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Transitioning to hybrid work? These 9 tactics will drive engagement
Many Americans hadn’t regularly worked from home until the pandemic. But, while remote work was a new experience for many, this hybrid work transition was a long-time coming.
Telecommuting first appeared in the 1970s, expedited by government policies to reduce smog in cities. The trend continued into the 1980s, fueled by a growing knowledge economy and high gas prices. By the turn of the millennium, 4.2 million people worked from home, thanks to the internet.
But fast-forward to today and more people are working in a hybrid or remote model than ever before. In fact, since 2019, the number of people working from home has tripled. But as the pandemic has proved endemic, companies are navigating the “in-between.”
Many COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. Offices have opened. Childcare centers are operating as usual. Schools have gotten a good handle on how to best approach the pandemic. So, while the new normal isn’t life as we knew it before, things aren’t what they were like in 2020 or even 2021.
For organizations, this poses good and tough questions for leaders:
How can employees get the best of both worlds?
In what ways can organizations offer the flexibility of working from home with the communal aspect of being at the office?
How are organizations facilitating meaningful connections to drive professional growth and personal well-being?
How are you cultivating a thriving hybrid culture?
With all this in mind, let’s talk about the future of work — specifically, the hybrid workforce. We’ll outline different types of hybrid workplaces. We’ll also share strategies to help drive employee engagement in a hybrid environment.
What is hybrid work?
First, let’s understand what we mean by hybrid work.
What is hybrid work?
Hybrid work is a flexible work model that accommodates different styles of working. Hybrid work blends together in-office, remote, and traveling workers.
With the pandemic as the catalyst, hybrid work has been on the rise. During the pandemic, many organizations realized that their workforce could successfully work remotely. But in a post-pandemic world, some employees were missing the in-office experience. Some experienced Zoom fatigue from all the video conferencing. Some miss the lack of connections that you experience in an office setting.
Others, especially in larger cities, liked the space that an office provides. Now, in a post-pandemic world, vaccines have allowed employees to safely return to work.
While some employees still prefer the remote lifestyle, the bottom line is certain. Employees want the flexibility to be able to choose when and how they do their jobs. While productivity increased during the pandemic, there are trade-offs to consider with the remote vs. in-person environment.
The types of hybrid workplaces
Hybrid models aim to balance virtual and in-person work, but the ratio between both varies. Here are some of the common configurations:
Office-first. In an office-first hybrid model, employees are in the office for a predetermined number of days per week. The expectation is to have people on-site, which boosts collaboration through synchronous meetings and face-to-face interactions.
Flexible. The flexible work model favors in-person work, but there’s no explicit requirement. With a flexible model, organizations have the technology required to easily accommodate remote work if an employee chooses.
Remote-friendly. Organizations with a remote-friendly hybrid approach make remote work a regular part of their workflow. Every employee prepares for remote work, and leaders set an example by working from home regularly. All work is done in real-time (synchronously).
Remote-first. Fully remote teams see in-person work as a non-option. Every part of their workflow is geared toward online, asynchronous work — meaning they can work in different time zones if they want to. This model requires no office or real estate, but organizations may host occasional in-person team-building exercises or rent a co-working space.
Companies everywhere are struggling to adapt to the new normal. No matter where you are in your hybrid journey, it’s OK if you’re coming across challenges. If you’re struggling to adapt to a hybrid work environment, try working with BetterUp. After a pandemic of remote work, our coaches can help you transition back to in-person interactions.
What’s the difference between hybrid and remote work?
At its core, hybrid work is about flexibility. It allows employees to divide their time between working in an office space and working from home.
This requires employees to live in physical proximity to a shared workspace. How much time you spend in that workspace depends on your company's type of hybrid model.
If your workplace follows an all-remote work model, on the other hand, virtual work is the default. Software can make every part of these jobs possible remotely, removing the need for a physical office.
What is a hybrid work schedule?
This is a tricky question to answer because truthfully, every organization is different.
At BetterUp, we were a hybrid workforce (with many remote employees) before the pandemic. With some offices around the world, BetterUp allowed many employees to pick and choose when they’d like to work in the office. Of course, during the height of COVID-19, everyone worked from home.
