4 Keys for a Successful Shift to Hybrid Work

Posted in Organizational Development

You’ve listened to your workforce and, just like our Hybrid Workforce Revolution Report, have heard a resounding ‘yes, please’ for hybrid working. Great stuff.

But how do you navigate the transition with confidence, to make sure your people don’t become casualties of a failed experiment?

We’ve spent years helping some of the world’s leading organizations navigate momentous employee transitions with oomph and ooh-la-la. The circumstances (COVID) and scale (everyone, everywhere, all at once) might be different but the principles of experience-driven change hold true.

So, here are our four top tips. Without further ado…

1 – Personalize your approach

girl in white and black shirt holding baby in white onesieWe talk about personalization in onboarding all the time. The same’s just as true for any major transition – including the move to hybrid work. To make any major change successful, don’t treat your people as one-size-fits-all.

Although our research showed the overwhelming majority are either thriving (47%) or completely unphased by hybrid work (36%), a small minority (17%) said they were finding it difficult not being in the office daily.

Likewise, we uncovered some global disparities that show the importance of a localized approach. For example, we found employees in the UK are the most confused about their organization’s vision moving forwards and leaders in the US are struggling most with burnout.

Find the people across your organization who might need extra support to thrive. Gather and dig into employee insights – who’s struggling? Who’s nervous? Who’s ambivalent? And most important – why, why, why?

With the answers to those questions, you’ll have a much better idea where and how best to give support.

For example, maybe Sam’s struggling because her partner’s working from home too and they’re both wedged onto the kitchen table. Once pandemic-enforced work-from-home ends and Sam can choose when to work from home or the office, the problem probably vanishes.

Or perhaps Jake is struggling because he lives alone and feels isolated from his work community. A robust calendar of social events might help re-establish that balance. Or establishing weekly team collaboration days where everyone works from the office together.

2 – Build and communicate clear expectations

A remnant of an older world with different social norms and expectations, the traditional nine-to-five, office-based model of work hasn’t met many people’s needs for a long time.

Years of escalating burnout and stagnating productivity were two major red flags for this pre-pandemic model – but it’s taken the overnight massive upheaval of COVID to show us a different path.

But for all the old model’s flaws, it was familiar – and, as we all know, familiarity is comfortable. As we navigate the transition towards hybrid working, we’ll bump up against a lot of unfamiliarity that could derail progress and cause anxiety. New challenges; new questions; new expectations; new assumptions.

Put another way, your people always knew what was expected of them before (even if those expectations weren’t ideal). Now, they’re at sea.

Organizations must take time to build and communicate clear expectations around this transition. We found 68% of employees globally say their organization’s plans for post-pandemic work are vague or haven’t been communicated at all, for example. That’s deeply damaging. It erodes trust and amplifies anxiety.

Answer questions like… do you have a dress code for Zoom calling from home? Are people expected to work a certain number of hours weekly from the office? Can they take their home lunchbreak anytime? Can they expense their morning coffee from the coffee shop near their house?

Your organization might prefer a laissez-faire attitude to work – treating your people as adults who’ll naturally know what’s acceptable and not. But this new world of work changes those rules. Where you don’t define expectations, expect unspoken rules to run unchecked – and the anxiety, uncertainty, and mistakes that come with them.

3 – Treat hybrid working as a continuous process…

black flat screen tv turned on near green indoor plant

… and not as a discrete project. Over the past year, the pandemic forced everyone’s hand and thrust us into this giant experiment (whether willing or not). And over the past 12-18 months or so, we’ve mostly kept our heads above water.

There’s a huge amount to be proud of. Especially HR folks, who’ve been working extraordinary hours under extraordinary circumstances without any blueprint. BUT there’s a but.

Just like our State of EX: COVID Edition last year, our Hybrid Workplace research highlighted a major disconnect between how businesses think they’re doing and how they’re really doing.

For example, 80% of leaders said they’re confident their employees are well set-up to work from home – compared to only 67% of employees. That’s a 19% difference. Likewise, 61% of leaders say their organization helps with all remote work expenses… compared to only 13% of employees. That’s a whopping 369% difference.

This overconfidence risks hiding opportunities to improve, causing early problems to escalate into serious business-critical issues that are much harder to solve.

By the time you notice symptoms like disengagement and churn, it’s almost impossible to turn the ship around. It’s easily remedied instead by treating hybrid working like an ongoing project and continuously gathering and acting on employee insights to guide progress.

4 – Re-evaluate your processes, policies, and tools

assorted notepads

Everything’s changed practically overnight – it makes sense your processes, policies and tools might need to change too. Scrutinize all your people processes through the lens of hybrid working, to evaluate whether they’re still fit-for-purpose.

Hybrid work is something employees want (so much so, 69% said they’d consider moving jobs if they’re forced back to the office full-time) – and it’s something employers are considering (87% of leaders say their organization is looking to offer flexible working post-pandemic).

But the data also shows most organizations have some distance to cover before they’re acing the transition. Taking a microscope – then, if needed, a scalpel – to your processes, policies and tools is the start of making this a success.

There are undoubtedly massive benefits to the hybrid work model – but there are also huge challenges we mustn’t lose sight of. We might’ve all been thrust unceremoniously into a home-working environment but we’re finally getting the breathing space now to pause, consider next steps carefully, and scale. Put your people at the heart of change and you won’t go far wrong.

Download our 2021 Hybrid Workplace Revolution report to explore the expectations and impact of hybrid work for global employers.

the hybrid workplace book

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