by Kai Andrews

Part 1: What to consider and how to establish hybrid work for your organization.

The time has come to reopen the office doors. But what defines the “office” in a post-pandemic world?

Some companies are making the bold statement that physical office spaces are a thing of the past. There are others claiming they will return to the pre-pandemic norm of having everyone back in the office…as if nothing happened. But something did happen. Employees across the globe were forced out of the office and brought work into their homes. While the pandemic often made the work-from-home situation less than ideal (at-home schooling, too many people in less-than-optimal spaces that were never meant for work, inadequate tools), individuals also quickly adapted – while enjoying a few perks along the way: no commute headaches and the flexibility of working any time, from almost anywhere.

Now schools are re-opening, improved collaboration tools are rolling out, and many have invested in building out at-home workspaces, leaving employees questioning whether they want to go back to business as usual. Many crave the in-office experience - the ad-hoc “water cooler talks,” in-person exchange of ideas and team building events. Yet the need for in-person connection varies from person to person. Some will be happy with just a handful of hours every other week, while others want to be in the office more frequently. And if work goals are met, productivity is maintained and teamwork is not disrupted, why not consider offering that choice of balancing home and office work times to all employees, aka: the hybrid work model.

This hybrid work arrangement, a balance of working in-office and remotely, will become an expected norm offered by companies around the globe. With the choice of hybrid work becoming an expected benefit, companies planning to return to a full in-office work environment may struggle to attract and retain talent. So where does one start to build a robust hybrid model?

Hybrid work: Where to start

A hybrid work environment is not just a policy or declaration by leadership. You need to have the commitment and resources necessary to ensure long-term success. Point B helped companies implement hybrid work environments years before the pandemic hit and learned there are six key factors inherent in enabling successful flexible work environments.

Six Factors for Successful Hybrid Work

With success criteria defined, now it’s time to evaluate who qualifies for participating in a hybrid work program.

Which roles qualify for hybrid work?

There are jobs that simply don’t lend themselves to any degree of remote work. These roles – often labeled as “essential” during the pandemic – are ones in which employees must be in an office or designated work setting to be effective.

Beyond “essential” workers, when delineating between those who can and cannot participate in hybrid work, make sure you’re focusing on the role, rather than the individual. Without emotion and prejudice, objectively evaluate the work tasks and determine whether the daily job requirements include:

  • Direct physical contact with a piece of equipment or paperwork
  • Face-to-face interactions with internal/external customers/business partners
  • In-person attendance at internal and external meetings
  • Regulatory or industry requirements or regulations that would prevent individuals from working at a remote location.

Don’t let preconceived notions such as, “I need to have my team in person to manage them effectively,” or, “I only believe my team is working if I can see them, influence the process. These issues put manager prejudice in play and remove the choice from the employee. The next article in this series addresses how managers can learn and evolve their leadership styles in the face of hybrid team dynamics.

Where, when and how

You have identified the roles that qualify for remote work. Now it’s time to make sure that you think about your hybrid work standards, your policy, in a holistic way. Consider the where, when, and how to work as core components of your policy:

Where the work is located

This is the dimension that most often comes to mind when hybrid work models are being considered but comes with some complexities. Establish policies and standards that consider:

  • Work locations: when joining meetings, what is an acceptable work location? Is it okay to be on a beach? On a walk? In the car? Now is the time to set some standards.
  • Living location: determine where you will allow employees to reside geographically. Decide on which cities, states and even countries are viable alternatives. Consider time zone impacts, compensation models and even how health plans may or may not transfer across geographic borders.
  • Hiring locations: hybrid work models can open new markets from which to source talent - and often at competitive rates. Make it clear whether teams can hire in non-traditional markets.
  • Team event locations: consider how often and where you want the team or parts of the team to come together in person…and why! Communicate your decisions to the facilities team so that they can reconcile requests from multiple teams. Also make sure that the get-together has value from being in-person. Just giving a status update will frustrate those who commuted to the event.

When to work

Many workers interpret a hybrid work policy as one that allows them to flex the time that they work. Be explicit whether this is truly the case for your organization and team by considering:

  • Flex days: once again, analyze the work being done to determine whether it is okay to flex work days. Clearly state whether weekends are viable workdays or articulate the interdependencies that require traditional M-F workday models.
  • Flex hours: can you consider alternative times? Can a 4/10 model work based on the work at hand? Early mornings and late evenings may also be viable.
  • Time zones: if your team members span multiple time zones, teach your team to respect those time differences. There are some great tools like the ZoneTrekker app that put time zone management front and center.

How to work

Understand how your organization communicates, works with files and content and connects via meetings. Then incorporate collaboration standards that consider:

  • Communications: decide, as a team, which communication channels to use and for what purpose. When will you chat? When is email appropriate? Use elements like audience size, message formality and communication complexity when setting standards for the team.
  • Working with documents: set standards around where files will be stored. Ideally, ALL files are in some type of cloud repository for easy sharing, access, and co-editing. SharePoint, Google Drive, Teams, Dropbox - give clear guidance.
  • Meetings: don’t fall back on bad habits when you find yourself in a hybrid meeting with some online participants. Turn on the room camera, speak to the camera, mind the microphone location and avoid in-room side conversations. Online participants are equal participants. Ask for virtual white board software and integrated screens in physical office spaces. Make sure to learn how to facilitate a virtual working session – it is different!

So, here you are. You’ve set up your hybrid work program, which includes equitable standards based on objective fact. Your organization and teams are poised to work smarter, faster and better than ever before. Embrace the future, continue to learn and adjust. The future is now!

Ready for more? Check out Part 2: The Next Normal – Leading a Hybrid Work Team here