But now that the hybrid workforce is more prevalent than ever, some employees are returning to the office. But at BetterUp, employees get to pick and choose when they want to go into an office. If a remote employee in a region doesn’t have a BetterUp-specific office to go to, they can go to a local WeWork. Likewise, if they choose to never go into an office or co-working space, that is also their choice and fine.
Some organizations have adopted hybrid models that require employees to spend a certain amount of time in the office. But more often than not, the choice is up to the employee as to what days they’re spending in person.
Let’s take a look at some examples. Google has rolled out a hybrid policy that requires workers to spend three days in the office. Apple followed suit, requiring employees to work in the office three days a week as well.
But other companies, like Spotify, allow increased flexibility for hybrid employees. Spotify rolled out a work-from-anywhere policy, which allows employees to come into the office with no minimum quota on days they must be in person. The company leaves it up to the employee and manager to determine what sort of schedule works best for them.
What employees think of hybrid work
The hybrid model essentially allows employees to have it both ways. On one hand, they have the flexibility and productivity of working from home. But on the other hand, there’s the option to cultivate connections, participate in in-person activities, and interact with colleagues.
Let’s take a closer look at what employees think of hybrid work.
1. Employees want flexibility
It’s no secret that employees want workplace flexibility. Workers like the autonomy to choose how and where they work. In fact, 50% of current remote or hybrid workers said they’d look for another job if required to return to an office.
2. Not everyone wants to work from home
Despite what you might think, not everyone wants to work from home. In fact, BetterUp Labs surveyed workers to dig into employee sentiment about remote work. According to our data, two out of five people don’t want to work remotely. Further, 93% of respondents cited they were worried about isolation and mental health issues if only working from home.
While remote work allows for freedom and flexibility, workers may pay the price when it comes to belonging. A belonging tax emerges in the form of a lack of connections or shared social experiences. It can drive a wedge in employee engagement and inclusion at your organization.
3. Employees feel empowered in a hybrid setting
According to one survey, 63% of employees feel empowered with hybrid workplace flexibility. That feeling of empowerment means an increase in autonomy and ownership over work. It can also strengthen company culture.
4. Employees are productive in a hybrid setting
According to a McKinsey survey (cited above), productivity largely increased with the transition to remote work during the pandemic.
But these gains depended on the kind of work, making it a luxury for select industries. Knowledge workers were most likely to work from home and report positive experiences. These jobs involved tasks that are easily done remotely, such as:
Training, learning, and updating knowledge
Interacting with computers
Tasks requiring creative thinking
Processing, analyzing, and interpreting information
5. Employees report feeling more creative working from home
When it comes to working remotely, employees report feeling more creative. According to BetterUp Labs data, workers report 56% greater creativity and innovation when working remotely.
It’s likely that things such as long commutes and meeting-filled days stifle creativity. The time gained back is great. But it also means that mental energy can be channeled into innovative thinking.
A home is also a place of safety, which means workers can feel more confident in taking risks that pay off. With greater psychological safety comes greater creativity.
The pros and cons of hybrid work
There are plenty of benefits to hybrid work. We’ve outlined some that are top of mind for both employees and organizations.
Workers report improved work-life balance. According to Gallup, 71% of workers report improved work-life balance as a result of hybrid work.
Hybrid employees have increased flexibility and productivity. Gallup’s report also cites that 51% of employees experience greater productivity. With less time spent commuting, employees are using their time more efficiently at home.
The workforce is less burnt out or fatigued. The report also found that 58% of employees report lower burnout and fatigue because of hybrid work. The vast majority of US employees have reported experiencing burnout in the last year.
If hybrid work is to have any chance at long-term success, they’ll have to overcome some hurdles:
Remote employees may be overlooked in meetings. If half the group is in the boardroom and the other half is tuning in remotely, remote workers are less likely to be consulted or heard.
Promotions and assignments favor on-site team members. People in positions of power tend to give opportunities to people they know. If you’re working remotely, you’re less likely to receive similar support for your career due to the lack of face time.
