Whether you welcome the challenge or dread it, if you’re a white-collar manager you’re likely going to be leading a team that will split their time between working in the office on some days and working at home on others.
Figuring out the many variables you’ll have to take into account might feel akin to solving the Rubik’s Cube.
But here are seven things you can do to help ensure the new set up is successful for everyone.
1. Figure out your ‘work value proposition’
Why exactly is it important to have people come back to the office? Chances are your team has been delivering for the past 15 months while working from home.
“You have to make their new employee experience in the office worth it – you can’t just tell people they have to come back to the office because it’s a requirement,” said Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy in Gallup’s workplace management practice.
After all, a big reason companies are moving to a hybrid model is to help retain good employees, who now expect greater flexibility in how they work.
2. Rethink how work can and should be done
Part of figuring out the work value proposition is identifying what work your team does, how they did it before and during the pandemic and then considering whether those processes still make sense in light of three things: the lifting of pandemic restrictions, your clients’ or customers’ expectations going forward, and how your team has to interact with other internal departments.
Then decide what work and other activities are really best done at the office.
“Be very intentional about how you spend your time in the office versus working from home. When employees are in the office they should plan to engage in interpersonal activities that are easier in-person, such as catching-up over lunch, team building, and collaborating on highly interdependent tasks,” Wigert added.
3. Consult your team members
There’s a reason why executives are constantly told to “lead with empathy.”
“The brilliant thing about empathy is that it generates a neurological need for reciprocity,” said psychologist Leo Flanagan, founder of The Center for Resilience.
If you make an effort to understand your employees’ circumstances, needs and preferences – even the times of day when they are least productive – they, in turn, will be more likely to work with you on meeting goals.
Making a hybrid model work successfully is about co-creating with your employees, not making unilateral, top-down decisions. That means finding out what schedules work best for everyone and trying to accommodate them to the extent possible without compromising your ability to deliver the results your company expects.
“Partner with them,” said George Penn, vice president in charge of research and advisory services at consulting firm Gartner. “Management and executive teams are often more unconnected to day-to-day work, so [employees can] let them know where value is added.”
Experts differ on whether it makes the most sense to have all team members be in the office on the same days or if it’s okay to have a more variable schedule.
But Mike Hughes, managing director of advisory services & transformation at consulting firm West Monroe, recommends finding at least one day a week if possible where most or all of your team members are in the office.
4. Be fair to everyone, regardless of where they’re working
This is especially a concern if you have some team members who work at home more than others.
“Everyone should have equal opportunities to develop, be heard, and perform their best, regardless of work location. Be mindful of inadvertently giving more opportunities to those who spend more time in the office,” Wigert said.
For example, when you’re conducting a meeting, make a concerted effort to evenly split how often you engage with those in the room and those who dialed in, Hughes suggested.
The same goes for seeking input on decisions and approvals from everyone who used to weigh in before the pandemic, but who might not always be “right there” when discussions pop up in the office.
5. Create a cheat sheet
When you settle on a schedule of who will be working where when, create a list for team members of where their colleagues will be (at home or in the office) Monday to Friday, Hughes suggested.
Include the best ways to contact them on each day and times they most likely won’t be available for meetings, either because they’ll be commuting or have recurring commitments when working from home, like dropping off the kids at school.
Also be clear verbally and in writing about what working hours in the office and at home will be.
6. Periodically review how well the new model is working
Decisions you make now should not be set in stone.
This hybrid model is new for most, and you and your team should regularly assess what’s working and adjust for what’s not.
Flanagan suggests reviewing your schedule and protocols every three months or so. “Neurologically, people can sign up for a 90-day period. It’s not so far out and not so close.”
7. Remember, done right this will be good for your career
Hybrid work is likely here to stay. So rather than viewing it as a burden, approach it as a new management skill to learn.
“It’s going to be part of your current job and part of your future career opportunities, too,” Penn said. “[Managing a hybrid team] is a capability and a skill set you’ll want to grow.”