There’s been a lot of speculation about what work is going to look like after the pandemic.
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Some companies have said they’ll allow employees to work from home permanently. Others want everyone back in the office once it’s safe. And then there are those that land somewhere in the middle.
A hybrid workforce, where employees can choose to work both remotely and in the office as it best fits their schedule, offers a lot flexibility. But it also requires communication, planning and trust among team members.
There’s likely to be a lot of trial and error as companies try to figure out what works best for their employees and for the business.
At Germany-based travel company Trivago, the transition to remote work has proven effective for the company, but CEO Axel Hefer says something is still missing.
“We are now benefiting from the human capital we have built up over the years by spending a lot of time together. That cannot continue forever.” Hefer added that one-on-one meetings, creative brainstorms and strategy development tend to work better in person.
At the same time, he doesn’t want to lose the flexibility remote work offers. To find a balance, the company will test out a hybrid model where workers come into the office some of the time and work remote the rest. They will test bringing experienced employees in for one or two weeks every month for meetings and other team events. New employees will train in person for at least a week.
And Hefer knows the model will evolve over time.
“We will collect feedback and see what has worked well and what hasn’t and then do something slightly different,” he said. “It could take years to find the right balance that works to get the best of both worlds.”
Here’s what some experts say about how to run a hybrid workforce successfully:
Some employers might want a set schedule from employees on where they plan to work. That could mean making Thursday, Friday and Monday remote days, or rotating full weeks of in-office and at-home work. Others could be okay with a more ad hoc approach.
Either way, communication and consistency are key.
“If you have a dispersed team and can’t get everyone around the table as you used to … how do you map organizational objectives and priorities?” said Rhiannon Staples, CMO of people management platform Hibob.
Managers need to be clear with their goals, priorities and objectives while employees need to be transparent about when and where they are working and when they will and won’t be available while they are working remotely.
“Managers should set expectations about performance, communication and in-person meetings at the beginning of the hybrid relationship and everyone should understand that this should continue to evolve with the demands of the business,” said Vanessa Matsis-McCready, associate general counsel and director of human resources for Engage PEO.
Have a policy
Companies should create clear, written expectations on where their employees can work.
“One of the things employers should be doing to address hybrid workplaces is looking at their policies or updating their handbook to make sure internal practices are followed,” said Deniece Maston, knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management.
When it comes to creating policy, consistency is key.
“If you are doing a hybrid model, look at consistency and be careful not to discriminate against anyone or hold anyone to a different standard,” said Matsis-McCready.
She added that policies should include performance and communication expectations. “[That might mean] daily or weekly check-ins, hours when the individual is expected to be accessible, or the types of events or days that individuals are expected to be physically present.”
Get managers on board
Not all managers are going to be comfortable managing a remote team.
“Managing a remote workforce takes a different mindset, tools and mechanisms,” said Staples.
“It is important to make sure you are tying employee activities to business objectives and some managers need to be trained on how to do that and how to get focused on outcomes.”
Micromanagers, in particular, might have a difficult time with this shift if they aren’t able to physically see their teams.
Treat everyone the same
There’s always a risk that remote workers will become out-of-sight, out-of-mind and get passed over for prominent projects, promotions and other opportunities.
Don’t let that happen.
“Management should provide similar training, access, mentorship and opportunities to those who are remote and in the physical office,” said Matsis-McCready.
She added that managers shouldn’t assume remote workers are less committed to their job than someone coming into the office every day.
“Communicate with everyone consistently. For example, individuals should be included in all pertinent meetings, including informal meetings, that may affect a remote team member. They should be called or video-conferenced in.”
Get the tech right
Tech issues can cause productivity to come to a screeching halt.
Making a lot of progress in the office on a project only to find that it was saved on a server you can’t access remotely the next day is a problem.
“The tech needs to be fluid,” said Matsis-McCready.
Make sure there are the proper docking stations in the office for workers’ laptops and that everyone has the right access to servers and folders both in and out of the office.