The world of work looks different now. Things have forever changed, though employers are still wondering just what that means. One thing that has become increasingly clear, though, is that the hybrid workforce model will be a mainstay for personnel organizations, for many types of companies large and small.
As we try to imagine the office of the future, the one thing we don’t see — and likely will never see again – is entirely co-located employees. Physical distancing protocols virtually eliminate cost-effective use of space.
Long before the pandemic, we were familiar with distributed teams. Employees worked from multiple offices regionally or around the world. In recent years, some remote employees may also have worked from home. But where you worked was the same every day. COVID-19 forced previously hesitant employers to accept work-from-home as an option, and even back in May 86% said they had gained confidence in this alternative.
Nonetheless, HR professionals worried that a move toward remote working would make it harder to evaluate job candidates and assess ongoing productivity, due to lack of face-to-face communication. By now, presumably, everyone is comfortably conversant with video conferencing and other team-building tools that do provide some measure of face time.
So now, we are talking about the hybrid workplace, but definitions are a bit hazy. Some refer to any situation that includes remote as well as in-office workers to be “hybrid.” Others, however, say a truly hybrid environment is one in which employees have the option to work in-office or remotely, depending on their preference or the day’s needs. In this case, you might have some employees who mostly or always work at the office, others who are always “away,” and some who roam in and out.
A hybrid model offers numerous benefits for employers and staff:
- Keep employees and visitors safe when they need to be together – fewer people on hand makes distancing and cleaning easier, and stringent protocols emphasize the company’s concern for employee health and well-being
- Accommodate individual employee preferences for work location
- Hire a truly global workforce
- Monetary savings – employers can reduce office-scapes and associated overhead, employees who don’t have to commute save on transportation, etc.
- Agility to adjust smoothly to changing COVID rules – for example, if new quarantine or other rules are mandated
- Help protect companies from potential legal liability that might result from unnecessarily exposing employees or visitors to the virus
And who knows? Maybe you’ll want to go whole-hog after all. In the words of one industry organization, “The best time to go all-remote is as soon as nobody is showing up to the office anymore!” Of course, that’s not an option for every business. Some still require a brick-and-mortar presence. On the other hand, it’s not something to reject outright, either. Things are changing, and your firm may well learn from going hybrid that remote works surprisingly well in more ways that you thought. It’s merely a matter of degree.
Meanwhile, you have to start somewhere.
Best Practices for Going Hybrid
1. Get Up to Speed with Digital Transformation
One of the biggest hurdles for employers as stay-at-home orders hit was the lack of technology needed to support remote workers. Unless you already had a system in place, you instantly realized that you needed new tools to connect your scattered employees — tools to communicate, collaborate as teams, and share resources such as work products. Embracing cloud-based operations is mission-critical.
With the right technology in place, you are ready to go hybrid.
2. Revising the Office
This requires some serious thinking. One ultimate benefit of going hybrid is reduction in expensive office space, but whatever space you retain has to work efficiently in order to work effectively. Ask yourself:
- How many people do we need to accommodate every day? Are there ways to reduce that, say with staggered shifts?
- How many people might we need to accommodate (for instance, when someone comes in to work for the day)?
- Do we have no-longer-needed gathering space (lunch or break rooms, etc.) that could be redesigned for working instead to help with distancing?
- What kind of meeting spaces will we need to accommodate onsite and/or remote employees for meetings, collaborative sessions, and so on? (Hint: the more versatile your spaces, the more valuable they will be.)
How you outfit your redesigned spaces is crucial. Technology that supports hybrid working includes multiple types of software tools, but you’ll need the right equipment to facilitate use of those tools. Think in terms of video conferencing, interactive whiteboards, and simple tools such as the Meeting Owl, a device that sits on a conference table and pivots 360o to face the person who is speaking, so remote meeting participants can always see each other.
3. Cleanliness Takes on a Whole New Meaning
In the past, the janitorial crew typically showed up after hours and the office was vacuumed and tidy again when everyone arrived for work the next morning. Now, cleaning is everyone’s responsibility, and it involves more than emptying the trash.
According to current CDC guidelines, “It is unknown how long the air inside a room occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious.” However, recent news reports indicate the virus may be present longer than initially believed. This means that, should someone test positive for the virus, you will have to thoroughly disinfect any space that person occupied (and the HVAC system) before the area can be used again.
4. Other CDC Recommendations for Employers
- Work closely with local and state health officials to understand and follow COVID-related guidelines and protocols
- Develop policies and train employees on new cleaning requirements, including whether and when PPE is required and, if so, how to use it properly
- Teach employees how to recognize COVID-19 symptoms, and develop a mandatory reporting protocol
5. Don’t Neglect the People Aspects
Appearances and perceptions can make or break your move to hybrid. Experts recommend:
- Be sure managers and C-level employees work remotely at least part of the time, even if they are headquartered in the office. Otherwise, it might appear (and rightly so) that those who do choose to work in the office have better access to decision-makers for work issues as well as prospective career support.
- Review your compensation policies and benefits package carefully to ensure equal opportunities exist no matter where employees work. You don’t want to inadvertently create different classes of workers.
6. Just Roll with It . . . Flexibility Is the New Zen
Hybrid staffing solutions can offer tremendous benefits for employers as they navigate into the future of work. That said, we still don’t know what will happen next with COVID-19, though clearly it will be with us for some time to come. Employers will have to keep adjusting their staffing and working environments to meet virus-related requirements.
But this is also an excellent opportunity for employers to experiment with options, teaming up with employees to find solutions that work uniquely for your business and internal culture. As such, it has the ability to bring employers and employees together as never before – perhaps not face-to-face, but side by side in their efforts to create a more productive and satisfying workplace.