Return-to-office (RTO) mandates continue to gain momentum in 2023. However, many workplace experts agree that the traditional five-day-at-the-office policies are no longer viable, especially when an overwhelming 89 percent of the U.S. adult workforce supports a four-day workweek, remote work or hybrid work.
In line with this data, the hybrid work model that balances work-from-home (WFH) and office attendance consolidates as a response to today’s paradigm shift in employees’ expectations regarding work-life balance and time. So much so that Mercer’s research found that nearly all companies (98 percent, to be precise) are taking steps to create a healthy hybrid work culture.
To discuss the most relevant points to consider when developing a successful hybrid work model for each organization, our CEO, Dimitri Boylan, met with various HR decision-makers.
Among them were Billie Hartless, CHRO at Mitel, Emma Mon, Head of Global Talent at JLL, Darla Figoli, EVP and CHRO at Xcel Energy, Lisa Cloutier, VP of Human Resources at Lindt & Sprungli USA and Alison Caplan, Senior Vice President and Global Head of People Operations and Talent Acquisition at CBRE.
Among the myriad of insights, one thing is certain: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling hybrid work. To shed more light on the matter, we’ve summarized the best advice to consider when assessing how to design a hybrid work model for your organization’s unique needs. So, let’s get to it.
The Road to Flexible Work
If there’s anything the disruptions from the past few years have taught us, from the pandemic to economic headwinds to an agitated world climate, it is that companies’ survival depends largely on their agility and ability to adapt. And their workplace dynamics are not exempt from this reality.
In the face of inevitable change, Mitel’s CHRO, Billie, highlighted how important it was for her organization to establish a direct communication channel with employees to gather their input on potential next steps regarding work arrangements. Their feedback was unquestionable: employees wanted to maintain a flexible work model.
JLL’s Head of Global Talent, Emma, echoed the importance of opening the lines of communication. Employee engagement is critical to avoiding turnover, which is why they decided to engage in open conversations about change while also helping leaders and managers understand what the concept of flexibility means.
Having enabled these conversations, Emma found that 80 percent of employees wanted to go to the office at least once or twice a week. Her findings across the company further revealed a tendency for hybrid in EMEA, while APAC favored a back-to-the-office model, and the Americas were divided into thirds. These firsthand insights from workers allow JLL to craft a hybrid work arrangement that accommodates their visions.
Darla from Xcel Energy shared her thoughts as well. In her case, the company has already decided to shift to a hybrid model, a transition that provoked mixed feelings at first. After all, most organizations are just learning how to deal with a hybrid work model after decades of more traditional approaches.
Amid such a profound transformation, it’s crucial to remember that not every change will work for everyone. An agile mindset will be the organizations’ main resource to navigate this cultural shift and continue iterating.
Overall, there seems to be a generalized consensus that hybrid work models will have a fundamental role in the future of work. Moreover, flexibility and the opportunity for employees to handle their work schedules make the hybrid work model an enticing proposition. However, these models can quickly go off the rails without proper policies and guidelines.
Policies Around Your Hybrid Work Model
What happens to employee supervision? How about clocking in? Who should be called back to the office?
If your organization is currently defining or implementing a hybrid work model, these questions will pop up. As we mentioned, these models need a framework each company will have to define according to their specific cases and needs.
Both Emma and Darla suggested establishing blueprints if you don’t have any strict policies outlined as of yet. These can help define what flexibility can look like in your organization’s hybrid work model and encourage employees to have a discussion with their managers to continue outlining these guidelines as well.
It’s necessary to establish clear and compelling parameters to avoid confusion, or else you’ll have a workforce that won’t be able to understand why some are asked back to the office when others aren’t, which may ultimately cause discontent. Everyone needs to feel included in this new stage of your organization’s evolution.
The Impact on Inclusion
There’s a potential risk of inequality that can arise when deciding who stays home and who is needed in person. For this to work, Billie stresses the importance of having a clear standing as a company to define and communicate how the future of work will look and foster an equitable environment.
Some of the panel participants outlined actions they’ve implemented to avoid exclusion in a more literal way. For example, when having a meeting, the entire team should be a part of it either on-site or remotely.
Juggling both could lead to employees feeling excluded if they are joining remotely because they may miss certain in-person interactions or have issues that undermine the communication between all parties involved, furthering the isolation factor.
Lisa also pointed out how social justice continues to consolidate as a driving force for change in how we work. With the ongoing surge in social movements, companies are being urged to listen to people of underrepresented minorities to keep their voices in mind when thinking about DEI and how to better incorporate this concept into the new work models.
