Managers across the US find themselves facing rapid and sometimes disruptive change resulting from the pandemic. A broad swath of the workforce has experienced remote work or policies that allow them to work from home at least part of the time. Many organizations find they cannot retain high performers or hire quality candidates unless they offer these options. In this blog, I address major issues for managing a hybrid workforce and offer insights and possible solutions based on a review of research from several prominent organizations.
Accept the Fact That Hybrid Work is Here to Stay
A hybrid workforce is one that includes on-site and remote employees. Some organizations designate employees as either remote all the time or in the office all the time. However, the majority of employers now allow employees to work remotely part or most of the time. Regardless of the particular policies in place, all organizations must grapple with the challenge of managing a workforce that is not together all the time in one location. According to Gartner,1 by the end of 2023, 51% of U.S. knowledge workers will work hybrid and another 20% will be fully remote.
The media is full of stories about companies struggling to get their employees to come back to the office. Amazon’s chief executive told employees to return to the office three days a week to have more face-to-face encounters and “serendipitous interaction.” 2 At Orchard, a real estate company where staff is in the office two days a week, the chief people officer said “It’s hard to make it work, but when you do, it’s magical.” The headline of a recent article in the Washington Post, “Offices Half-Full, Likely to Stay There”, says it all. Telework and remote work have created many empty cubicles across the federal city.
Employee Input Will Shape the Future of Work
The more that organizations take into account the employee experience, the more successful they will be. Employees’ expectations are changing, and what employers can offer–the employee value proposition–must change with them. The pandemic experience has elevated the importance of health and well-being for employees. According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Index, 53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and well-being over work.3 And 47% are more likely to put family and their personal lives first. Employees are open to changing jobs more frequently to find the work environment they want, including the ability to work remotely.
Understand How Hybrid Work Is Different
A 2022 Gallup report identifies four dynamics of hybrid work that managers must understand to be effective. 4 The graphic below depicts these dynamics and some things managers can do to address them.
|Hybrid Work Dynamic||What it is …||What managers should do …|
|Engagement and well-being||Many employees feel isolated and want in-person connections with colleagues, but not necessarily on a full-time basis. Hybrid work attempts to address this.||Hold frequent check-ins to coach and provide real-time feedback. Ask employees how they are managing work and life; care about their answer and really listen. Track employee well-being and pay attention to how well-being and engagement affect one another.|
|Fairness and inclusion||Some employees might not be able to work from home. Persons who cannot be in the office very often (for example, working mothers) might not be able to advance as quickly as those who are in the office more frequently.||Pay attention to subtle ways that hybrid work policies can impact certain employees. Regularly monitor who takes advantage of which flexibilities. Plan regular one-on-one meetings with each employee. Be sure to include all employees in important decisions.|
|Trust and productivity||Performance excellence is built around trust and relationships.||Train managers to help their employees develop. Stress competencies that build trust. (e.g., teamwork, collaboration, conflict resolution) Coach leaders to value productivity metrics rather than tallying activities that keep people busy.|
|Relationships and culture||Organizations are worried that hybrid work will erode working relationships and weaken their workplace culture.||Since a hybrid approach still a new concept, it may make sense to create a new charter for your teams. Address topics such as meeting effectiveness, how to include remote employees, and etiquette for video meetings. Increase chances to meet when employees do come to the office.|
Get Ahead of Change by Managing Strategically
The new era of hybrid work means designing work around the individual rather than location. Make this transition by providing flexible work experiences and fostering intentional collaboration as a substitute for informal “water cooler” encounters. Organizations should train, develop, promote, and hire managers who are able to empathize and connect well with employees who are remote or not in the office every day.
A one size fits all, top-down approach to hybrid work is unlikely to be successful. Work units and teams need to establish their own norms and procedures. A key goal should be to take full advantage of in-person collaborative opportunities and events to increase team connections and cohesion.
Measure, evaluate, and adjust hybrid work implementation. Regularly measure employee engagement and retention through surveys and qualitative data collection. Use the data to evaluate and adjust policies and practices as necessary. Rather than benchmarking and searching for best practices in other organizations, pay attention to what is working in your own workplace culture and replicate it. Given that hybrid work is so new and so dependent on workplace culture, any list of “best practices” for managing in a hybrid environment should be viewed with healthy skepticism.
The hybrid work environment requires managers to think differently about how work gets done and their role as leaders. When implemented successfully, the potential benefits of this flexible model are considerable—reduced employee stress and burnout, improved engagement and job satisfaction, a bigger pool of geographically dispersed job candidates, and significant advantages for achieving better diversity and inclusion. Virtual meetings and collaboration will only get easier as technologies evolve and we all sharpen the skills we need for success in the hybrid workplace.
Gartner, Press release (2023, March 1). https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2023-03-01-gartner-forecasts-39-percent-of-global-knowledge-workers-will-work-hybrid-by-the-end-of-2023
Emma Goldberg (2023, March 3), CEOs try to figure out the hybrid office, The New York Times. p. A1.
Microsoft (2022, March 16). Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work (2022 Work Trend Index: Annual Report). https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/great-expectations-making-hybrid-work-work.
Brecheisen, J., Truscott-Smith, A., & Wigert, B. (2022, March 31). The Four Essential Dynamics of Hybrid Work. Gallup. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/390944/four-essential-dynamics-hybrid-work.aspx
Preston “Tim” Brown is a Senior Human Capital Consultant on FMP’s team supporting the National Science Foundation. He is a former Federal employee and worked on training and organization development at the US Census Bureau. Tim joined FMP in May 2021 following extensive consulting experience at small firms, including The Millennium Group International, Lindholm Associates, and Performance Excellence Partners, and larger companies including PwC and Grant Thornton. Tim first worked on leadership development and succession planning in the private sector and brings those best practices to his federal consulting projects. His favorite past-times include foreign travel, reading history and fiction classics, backpacking, and wilderness canoeing.