Being in the office five days a week will become a thing of the past for many workers.
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A number of major employers have announced plans to have a hybrid workforce, which gives workers the option to decide where they work: at home, in the office or a combination of both.
A hybrid work model offers employees more flexibility, but having some workers at home while others are in the office can also lead to issues with communication and collaboration, and can cause some employees to feel isolated or have less access to career opportunities.
Here’s how to do it right, according to companies that have been doing it for years:
Set clear expectations
When determining schedules and who can work where and when, companies should create guidelines.
For instance, will there be a set number of days workers need to be in the office? Which positions are allowed to be remote?
Have a framework on which jobs can be done remotely, in addition to clear criteria on who is eligible to work at home.
Managers should evaluate the position, not the person in it, when determining if it can be a hybrid role, said Vanessa Matsis-McCready, associate general counsel and director of human resources for payroll firm Engage.
“You have to make sure you are being fair to all your employees and that you not going to end up with a discrimination claim or a disparate impact claim because you are allowing one individual to work from home in a similar role to another,” she said.
When it comes to setting schedules, experts suggested making decisions on a team or department level.
“I don’t think you can do this in a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Paylocity president and chief operating officer Michael Haske. The human resources and payroll company had a hybrid workforce for more than a decade before the pandemic, with 44% of employees fully remote and most everyone else working a combination of days in the office and at home.
“Each department and each function has to look at its needs and population and the type of work that it is doing and decide how do they do that hybrid,” said Haske. “Let each group organize that based on what is going to work best for them.”
Pre-pandemic, Haske had the vice presidents who report to him, who are scattered across the US, plan to be in the corporate office about once a month.
Overcommunicate, but in the right way
Communication is vital to keeping teams up to date and working toward the same goals.
Set specific guidelines on meeting times and requirements, what forms of communication should be used in certain circumstances and what tools should be used to help with collaboration.
For instance, enterprise software delivery company CloudBees, which has operated a hybrid workforce from its start in 2010, has guidelines on what tools to use to communicate.
For example, the guidelines suggest email for things like one-directional announcements, but should be avoided for synchronous discussions. Slack is better for quick conversations. But any chats that remain unresolved after five minutes are advised to become a call.
For meetings, if any colleague is joining remotely, all the participants will log on and cameras are encouraged to be on. Meetings are also often recorded.
“You need to be overcommunicating – repetition is very important,” said Sacha Labourey, co-founder and chief strategy officer. “You need to be very explicit about everything. You need to communicate on multiple channels. Don’t hesitate to send an email and follow up on Slack and remind everyone after.”
Avoid unfair advantages
Lack of face time with the boss can put remote workers at a disadvantage in terms of career growth.
“There are some real difficulties when some people are remote and everybody else is in person. You forget about that [remote] person, you don’t know what they are doing, you don’t think to talk to them because it takes extra effort,” said Judith Olson, professor of informatics at the University of California Irvine.
Employees interacting regularly with the boss in person can have the advantage of getting better assignments, having more access to information and building better social connections.
Managers need to go out of their way to communicate regularly with remote workers.
“They have to be conscious all the time of remote people,” said Olson. “The hardest thing is going to be the promotion or evaluation at the end of the year to be unbiased about people you haven’t seen very much.”
Pay attention to new hires
Joining a new company is nerve racking enough, but doing it remotely can make the process even tougher.
“It’s harder to get new people onboarded, productive and integrated in your culture…without bringing them into the office,” said Haske.
New hires at his company typically spend a week in the office for onboarding and training, but that could vary by team.
“There is a real value, particularly with new people, getting them into the offices working with some of their more tenured peer groups to really get them through those formative months where they really need that foundation.”
This summer, the company plans to bring in 70 new sales team employees to the office for about a week for in-person interaction that couldn’t happen during the pandemic.
New hires at staffing company TrueBlue, which has had a hybrid workforce for several years, are paired up with a “success coach.”
“It helps them to have someone besides their direct manager to answer questions they might feel apprehensive about. It gives them a safe space,” said chief people officer Andrea Brogger.
Remote work requires a lot of trust, and that can be hard for some managers – especially those who tend to micromanage.
Brogger suggested managers be trained on how to set clear expectations and priorities with their team and to recognize that employees have different work styles.
“People leaders need to understand the need and importance of having regular check-ins with their employees,” she said.
Socializing and relationship building can increase productivity and engagement, but it’s hard to foster when everyone isn’t in the office at the same time.
“A lot of the fun comes for free when you are in an office space because you have those times grabbing a coffee at the cafeteria, you see someone and have a quick laugh. A lot of people get depressed in a distributed environment … you don’t have those social moments,” said Labourey.
To help create more social interactions, Labourey creates a virtual water cooler event. Every week, he records a video on a relevant topic, which is then posted for employees to watch on Tuesdays. On Thursdays, he hosts company-wide Slack discussions to discuss the video and then whatever else people want to talk about.
“We just Slack in real time. You have people coming every week to make jokes, they come with fake pictures, photo montages … people with their own updates,” he said.