As with the work model itself, when it comes to the role of DEI in the workplace, it’s important to open the floor for feedback. This could be in the form of surveys, polls or even just sitting down with employees and having an honest conversation.
Employee Productivity In the Hybrid Work Model
During the conversation, Dimitri pointed out that the way in which we used to think about work is no longer viable in terms of employee productivity: “Studies have shown that if you put somebody in a corner office, their productivity declines. Something about that corner office lowers their output.”
However, traditional organizations are still hesitant to give employees more control and flexibility. The main concern is whether the hybrid work model will yield positive or negative results.
Since numbers seem to be the main reason companies and management are concerned about designing a model that fits, research has been conducted and the results are in: 65 percent of managers believe their employees are very productive in a hybrid work arrangement. Moreover, 72 percent of respondents feel better able to carry out their jobs since adopting the hybrid work model.
With this in mind, Billie predicted that “the more people feel empowered to do their job in the way that they believe is the best way to do their job, it will drive higher engagement.” A recent CBRE survey seems to support this statement, as it found that 40-50 percent of respondents think that the flexibility gained from remote or hybrid work improved their levels of job satisfaction.
A lesson learned from the past few years is that companies and organizations can be productive without being in the office. But this isn’t a trivial matter.
In this sense, other panelists commented on how they’ve seen some employees’ productivity suffer from the lack of conversation and feeling isolated when working remotely. Striving to maintain closeness despite the physical distance should be a priority to focus on. If you can’t find the right balance, your employee productivity might take a hit.
How to Drive Employee Engagement
Employee engagement should always be on your priority list. Either at the office, working remotely or implementing a hybrid work model, employees must remain top of mind.
To provide support and boost morale and satisfaction, organizations have implemented different initiatives. Alison Caplan, Senior Vice President and Global Head of People Operations and Talent Acquisition at CBRE, shared some of the actions they took to improve employee engagement:
“We’ve tried to create opportunities for engagement. It could be a challenge for the month that people work on together; it could be around wellness or fitness or something that can be inclusive, and everyone can participate in, but again, trying to recognize people on calls and give people accolades. I still think that when you have interpersonal challenges on a team, getting together, having dinner, having a team-building event can solve that.”
Alison Caplan, Senior Vice President and Global Head of People Operations and Talent Acquisition at CBRE
Employee engagement is another area in which increased communication plays a key role. Several attendees shared that they’ve implemented tools like Avature DNA to continue engaging with employees, keeping conversations going, celebrating successes and facilitating connection. A social platform of this kind can foster a sense of community among the workforce.
“One of the things that we’ve noticed with working remotely is that people want a lot more feedback.” Dimitri Boylan, CEO at Avature.
The lack of day-to-day connection can bring about unclarity regarding performance, as having a conversation with someone you were sitting next to is naturally not so common under a hybrid work model.
No company approaches performance management the same way, but what remains a common denominator throughout is the need for ongoing feedback instead of yearly reviews.
To keep up with this demand for feedback, having agile technology is key. This will allow companies and organizations to implement the strategy that best fits their performance management needs while still being able to engage with employees whenever they request it.
As organizations think of ways to maintain employee engagement in hybrid work arrangements, the most forward-looking ones are already focusing on learning as a dual-benefit strategy to tackle this goal:
- On the one hand, learning programs enable the development of business-critical skills internally.
- Secondly, closely related to engagement, learning supports employees’ professional development.
For years now, studies have shown that the lack of growth opportunities is one of the main reasons why employees quit their jobs. It is implied, then, that not being able to develop professionally harms employee engagement.
Modern social learning technology such as Avature Learning facilitates knowledge sharing between co-workers. In addition to compensating for the reduced interactions that come with hybrid work models, these learning experience platforms support delivering content tailored to each employee.
Hybrid Work Model Best Practices Round-Up
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing a hybrid work model that meets your business needs and employees’ expectations. Above, we’ve shared a series of insights HR thought leaders have collected in their own implementation, along with data that intends to bring clarity regarding some of the top concerns around this matter.
Maintaining open communication with employees, striving to understand where their feedback is coming from and putting in place clear policies and frameworks to define your hybrid work model are some of the best practices that stand out from our CEO’s conversation with this panel.
Beyond that, they highlight the importance of mitigating the detrimental impact of isolation on employee productivity by encouraging social interactions. When it comes to employee engagement, developing an innovative learning strategy underpinned by modern technology can drive professional growth and retention.