Let’s face it, COVID-19 has presented significant challenges for business and HR leaders across most industries all over the world.
Leaders are expected to sustain a strong company culture that embraces diversity, equity and inclusion; manage a workforce that is, at least some of the time, working remotely; and shape a workplace policy that includes work satisfaction, encourages employee engagement, retains talent and increases productivity and ultimately profit.
What seems like an already impossible state of play is further compounded by a stressed, burnt-out, anxious and change-fatigued workforce.
So, where should leaders focus their efforts first?
At Optimal Resourcing, we believe you should invest in and prioritise your people.
One way to do this is by looking at your working environment and structure to understanding what your employees need from you to perform at their best.
Prior to COVID-19, the majority of organisations expected employees to spend most of their time on-site/in an office. Today, however, people are increasingly working from home (or other locations!) and working hours that better reflect their lives (school drop-off, early riser etc) and productivity levels. As well, they may also be working in the office, with standard office hours on certain days of the week. The combination of these flexible work arrangements are known as ‘hybrid’ ways of working, as they a hybrid of remote and in-office working arrangements.
Previously thought to be an unlikely and unsupported idea, today hybrid working is considered (by most) to be an accepted and ‘normal’ way of working.
Research shows there are plenty of employee and business benefits to flexible working arrangements. These include:
Increased productivity and customer satisfaction
Increased retention in a tight job market (if a business isn’t flexible – people are more likely to leave)
Enabling an independent, self-motivated workforce who feel empowered and trusted
Social distancing reduces potential COVID-19 exposure opportunities
Potential increase in employee wellbeing as they are able to work in a way that makes them more comfortable and able to balance work/life
A 2021 McKinsey survey found that in the post-pandemic future of work, 9/10 organisations will be combining remote and on-site working.
So, what do companies need to do to ensure flexible working is successful, profitable and sustainable long-term?
Let’s look at a couple of the main challenges for managers trying to manage a flexible workforce, and some potential solutions.
Challenge #1 – Communication
Staff working different hours and from different locations can make effective team communication problematic. You can’t just “drop by” someone’s desk to ask a question or bounce ideas back and forth organically.
Scheduling meetings that suit everyone’s timetable can be tricky and if someone starts and finishes early, you may not get a response when you feel you need it.
Communication breakdowns and bottlenecks can lead to misunderstandings, missed communications and potential project delays. It can even negatively affect culture.
Maintaining good communication and information sharing between teams is integral to fostering positive working relationships and staff engagement.
Ensure you have strong, multi-faceted communication strategies, techniques and channels/platforms that encourage two-way communication. You may use a mix of email, chats, “face time”, daily check-ins, competitions, video updates, in-person or virtual coffee breaks to engage your teams
Build meaningful relationships with your remote employees and make employee recognition a priority. The best hybrid workplace leaders are finding authentic ways to show that they care about each employee’s human experience.
Be flexible – while you may need to have set times around team meetings and collaborative sessions, give your employees autonomy around when and how they work the rest of the time.
Respect their time and set clear, healthy boundaries around schedules, assignments and performance expectations.
Challenge #2 – Managing different working styles and needs
COVID-19 has asked employees to be patient, flexible and for some, drastically change the way we live, work and interact. This shift has affected everyone differently and leaders need to be patient, flexible and sensitive to the needs and individual working styles of their hybrid working employees.
According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index: Annual Report, three quarters of employees wish to have flexible work options to switch between office and remote.
If leaders can’t manage the needs of their hybrid workforce effectively, you may see your culture start to crumble, experience increased turn-over, burn-out and reduced productivity.
Train managers for remote leadership, by reimagining processes and focussing on how to help employees thrive in their roles.
Understand what motivates and drives your leaders and employees (Optimal Resourcing’s Workplace Motivators Assessment can assist)
Offer a mix of in-office and remote working options – Gallup research found that the optimal engagement boost was when employees worked from home 3-4 days out of a five-day workweek.
Keep them in the know – ensure they have access to the training, resources, team and tools they need to do their job effectively.
Provide access to health, wellbeing and mental health support and resources
To make your hybrid working environment a long-term success, you’ll need strategies for making your team cohesive, and for elevating engagement and productivity, ensuring a level playing field across remote, hybrid and your in-office team.
Understanding your purpose, values and putting them into practise will engage and motivate your team and begin the journey of connecting your business and people strategies.
Optimal Resourcing offers Planning Sessions to help you get started on your people strategy, click below for a free consult.
Dr Prithwiraj Choudhury, Harvard Business School, summarises the primary ways of working in this diagram. Hybrid working sees a mix of these core elements – where hours, time and locations are flexible.
What do you think about hybrid working? Do you think it’s a ‘fad’ or here to stay?
Does it work for your business? What challenges have you experienced and what strategies have you used to overcome them? Íf you think someone else would value this information, please share using the links below.