The pandemic changed the way the business world operated overnight. Before COVID-19, most organizations had not developed virtual approaches to employee management and engagement. When they were forced to go online, they soon realized that they didn't have the technology or processes in place to maintain employee productivity remotely.
Whether they liked it or not, employers realized that they needed to manage full-time remote employees until quarantine and physical distancing restrictions ended. After more than a year under these conditions, many employers who shifted to remote work wonder if they should have employees continue telecommuting or return to the office.
Returning to business as usual might seem like the easiest option, but it could be a costly mistake. After all, employers' responses to the post-pandemic era will significantly impact their businesses - either positively or negatively - for the next few years. Business leaders who choose one extreme or the other might be limiting their options and opportunities. That's why employers should consider adopting a hybrid workplace environment.
Hybrid workplaces, which are partly remote and partly in person, allow employees to choose the workplace that's best for them. Employees can work in the office permanently, commute a few times a week, rotate which weeks they work at home, or plan to visit the office a few times a year. Workers have proven they can be productive at home, so organizations have every reason to continue to be flexible.
Some companies have decided to embrace hybrid workplaces permanently. Twitter will allow employees to work remotely "forever," and Dropbox is creating a "virtual first" culture where employees can telecommute most of the time. Meanwhile, Google plans on testing a flexible workweek where employees are only in the office three days a week.
It's time for employers to rethink their talent management strategies when it comes to workplace environments. If organizations want to create cultures that focus more on people and less on principles, then they should consider adopting a hybrid environment that captures the best of both remote and in-person models.
Although some companies have used a remote or hybrid workplace model for years, technology constraints limited how many employers were willing to adopt that approach. That is no longer the case; the pandemic prompted the shift to remote work, causing the entire business world to adjust to virtual technologies.
In many cases, this affected companies' hiring practices. Office proximity is no longer a determining factor of employment; employers can choose to hire the most suitable candidates, regardless of where they're located. Although remote employees can struggle with onboarding, engagement, and connection, hybrid workplaces allow employers to bring team members into the office as needed.
Research shows that the hybrid workforce model has other benefits for employers and employees. Hybrid workforces result in higher employee productivity and engagement. Plus, employees with more control over their time experience a greater sense of satisfaction with their work-life balance. Employers who are considering alternative workplace environments should take these benefits into account.
To prepare for a different workplace model, organizations need to understand what it takes to maintain employee engagement and productivity. Here are four best practices and strategies that can help:
1. Focus on Infrastructure. Prepare for the shift in how employees work by building out digital infrastructures to enable faster reskilling. This will ensure everyone has what they need to adjust to the hybrid workforce model.
2. Create Culture From the Top Down. How a leadership team invests in a hybrid workforce ultimately determines its culture and levels of productivity. Leaders who actively plan events for remote and in-person employees and establish connection points between team members will aid the transition period.
3. Invest in Your Leaders. Organizational leaders should evaluate which management styles will be the most effective in the new environment. They may also want to consider investing in professional development beforehand. Empathy, understanding, and flexibility are key leadership traits for hybrid environments.
4. Make Transparency an Expectation. Leaders should increase communication and transparency. Informal and formal check-ins, regular updates, and open question sessions will help employees feel seen and heard as organizations switch to a hybrid model.
Even if organizations eventually decide that the hybrid workplace isn't the best fit for them, they'll still have learned a lot about their employees and capabilities. And employers who stick with and improve desirable hybrid environments will be more likely to attract and retain top talent.