Managing a hybrid workforce effectively has created a significant competitive advantage for organisations who are seizing the opportunity to attract and retain top talent. A hybrid workplace model can bring the best of both worlds, blending the connection of a face-to-face workplace with the flexibility of remote work and variable schedules, allowing employees to build careers without sacrificing their lifestyle and well-being.
An effective hybrid approach allows for greater lifestyle choice for employees, while still enabling teams to collaborate, deliver high-performance, and maintain a great company culture – when done well.
Co-location as a vibrant hybrid hub
There are potentially some financial benefits for organisations to transition to a hybrid workplace model, reducing the reliance on monolithic CBD towers.
Even for office-based staff, some organisations are adopting a win-win approach of shifting to light-filled new premises close to home and family in new leafy, lifestyle-designed outer suburbs, which enable connected face-to-face collaboration, without the hours lost to the commute.
For organisations retaining a CBD address, many are opting for much smaller, custom-built work destinations, so that when team members do come to a shared space, it is purposeful, in an attractive, inspiring location that represents the team’s culture and values.
So is the hybrid model worth the hype?
Improved technology has enabled making the transition to becoming a hybrid workplace easier for organisations with potential benefits for all stakeholders. In addition to potential organisational cost-savings and increased lifestyle benefits for individuals from flexibility of working hours or location, there are opportunities for higher performance, better collaboration and an even more connected culture.
Potential Productivity increases
There are also potential productivity increases for individuals when embracing a hybrid approach. Working from home can decrease the commute to a one minute trip giving time back to work, family and other interests.
Potential productivity increases can also be gained by remote workers away from the distractions and interruptions of a busy, noisy work environment, especially if it is open-plan.
However, if employees have a noisy home environment without a designated home-office, having the choice of a well-designed workplace with designated quiet working spaces can be ideal for concentration and deep work.
Lifestyle and well-being benefits
Undoubtedly, there are many potential lifestyle and well-being benefits from a hybrid work environment. Employees can have more flexibility for time with family, further study and other interests. This can also create benefits for an organisation in that people with better balance and mental health can make better employees than those feeling burned out.
Higher individual and team performance can be created through not taking an arbitrary approach to work schedules and location. Great questions to consider are:
How does the employee work best?
While some people thrive in a stimulating, energised team environment, for others, the inability to block out the distractions can impact on their outputs if they need to concentrate. It is also ideal to consider when the employee works best if working hours are flexible. Some team members smash out their most creative work first thing in the morning while others can be more effective later at night with fewer distractions.
How does the team work best?
When teams need to collaborate and think creatively together, it can work best if they are physically together, especially in a vibrant co-located space. However, sometimes virtual collaboration tools can be more inclusive for employees who can be more reserved in a face-to-face meeting.
What does the work require?
Performance can be increased through consideration of the optimal environment for the type of work involved. While some work by its nature must be completed within the physical work environment, other tasks may be performed better elsewhere. Concentration may be better without distractions. Creativity may increase through bouncing ideas with others, or may flow more naturally away from focussed work, in a café.
Sometimes team-building and connection can be easier face-to-face. It is about intentionally coming together at specific times for the purpose of connection and collaboration, rather than simply being co-located and wishfully hoping that an effective culture is created.
However, virtual networking (especially with breakout rooms, microphones and cameras on) can result in some connected conversations when people are actively involved. Some teams actually connect better in a remote environment, because the connection is more intentional.
How does a manager lead an effective transition to a hybrid workforce?
It’s about the people. Having the conversations to truly understand all your employees, as well as the work itself. It may seem simpler from a manager’s perspective to have your employees co-located, or appear financially beneficial to move to a totally remote workforce, or administratively easier to prescribe which days hybrid workers are in-person in shared workspace.
However, an arbitrary approach may not necessarily create the best outcomes for either the employees or the organisation. Opportunities for new ways in a hybrid workplace require new approaches to leadership.
The Secret is conversations, choice and empowerment
Transitioning to a hybrid workplace effectively requires having connected conversations and asking questions to understand the team and the work. The more empowered the team feels and the more choice they believe they have about how, when and where they work best, the more committed they can be to a hybrid workplace.
