As we cross the threshold of two years into the pandemic, some of my clients, colleagues, and friends that work in an office but have been remote are back working in-person already. Others have a return date in May or June. Some do not yet know when their company buildings will re-open. Regardless of how often they were on-site previously, they have all heard from their organizations that moving forward, they will be in the office only part of the time.
This is the New Normal for many office workers. A Microsoft report from March 2021 found that 73% of employees want flexible remote work options to continue. And a McKinsey survey from last year estimated that nine out of ten organizations will combine remote and on-site working. However, the same survey found that these organizations do not yet have a clear idea of what hybrid work will look like. As you consider the future of your organization, here are some ideas to improve the success and effectiveness of a hybrid environment.
Define the talent pool (and logistics). During the pandemic, some employees who were in the office moved across the country or even out of the country and are expecting to remain remote-only. What does this mean for your hiring practices? Being unconstrained by geography may mean greater access to talent. But how do you ensure fully-remote employees remain integrated while everyone else returns to the office? Does your office meeting space and technology support a mix of in-person and remote meeting participation? Do remote-only employees ever have to be in the office, like quarterly?
Support collaboration. Your employees likely work within teams, and those teams probably interact with and depend on other functions and teams within your organization. Determine which days employees are expected to be in the office, and base this on the collaboration needs for your employees, within their own teams and with other teams. Coordinate with other leaders to ensure consistent scheduling across teams.
Enable informal connections. An office environment is conductive to hallway conversations and other unscheduled connections, and it is harder to replicate these in a remote or hybrid environment. Encourage employees to set up one-on-one coffee dates or “meet-and-greet” conversations to network, share ideas, or mentor others. Designate certain days or times of the week as “meeting free” to allow the time for such interactions. Let employees decide for themselves if these will be in person or virtual.
Revisit processes and tools. Certain processes, like hiring, simply went virtual when the pandemic started. Because of the sudden change, there wasn’t the luxury or opportunity to consider whether the process or supporting tools fully met remote needs. If you haven’t done so yet, revisit your processes to determine if tweaks should be made. Decide if certain processes can remain virtual or if they should return to being in-person, or a combination of both. For example, will onboarding always be in-person, even for fully-remote employees, to set a sense of connection and culture among new hires? Survey employees on what works well and what could be improved, and incorporate their input.
One thing we have learned during the pandemic is that it is unpredictable, and our plans can be disrupted. In the midst of uncertainty, what seems likely is that office workers will return at some point and to a hybrid workplace. Proactively define your hybrid workplace now to support the success of your New Normal.