As we’re hearing more about vaccines, it’s only natural to talk about people gathering together. And that of course, leads to a conversation about employees coming back to the office.
It reminded me of an article I saw on Business Insider a couple of months ago about how “Zillow is adopting a hybrid model of work, but its CEO says it’s trying to prevent one major downside: a ‘two-class system’ where those who come into the office are viewed as better employees.” I agree with Zillow’s CEO that hybrid workplaces could perpetuate inequities. However, I also believe that organizations have the ability to create hybrid workplaces that don’t. It will take a lot of hard work and resources to successfully create a hybrid workforce.
Many organizations entered the pandemic with a small number of remote workers. The reasons those workers were remote varied greatly. For some, it could be related to parental or caregiving responsibilities. Or maybe it was a high performing employee who relocated, and the company didn’t want to lose them. Or possibly both. It would be interesting to know how many employees – prior to the pandemic – were told that working remotely would severely limit their career opportunities. My guess is there weren’t many – if any at all.
My experience with remote work and hybrid workplaces is that employees are told that they could work remotely as long as their productivity didn’t suffer, and they would be available to come into the office as needed. While there was a bit of a learning curve, managers were able to manage one or two remote employees without too much trouble.
The challenge with the hybrid model is that it means large scale change. It’s a new way of thinking about the workplace. There are three areas that organizations need to address:
Management: The management team needs the equipment and tools to effectively manage hybrid workplaces and a remote workforce. They need to be able to hire, build relationships, set performance expectations, coach, mentor, get/give feedback, and more. Being a manager is a hard job. Being the manager of a remote team is also a hard job. But it’s not impossible. It does mean that organizations need to give managers training and resources they need to manage effectively.
Employees. Like managers, employees need to have the equipment and tools to do their work from a remote location. A big piece of this is technology. Employees need regular access to information, learning, as well as the other members of the team. That doesn’t mean all day video calls. There are wonderful pieces of technology that allow employees to collaborate and share information. Organizations will need to build the technology infrastructure for employees to get their work done.
Organizational workflows. I’m going to label all of the policies, procedures, and guidelines that we use to get work done as “workflows”. With a remote workforce, some of those workflows need to change. It’s a big task to reevaluate how everything gets done. And I can see how it might be easier just to say, let’s just do it the way we’ve always done it. However, the exercise of reviewing workflows could be a very good thing for the business. The result could be a major streamlining of processes and greater efficiency.
Creating hybrid workplaces is a big job. Think of it like creating an employee experience strategy. Or changing company culture. But it can be done. And it can be done well. The organizations that make the commitment to creating equitable hybrid workplaces will be the ones that are able to attract, engage, and retain the best talent. Because those organizations will have figured out how to maintain company culture with a hybrid workplace.