During 2020, the world of work was tipped on its end and many people did not have the choice, being suddenly forced into remote working. In addition to feelings of isolation and loss of social connection, many remote employees struggled with inadequate home offices, juggling home schooling and technological issues ranging from Zoom fatigue, to “you’re on mute”, “I’m not a cat” and family members (and pets) unintentionally photo bombing weekly virtual meetings.
This also challenged many managers’ comfort zones, being no longer able to easily see their teams working, with some feeling the need to try micro-managing their remote workers.
A remote or hybrid model can also blur the distinction between ‘work’ and the rest of ‘life’, especially when they are in the same physical space and technology can enable us to be connected to work 24/7. When there is choice, there can be opportunity. When there is limited choice and a lack of boundaries, employees can feel unable to switch off and burnt out.
Work-life balance is so last century
Last century, before hybrid referred to either workplaces or cars, work-life balance usually meant flexibility of rosters or occasional work from home. It was considered a special privilege for employees to be able to juggle work with carer responsibilities.
Lockdowns have demonstrated that many of us not only have adapted to effective remote work, we have also realised potential productivity, lifestyle and well-being benefits to a majority of employees.
Not a snap back to all being co-located
There has been extensive criticism of organisations that have recently snapped into an “everyone back into the office” approach, as there is now an opportunity for organisations to consider less binary approaches that provide the best outcomes for all stakeholders.
Change management in a hybrid work environment
For employers now considering embracing a truly hybrid workplace, there are many opportunities. However, this doesn’t come without challenges.
Change can often negatively impact employees if not done well and may elicit a strong emotional response. Employees may resist the change if they feel that it has been imposed on them with minimal consultation.
For many employees, this is understandable, as their connection to their work is far greater than as simply a source of income. Work can be a key part of our
- social connection and network
- sense of self-worth in terms of our work ethic and unique skills
- identity and perception of place in society
Involving employees in any change process can be more challenging if employees are already working remotely to some extent. Large town hall meetings to communicate any potential change can feel less connected if they are virtual and serendipitous one-on-one catch-ups are less likely.
Now that there is a choice hybrid workplace approach for many roles, the challenge for leaders to evolve their leadership style and approach to involve their teams and individual employees in a new, more connected way.
How to make change management successful with a hybrid team
Create a compelling story
Effective change management always starts with a compelling story (“the why”) about the potential reasons and benefits of change for all stakeholders.
The more visually engaging the better for an emotive connection with remote workers.
Learn about our change management consulting services.
Involve the team
Even if an change approach worked brilliantly elsewhere, it may not work within another organisation.
Ask employees what they value about their organisation’s unique culture and strive to retain that as a key foundation for any change, then seek their involvement through focus groups, collaboration boards and one-on-one conversations.
The more individuals can see their words and ideas in a vision for the future, the higher team engagement will be.
Work with your teams to change behaviours (starting with yours)
Successful change isn’t a linear process and learning to lead a hybrid team requires role modelling, setting clear expectations, vulnerability and a growth mindset. An evolving approach to leadership means that you don’t always get it right first go.
Top tips for managing a high-performance hybrid culture
1. Create a compelling reason for hybrid workers to come in to a shared workplace
The successful physical workplace is a hub that is aligned to the organisation’s unique culture and identity. It has energetic spaces to connect and collaborate with team mates, as well as calm places to have connected conversations or uninterrupted thinking. Hybrid team members come to the shared workspace with an intended purpose and not simply because it is a scheduled ‘in the office’ day.
Click the following link to learn more about our organisational culture consultancy services.
2. Ensure remote work team members feel included in the entire team and have an equal voice
When there is a mix of in-office and remote team members, ensure that remote team members have an equal voice and receive equal attention – vital for employee morale. If one team member is virtual, have everyone virtual.
3. Balance support with trust and empowerment for remote workers
Create a supportive, trusting hybrid workplace environment for employees. Where possible, empower them to work how, when and where that suits them, the work and the team best.
4. Balance connection with productivity
Increasing levels of comfort with virtual collaboration software and communication tools has meant that hybrid teams can have increased productivity while maintaining and sometimes increasing team connection.
Looking for professional advice on hybrid workplace management? Get in touch with our consulting team and start the conversation today.