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September 2, 2021

Bringing your hybrid workforce to life? Here’s what you need to consider

Bringing your hybrid workforce to life-Here’s what you need to consider

The idea of a fully remote workforce was once considered a pipe dream, scoffed at by cynics who labelled it idealistic. Since the pandemic, however, remote work has become the norm, and this has consequently led to the widespread acceptance of hybrid work as people return to the office1.

This sentiment is reflected among business leaders globally, including social media giants such as LinkedIn2 and Twitter3. In a recent Gartner survey, 82% of 127 company leaders say they intend to allow remote working some of the time as employees return to the workplace4. It’s great news for many employees5 who are happier6 with a more flexible arrangement that offers better work-life balance7, increased productivity8, and more time with their loved ones.

For many companies, especially small-medium businesses (SMBs), going hybrid is a chance to hit reset and optimize for the post-pandemic future9. But the shift brings with it a fresh set of challenges for organizations. It’s no longer about managing a remote workforce, but how to manage a more complex, hybrid one, says Elisabeth Joyce, VP and Team Manager, Gartner Research & Advisory, says Elisabeth Joyce, VP and Team Manager, Gartner Research & Advisory10.

For hybrid work to work, in addition to figuring out the digital strategy, corporate policies and culture must be re-evaluated as well. Here are six key areas to consider before SMBs transition to hybrid work.

Communicate the new policies clearly

The first thing is to ensure that corporate policies are communicated clearly, and early on. It is important to establish hybrid work policies that are clear and consistent regarding who and what kind of job functions are eligible for hybrid work, what kind of digital tools will be provided, how long is the working hours, performance expectations, and so on.

For some teams and employees, there may be the need to have regular check-ins in the first few months of hybrid work implementation to review whether the arrangement has been effective, or if any adjustments are needed.

HR, IT, and senior management will need to collaborate closely together in setting the ground rules, and take into consideration that these policies may need continuous refinement as the business rolls out hybrid work arrangement. At the end of the day, the transition to hybrid work should ultimately improve employee performance, productivity, and workplace satisfaction. And it is only when the ground rules and expectations are clear, can the new way of work be implemented successfully.

What is in your employee’s hybrid work toolkit?

Alongside new work practices and policies, your hybrid workforce needs the digital tools to work effortlessly from anywhere. Go for a mobile-friendly set-up that allows them to perform their jobs efficiently, while on the go. Among the must-haves are light, durable laptops, stable access to internet, comprehensive communications and collaboration software, and robust cybersecurity solutions.

Skills and training make up the other crucial part of the toolkit. When SMBs roll out new digital tools and software to enable hybrid work, they need to ensure that every employee is comfortable using the tools in their day-to-day work. If not, training materials should be provided so that employees from any function and different level of tech-savviness are able to adapt and not left behind.

Therefore, before you send your employees off on their hybrid work journey, have a reassessment of your IT inventory and evaluate whether your employees are well-equipped to do their job in a hybrid work model. Again, this will require SMBs to have a clear understanding of the employee profile, job function, and capability to use the necessary technology successfully.

Create the social glue to bind your hybrid team

That said, without the regular lunches, coffee breaks, and face-to-face meetings, the chance for interpersonal office interaction can be lost, and even lead to inequality between remote and office workers due to the difference in face time with colleagues that help build rapport and camaraderie.

To keep your teams tight-knit, keep up existing practices such as regular one-to-one check-ins, hybrid townhalls, or even virtual happy hour for both remote and office workers using Microsoft 365 or Google Meet to keep everyone engaged, so that connecting one another is simply one click away. This will require the business to ensure that the office environment and digital set-up for each employee enable easy and instant communication no matter where they are.

While these virtual events may not replace the watercooler chit-chats, they will help foster personal communication and break social siloes.

Put the ‘T’ in Trust

The shift to a hybrid work model is a culture shift more than anything. But for the hybrid model to work, SMBs need to be the kind of employer who can trust their employees — even if they don’t see them. Trust is integral in managing hybrid teams11. Mistrust, on the other hand, is a downward spiral that leads to a decline in productivity12.

Lead by example and show your team what trust in hybrid work looks like. In this case, do it with your personal work practices and ethics. A leader’s actions are particularly impactful within small teams, a familiar dynamic for many SMBs. Equally important is keeping a two-way conversation going. This creates a mutual understanding between leaders and their teams (and within teams).

Burnout: more common than you think

Since the pandemic, we are working longer hours and experiencing more digitally intensive days13. Fifty-four percent of respondents in Microsoft's Work Trend Index report feeling overworked, while thirty-nine percent feel exhausted14.

Burnout leads to low motivation, poor quality work, and lower productivity. In a hybrid work arrangement where work and personal boundaries blur, workers have a higher risk of experiencing burnout.

Take note if your employees are clocking more hours than they should. It could be a sign that work processes need tweaking in the new work arrangement or more resources are needed. Lay some ground rules within the company to circumvent hybrid work burnout, too. Set a policy that encourages a culture of rest and taking regular breaks15. Measure productivity with outcome-driven goals instead of hours worked. Not least, check in regularly on your team to get a sense of their mental and emotional well-being.

Managing a hybrid team will take regular tweaking over time to get it right. But you certainly will not go wrong following one simple mantra: keep your employees’ best interest at heart.

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