The imperfect work-from-home environment that was forced into being by the once-in-a-century Covid-19 crisis gave employers and employees alike an unexpected experience. But make no mistake: Hybrid work is here to stay—pandemic or no pandemic.
It’s now widely accepted that the future of work lies in a hybrid office-home structure that brings with it a new set of challenges. As a report by McKinsey puts it, “…today’s hybrid working models were not the product of measured strategic planning but, often, of desperate triage efforts spliced together when disaster struck.”
Nevertheless, 75% of respondents to the same McKinsey survey expressed a preference for a hybrid working model, and of those, 71% said they were likely to seek opportunities elsewhere if their current employer did not offer it.
The benefits of a more flexible work structure have been enjoyed by both organizations and workers. Companies, for instance, discovered they can tap into a larger talent pool of individuals who prefer to work remotely part-time or even full-time and in locations far from the corporate office, enabling them to create a more diverse workforce.
From the employees’ standpoint, there have been mental and financial advantages. In a study by Cisco, 82% of employees said “the ability to work from anywhere has made them happier” and 76% claim to have saved up to $8,000 a year.
The pivot to hybrid work means now is the time for senior executives to reevaluate and revamp all business procedures—recruitment, onboarding, training and retaining employees—through a DEI lens.
What do you need to do to successfully navigate these uncharted waters? It’s an issue that my team and I have increasingly helped companies grapple with this past year.
When conducting research for my book, Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership, we discovered that a serious concern expressed by some remote employees was potentially falling out of favor with management. They feared that if they have the choice and are elected to become long-term remote workers, they could fall out of the loop and lose out on plum assignments.
They have good reason to be concerned. A Gartner survey revealed that 64% of managers regarded in-office employees more favorably and were more disposed to give them a higher raise.
It’s vital that leaders go out of their way to engage and include those who are not physically present in the office. Train managers to be aware of the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and to correct such unconscious bias. Have an open-door online policy, giving remote employees one-on-one time as often as possible.
Make sure that all employees understand and respect each other’s work preferences. Take every opportunity to emphasize that some colleagues prefer a different work-life balance or have a specific need to work remotely some or all of the time. Perhaps they’re a full-time or part-time caregiver for their children or parents.
When embarking on a major shift in business strategy such as hybrid work, it can also be helpful to involve external culture strategists who can walk your teams through the turmoil of change and the development of a healthy and thriving workplace culture.
According to research by Gallup, remote workers are just as—if not more—productive than in-office employees. Managers need to reassure them that they are trusted and will not be micromanaged. That goes for in-office employees too. It’s essential to remember that employees value a sense of belonging as much as their paycheck. A clearly defined company culture is inclusive no matter where employees are located.
The hybrid workplace is a work in progress. Most people have a difficult time dealing with any kind of change, which is why new procedures should be created and implemented collaboratively. It’s also why good communication is essential. Carefully monitor how it is evolving, and be ready to reexamine and change course as circumstances warrant.
Be conscious that team members who return to the office might form a clique and regard themselves in a different light, as a kind of “elite.” Don’t play favorites. Consciously seek to reward across the board. If you don’t, it will soon be noticed and draw the ire of those who might feel discriminated against.
Managers must set an example, especially in a hybrid environment. Take time to work outside the office. Go the extra mile to be inclusive and bring remote and in-office teams together. Operate on a “do as I do; not as I say” basis.
Managers need to embrace a new role as culture proponents in which flexible hybrid work is a necessary part of the way forward. Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for modern work, said it best, “The shift to a hybrid workplace doesn’t start with new technology or corporate policies. It begins with culture—one that embraces a growth mindset, a willingness to reimagine nearly every aspect of the way work gets done.”
Transitioning to a hybrid workplace while considering DEI challenges leaders to show their mettle and their own flexibility. Once you’ve made the transition, recognize it’s the beginning of the journey, not the end. It’s a great first step, but you must set procedures in place to measure the results and make changes as necessary.
Don’t become complacent. You can always do better.