Employees working remotely are demoralized when they feel left out. In addition to a lack of assignments, remote workers also receive less feedback and positive reinforcement from their leaders.
Connections can be difficult to maintain. This isn’t a given or a guarantee. But it’s no secret that we’re on the brink of a connection crisis, which can stifle company culture. In fact, 43% of employees don’t feel connected at work. In hybrid and virtual settings, it takes extra effort and intention to facilitate connections.
How to manage your hybrid team
Overcoming the leadership challenges of a hybrid work arrangement won’t be easy. Here are some tips if you’re managing the transition for your team:
1. Create clear expectations
Ask your employees about their preferences, but highlight that you have the last word on transition-related decisions. You should also explain how you’ll evaluate their productivity throughout. Their performance will help you justify your hybrid work schedule policy to senior management.
2. Make a plan
Create a schedule for your team’s transition. Try staggering their transition to in-person activities by order of necessity. Ensure your IT department is also in the loop for any potential disruptions or accommodations.
3. Use diverse meeting types
Make time for one-on-ones, so each employee feels included in the new hybrid model. You can also adapt your regular meetings to participate freely in both in-person and remote work.
4. Be ready for speedbumps
Transitioning is a slow process. Be ready to make adjustments as you figure out your new workflows. This makes gathering feedback (especially upward feedback) more important than ever.
5. Choose the right technology
Work with your IT department to make sure the hybrid work is seamless. You might provide everyone with laptops and docking stations to use the same computer on-site and at their home office. You might also try asynchronous communication like Slack or Microsoft Teams to improve communication.
9 tips for transitioning employees to hybrid work
Adapting to a hybrid work model can be daunting if you're an employee. Here are some tips to help you manage:
Be proactive with your communication. When everyone is hopping between locations, it’s important to let your team know where you are. If you’re always at home on Fridays, put it in a shared calendar. If you make decisions on the day of, send a DM to your team to let them know you’ll be in the office if they need you.
Control your tasks. Plan your work based on where it needs to be done. If you need to be on-site one day to check the mail, plan your other office work on the same day. That way, when you return, you don’t have to worry about running into the office at the last minute.
Show adaptability. Your manager may adapt your hybrid work model as they understand what works and what doesn’t. Be ready to adjust your workflow.
Create (and maintain) healthy boundaries. People working from home tend to work longer hours than when at the office. Make sure you’re setting healthy boundaries for yourself during and after the workday to maintain a work-life balance.
Make your needs heard. You have unique reasons for wanting to work from home. If you feel comfortable, let your manager know what you need to perform at your best. This will help them decide how to configure your team’s hybrid work model.
For managers, communicate clear expectations. Sometimes, the hybrid model puts more ownership on managers to set expectations. Especially if your organization has a more fluid approach, it’s important that managers clearly communicate what they expect of their employees in the transition to hybrid work.
Gather feedback. Check in with your employees on their sentiments. Consider sending out an employee engagement survey to gauge how they feel about the hybrid model. Create forums for feedback to allow employees to voice their questions or concerns. And ensure your managers are regularly asking for feedback in one-on-ones and team meetings.
Keep inclusive leadership top of mind. For managers, it’s critically important that you’re developing your inclusive leadership skills, especially in hybrid environments. Be aware of any proximity bias that might be creeping in. A hybrid workforce calls on managers to develop new skills.
Focus on the perks. How much time will you save without a daily commute? And how much money will you save on transportation, lunches out, and happy hours? Maybe you’ll miss these things — but working from home has benefits that are hard to deny.
The best of both worlds
What is hybrid-remote work if not an attempt to have it all? It could be what your organization needs to maintain flexibility and productivity simultaneously. But its success depends on its implementation.
As you’re considering your transition, communication is key. If you’re an employee, let your manager know about your preferences, and if you’re a manager, make sure you consider your team’s input.
Success is a two-way street, and everyone has a role in a successful transition to hybrid-remote work.
Defining boundaries and expressing your needs isn’t easy. In these situations, it’s helpful to have a coach. At BetterUp, we can help you find your voice to ensure you aren’t left behind.