Preparing to return to the office is a welcome and encouraging milestone as we continue to make progress with COVID-19. As employees consider their ideal post-pandemic work-life and employers scramble to quickly adapt to ever-evolving realities, hybrid work models have emerged as a popular approach. In addition to offering unmatched flexibility, hybrid approaches acknowledge something critical: The traditional office model is no longer in line with modern workflows and employee needs.
Facetime is no longer the primary workplace currency. 2020 showed us that technology like Zoom and Slack can help form, manage, and nurture meaningful workplace relationships. The past year also proved that the number of hours employees clock at the office is, frankly, irrelevant. Instead, employee performance is better evaluated through quality and quantity of output. Perhaps most notably, after over a year of pandemic-induced remote work, employees and employers alike recognized how unproductive and stress-inducing daily commutes are.
Both employees and employers stand to benefit from hybrid work models, especially considering the growth and recruitment potential of companies no longer being limited to one geographic location. Hybrid work models may also better accommodate working mothers and other employees caring for young children, a group whose work lives have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and deserve extra attention and support moving forward.
Some employers remain hesitant to embrace a hybrid approach for fear that it will create two distinct groups: in-office and remote workers. As employees recover from a year of hardship and challenges, equitable access to office resources including people, collaborative assets, and technology has never been more important.
Establishing a fair and consistent experience regardless of an employee’s location is understandably intimidating, but it’s not impossible. Here are some tactical steps workplace leaders can take to ensure every employee is supported equally and empowered to succeed.
Schedule opportunities for in-person learning
Hybrid work models still involve people working in an office, just not every day. And for some employees, having time in the office is pivotal to their success. Take business development representatives (BDRs), for instance. BDRs are typically fresh out of school, given the entry-level nature of the job. There’s an enormous benefit to BDRs spending time in-person with their peers because by sitting next to a coworker, they can hear how someone else pitches or how a more experienced colleague handles objections.
Designate one or two days a week as office days for employees who may learn faster when working alongside their peers. By intentionally scheduling in-person time for certain employees, employers can facilitate an additional opportunity for learning and innovation.
Institute a data-driven feedback loop
Few companies, if any, will be able to establish a utopian, hybrid workplace right away. The ideal implementation strategy simply hasn’t been created yet, and every approach will differ based on specific employee and company needs. Workplace leaders should therefore institute a feedback loop that includes both employee input and workplace analytics, and use this data to refine hybrid work models over time. One tactic for measuring the success of your company’s hybrid strategy is whether the majority of employees can complete the sentence, “I go into the office when ______.”
Create digital water cooler moments
Some employees may miss the spontaneity and camaraderie of working together in a physical office. Chatting by the water cooler or grabbing a coffee with a coworker may not always be feasible, however, bonding and collaboration are still happening with technology.
Encourage employees to embrace the tech tools at their disposal to foster a sense of community and belonging. The immediacy and relative informality of Slack, for example, can be leveraged to build personal relationships throughout the company and stay in constant communication, no matter an employee’s location.
Provide clear guidance and regular communication
Hybrid work models don’t mean employees have complete autonomy from their employer. It’s also unrealistic to expect employees to operate effectively right away in a hybrid environment. Companies need to set clear guidelines on the use of office assets, and educate employees on how to integrate and succeed in their new environment.
Conduct regularly recurring all-hands meetings to offer concrete ways to maximize employees’ time within and away from the office. People generally do the right thing when provided structure and proper context, so continual communication from IT, HR and facilities leaders is essential.
Like it or not, the traditional office model is no more. Rather than bemoan this evolution, embrace the new hybrid approach to work. A common mission is more important than a common building, and ultimately, employees know better than their managers how, when, and where they can be most productive.
By giving employees the power to choose how they organize their workweek while also providing structure for continual learning, bonding, and iterating, employers can establish fair and consistent experiences, optimize productivity, retain top talent, and demonstrate a genuine commitment to their employees during a period of historic change.
Brian Muse is the CTO of Robin.