaging or video calls which may have a much longer turnaround time?
If you’re thinking the answer is “Yes”, you’re likely worried about your remote employees risking losing out significantly to their in-office counterparts and that communication between different parts of your organization could result in fragmented and misaligned teams that are unable to achieve their business goals.
A successful hybrid business model requires establishing channels and processes that facilitate communication between employees indiscriminately of whether or not they are working together or in-person.
2. Productivity and Engagement
Engagement goes hand-in-hand with employee, team and business performance. 85% of HR leaders reported that employee engagement is the top priority for their organization, and it’s been repeatedly proven that companies with highly-engaged employees are more productive and profitable than other
Various opinions around accountability and the use of workplace surveillance have dominated discussions around remote work productivity over the past few years. Most leaders, however, have realized their employees are more than capable of hitting their business objectives without direct in-person oversight from their managers. In fact, several studies conducted over the past few years have shown that productivity actually increased when employees were working from home successfully.
- Connect Solutions showed that 77% of those who work remotely at least a few times per month show increased productivity, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period of time.
Such studies indicate that managers don’t have to worry about remote work in itself being detrimental to productivity. Business leaders would be better off recognizing that they may need to change and/or become more flexible around how they measure employee productivity. Tracking employee performance relative to the achievement of specific targets or goals will likely prove more valuable and successful than tracking every minute of each team member’s day and how they spend their time.
By managing outcomes rather than time, leaders can also standardize how they measure productivity across both remote employees and who have made the “return to the office”.This is another way of ensuring equitable team management for hybrid teams.
3. Team culture and employee opportunity
The hybrid workplace pushes us to rethink how we build and maintain a robust company culture. Historically, businesses have heavily relied on a physical office environment and in-person activities to develop their company culture. With a hybrid workforce, this strategy must be expanded so as not to place remote and hybrid employees at a considerable disadvantage and create feelings of alienation and disconnect from the rest of the organization. In the long term, if we don’t change-up the way culture-building activities play out in a hybrid environment, we could hinder opportunities for career and personal growth and reduce employee performance,, leaving employees feeling unhappy and unmotivated in their roles.
In order to create an inclusive and collaborative culture, leaders need to create opportunities for the whole team to interact both formally and socially within their organization. A healthy team culture is one that keeps employees engaged, motivated and feeling valued by their organization.
Managing a hybrid workforce: The way forward
We’ve found that the numerous challenges leaders face when managing a hybrid work model stem from one fundamental problem: Many leaders still look at remote working as an add-on or substitute for the in-office environment.
This mindset is focused on solving remote work, rather than embracing and integrating the hybrid workplace approach from the very beginning.
- Example: A leader schedules an important meeting in person with their team and then provides their remote employees with a recording of the meeting afterwards so they can be informed of what’s happening. While on the surface the leader has accounted for the experience of their remote team, it’s not an equitable experience for those employees who are distributed or working from home. They are reduced to being “observers” of the meeting as opposed to participants and miss out on the opportunity to directly engage with their teammates.
Alternatively, when businesses account for remote employees at the start of the decision-making process, they can prevent creating such inequalities within their organization. The hybrid work model should therefore lie at the heart of your strategic roadmap.
Here are some tangible strategies you could implement to successfully embrace a hybrid business approach and maintain performance and culture across your organization.
1. Move to goals-based performance management
If you haven’t already, moving to an outcome and/or goals-based approach for measuring and managing employee performance, wherever they do their work, as opposed to a tracking activity has countless benefits. When leaders accept that a work day is likely to look different for their hybrid employees, they can:
- Reduce confusion, miscommunication and misaligned expectations between managers and their employees.
- Standardize performance assessments across their teams.
- Enable equal opportunities for remote and in-person employees for growth and development.
An output-based team management structure helps to keep employees motivated and minimize the risk of drop-off in productivity due to lack of oversight. Goal-setting and tracking performance and goals has also never been easier, with a variety of performance management tools available that automate the process and allow employers to gather valuable insights and HR analytics on how their company is performing on a larger scale.
Learn how managers can set, track and align goals and OKRs for hybrid teams using intelliHR
2. Drive employee engagement through continuous feedback
Engaged employees tend to be more aligned with your company’s mission statement, and more invested in the achievement of business goals, therefore boosting engagement is massively important in any organization.
Importantly, successful employee engagement cannot be limited to a simple annual survey. Instead, employers should:
- Open an ongoing dialogue with their teams, both remote and in-office, around wellbeing support, performance expectations and training and development.
- Regularly “check in” with employees to understand how they’re tracking with their goals and OKRs.
- Gain a deeper understanding of their organization’s engagement levels not only through feedback conversations but also by analyzing data to see trends and forecast any issues.
By engaging in a continuous feedback approach, and understanding, in real-time, what your employees require to achieve success within their role, not only will you gather invaluable insight into what is required to successfully achieve your business objectives, you’ll also make their employees feel like valued members of the team who have control over their own processes. It’s a valuable way to keep lines of communication open for hybrid teams, where employees can self-report their requirements and access resources wherever they are.
From there, leaders can make informed decisions that will boost productivity, satisfaction and well-being within their hybrid work models.
Get our ultimate guide to continuous performance management to help you set-up regular touchpoints with your hybrid workforce.
3. Focus on building a truly hybrid team culture
We’ve already established that creating and maintaining a company culture that centers around the hybrid model is essential for successful hybrid team management, however, 53% of HR teams don’t yet have initiatives in place to maintain culture across hybrid teams. In order to fix this and focus on creating a healthy team culture that centers on the hybrid environment, you can:
- Create opportunities for regular team interactions – Consistent and proactive communication is the foundation for building connections with others. Leaders who create a space for their employees to have regular social interactions will find it easier to create cohesive teams that collaborate well. While large-scale team events can help in this process, facilitating ongoing virtual hang-outs and activities for their teams is an easier and more accessible way for remote and in-person employees to get quality time together, and build their own interpersonal relationships. Some popular options for such social gatherings include online gaming events or virtual “happy hours” that allot specific time each week for employees to unwind together.
- Give authentic employee recognition – Ongoing communication and feedback has the ability to mitigate any gaps created by physical distance between employees. While we have already discussed ways ongoing communication can be used to boost performance as well as engagement within the workplace, it’s equally important to use those channels to recognize employees for their contributions. Tools that facilitate 360 degree feedback between peers, or allow leaders to shed light on the work done by their team members will boost morale and make people feel like valued members of the organization.
Optimize your hybrid workforce today
While the challenges of building a hybrid workforce may seem insurmountable at first glance, by using the strategies highlighted above, and customizing them to best fit your organization, you can ease your transition into the hybrid work model while maintaining engagement and performance. A successful hybrid model should support your team and company culture.
Implementing this approach early in your business roadmap will also allow you to get the best data and insights from your hybrid workforce that can then be used to make further strategic decisions for your organization.
Want to learn more about managing hybrid and remote teams? Download our toolkit.
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