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5 Keys to Hybrid Workplace Model Success

As we kick off 2024, I’ve been reflecting on how different my perspective was four years ago—before the word “pandemic” became so fixed in our vernacular. Since that time, employers of all sizes and industries flexed and adapted to remote work models through various phases of lockdown and re-opening. 2023 saw many large employers attempting to rein in remote workers and force a return to the office, often facing significant resistance and employee dissatisfaction.[1] According to an August 2023 Deloitte study of the financial services industry, 66% of financial executives surveyed said they would leave their job rather than return to the office five days per week.[2]

While technology and tools enabling effective remote work have proliferated, we continue to see challenges confronted by individual employees, teams, managers, and senior leaders as remote/hybrid work models evolve. For example, in our workplace complaint investigations, climate assessments, and general HR consulting, we frequently hear these concerns:

  • Perceived inequities in remote scheduling or “privileges”
  • Assumptions that we can’t “bother” a colleague on their remote day
  • Lack of trust by managers that their remote employees are “really working”
  • Unwillingness to “give up” a remote day to attend an onsite meeting or team building event
  • Conflicts over “on camera” requirements for virtual meetings
  • Employees who relocated while fully remote being required to return to the office
  • Breakdown of interpersonal communication and relationships
  • Erosion of team or corporate culture

Most of the individuals I speak with say they miss the engagement and camaraderie associated with being in the workplace but are quick to add they would never give up remote work completely to get those interactions back. Many managers and employees have resigned themselves to the notion of remote/hybrid work as an imperfect but unavoidable reality dominated by a constant push and pull between the virtual and real office. So, how do we find a compromise that can meet the needs of employers and employees as they grapple with remote/hybrid work models?

My colleague, Sheri Paulo, has developed an approach to successful remote/hybrid work based on her years of experience in learning and development, employee relations, and as the Chief HR Officer leading a large organization through the COVID-19 pandemic. Sheri coaches and trains teams, managers, and leaders to embrace what she calls the “Foundational 5 Best Practices” that are needed to thrive in a remote/hybrid work model. As Sheri describes in the video below, mutual accountability in these fundamental areas is key to an organization’s success in the new normal of remote/hybrid work:

  • Culture
  • Communication
  • Technology
  • Tools
  • Workspace

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This approach builds on the fundamental principles of leadership setting the tone and managers trusting and empowering their teams using various collaboration techniques. It also reinforces the importance of joint accountability of individuals and teams to ensure success. Sharing best practices can support individuals in adapting to hybrid and often asynchronous work as part of a team. While we’re still in the relatively early stages of the hybrid future of work, more and more data indicate when done right, this type of flexibility can increase engagement.[3]

Grounded in Sheri’s Foundational 5, we have created training programs for senior leaders, managers, teams, and employees to assist organizations in managing through the pain points and getting remote/hybrid work right. In addition to customized training to help embed best practices, EPS consultants have created policies, practices, and frameworks for implementing and managing sustainable remote/hybrid work models. Working with our clients, we have found that the most effective frameworks are clearly communicated and allow for flexibility to adapt to changing needs of both the organization and the individual’s personal circumstances. Depending on where an organization is in its remote/hybrid work evolution, a climate assessment or employee survey might be an appropriate step to identify what is working well and any opportunities for improvement.

Remote/hybrid work shouldn’t be viewed as a necessary evil in the workplace. When we invest time and resources in getting it right, remote/hybrid work models can increase productivity, engagement, and the overall performance of your organization.   

 


[1] Kathryn Mayer, “After Amazon Announces Return to Office Policy, Workers Push Back,” February 22, 2023,  https://www.shrm.org/topics-tools/news/benefits-compensation/amazon-announces-return-to-office-policy-workers-push-back; James Laird, “IBM Demands Workers Return to the Office Starting Today,” September 11, 2023,  https://tech.co/news/ibm-return-to-office-mandate; Cloe Berger, “Nike is the latest company to up its return to office policy from 3 to 4 days. It’s a sign that hybrid work might have been a fake compromise,” October 20, 2023,  https://fortune.com/2023/10/20/nike-changes-return-to-office-policy-four-days/.                                 

[2] Lananh Nguyen, “Finance firms return-to-office crackdown could backfire – study,” August 8, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/business/finance/finance-firms-return-to-office-crackdown-could-backfire-study-2023-08-08/.

[3] Jeremie Brecheisen, “Research: Flexible Work is Having a Mixed Impact on Employee Well-Being and Productivity,” October 16, 2023, https://hbr.org/2023/10/research-flexible-work-is-having-a-mixed-impact-on-employee-well-being-and-productivity?ab=HP-latest-text-8.