As vaccines are being made more available to countries around the world and the fog of uncertainty starts to dissipate, companies are beginning to ask their employees to return to the office. Plans are being drafted and strategies are debated throughout boards and management in order to find the best model that works for everyone involved. In the context of several Evanta CHRO USA meetings, our CEO, Dimitri Boylan, asked various HR leaders about their companies’ new work model plans and what the most relevant points to keep in mind are when developing those strategies. 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. With these insights, we’ve decided to round up the best advice and information of where we are, where we’re going and what we need to look at when choosing a work model that’s viable for each company. So, let’s get to it. Implementing a New Work Model It’s no secret that the pandemic brought along change in every aspect of our lives, be it in our social interactions, our mental health, the way we think, and our work habits. From the office to our homes and now back to the office again, managers are starting to realize that it’s out with the old and in with the new if they want to avoid employee turnover. A company’s capability to adapt is then reflected in how they react to the new normal. Take, for example, Billie’s approach. As CHRO of Mitel, she highlighted just how important it was for them to establish a direct channel of communication with their employees to decide their next step. The feedback they received was unquestionable (and maybe even expected): employees wanted to keep the flexibility this new way of working had offered. Emma agreed with opening the lines of communication. “One in two employees, after the pandemic subsides, are going to be looking externally for another job”. Employee retention and engagement are key components to avoid turnover and, therefore, they decided to have open conversations about change while also helping leaders and managers understand that flexibility is key: “There’s no one-size-fits-all”. Keeping in mind these open conversations, Emma found that 80 percent of employees wanted to go to the office somewhere between once or twice a week, at least. Her findings across the company also included a tendency for hybrid in EMEA, more back to the office for APAC and the Americas were divided in thirds. Darla shared her thoughts as well. In her case, the company has decided to shift to a hybrid model, having mixed feelings at first. Learning on the go is something that most companies are struggling with as they develop and implement these models, knowing that not everything will necessarily work for everyone. These different ways of implementing a hybrid work model are bringing with them the need to understand the risks as well. Not all countries are ready yet to adopt such a model due to safety measures and protocols in place (for example, the current state of Covid in India would prohibit a “back-to-the-office” element). Overall, flexibility and the opportunity for employees to handle their own work schedule makes the hybrid work model an enticing proposition, but one that can quickly go off the rails without proper policies and guidelines. Implement Policies Around Your Work Model What happens to employee supervision? How about clocking in? Who should be called back to the office? If implementing a hybrid work model is something your organization is considering, questions will definitely pop up. As we mentioned before, these models need a framework that each company will define according to their own 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 new work model and it allows for employees to feel empowered to have a conversation with their managers to define these guidelines as well. It’s necessary to define clear parameters to avoid risks and make everyone feel welcome 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. Everyone needs to feel included in this new stage of your organization’s evolution. Manage The Impact Your Work Model Has On DEI There’s a potential inequality that can arise when deciding who stays home and who is needed in-person. For this to work, Billie highlights the importance of having a point of view as a company in order to define how the future of work will look like and build an equitable environment. Some attendees outlined actions they’ve implemented in order to avoid exclusion in a more literal way. One example was, 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 is a driving force for change in the way we work. With the recent and ongoing surge in social movements taking a stance, companies are being urged more than ever before to listen to people of color and other underrepresented minorities in order to keep their voices in mind when thinking about DEI and how it fits into new work models. “We’re in the face of racial injustice. We, as employers, three years ago probably, were silent – frankly, silent on the matter. Now, that’s not acceptable. Employers have to have a voice and speak up for the underrepresented people in the world, not just in our companies but in our communities. In my lifetime, that is a significant change from an HR perspective” – Billie Hatless, CHRO of Mitel. As with the work model itself, when it comes to the role of DEI in it, it’s important to get feedback from those involved. This could be in the form of surveys, polls or even just sitting down with employees and having that much-needed conversation. Research Productivity In Relation To Your 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.” But traditional organizations are still hesitant to give employees more control and flexibility. The main concern they have when it comes to establishing a hybrid work model is: Does this work model turn in positive or negative results? Numbers seem to be the main concern. The answer, Billie said, will be available when you see the quantifiable financials. Nevertheless, since numbers seem to be the main reason companies and management are going around in circles trying to find a work model that fits, research has been conducted and the results are in: employee happiness has risen, four percent from January to March. This in turn helps to boost productivity. With this in mind, Billie predicts “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”. Emma also reminded everyone that this pandemic has shown leaders that companies and organizations can be productive without actually being in the office. But other attendees commented on how productivity can suffer from the lack of conversation and collaboration that comes from feeling isolated and working remotely. If you don’t find a balance and check up on your employees, your productivity is likely to take a hit. Don’t Stop Engaging, No Matter the Work Model Employee engagement never stops. Either at the office, working remotely or implementing a hybrid work model, employees must remain top of mind. A big issue that was exacerbated by the pandemic was isolation. Without impromptu social situations at the office, sharing lunch with the team or even weekly meetings, everyone started to feel a bit more lonely. To help employees in these mentally taxing times and to boost morale, 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, give people accolades. I still think that, when you have interpersonal challenges on a team, getting together, having dinner, having a team-building event would solve for that.”- Alison Caplan, Senior Vice President and Global Head of People Operations and Talent Acquisition at CBRE This is another area in which increased communication plays a key role. Among attendees, several shared that they’ve implemented tools such as Avature DNA, Yammer, Microsoft Teams in order to continue engaging with employees, keeping conversations going as well as celebrating successes. With this in mind, they also pointed out just how essential it is for teams to be able to connect to their leaders and set clear goals that help improve performance. “One of the things that we’ve noticed with working remotely is that people want a lot more feedback.”- Dimitri Boylan, CEO at Avature. No company approaches performance management the same way, but what does remain a common denominator throughout is the need for conversation. In order to keep up with this newfound demand for feedback, having agile technology is key. This will allow for 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. To Conclude… It’s imperative companies and organizations are able to find a work model that best suits not only their goals but also their employees’ wishes. Enabling their voices to be heard will allow for better policy and framework development around hybrid work models and make them feel part of the process. Don’t shut employees out but continue to celebrate and engage with them, even if it’s done from a computer screen. It’s better to take any chance to talk and generate fruitful conversation than just assuming that everything will go back to normal and as it once was. Pandemic or no pandemic, times are changing and so is the way we work.