Scheduling, clear policies and inclusivity are areas that hybrid work environments could still improve, members of Protocol's Braintrust say.
Good afternoon! In today's Braintrust, we asked the experts to think about hybrid work and consider where improvements can still be made as well as the strategies that companies can use to solve for those challenges. Questions or comments? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Head of customer success at Miro
One of the biggest hurdles to hybrid work is that many leaders still perceive it as a pandemic-era response to accommodating in-office and remote workers in teams. Instead, we should consider hybrid an emerging strategy that enables agility and accelerates work and innovation.
To change that perception, organizations must go further to create spontaneous innovation opportunities within their hybrid teams. Workplace technology presents countless means to collaborate on work in progress, but new ideas are often dreamt up in small moments when people in diverse roles make connections through casual interactions. These moments are more difficult to create when some employees are distributed.
Leaders must be deliberate in creating such collisions of minds. There should be agreed-upon days employees are expected in the office, and office time should be maximized with sessions or rituals that bring people together. For those who can’t attend in person due to health or distance, these sessions should be inclusive and equitable for virtual attendees. Without proactive planning of in-office time, you might find employees working from their desks without much interaction, engaging in the same virtual-first collaboration practices they do from home.
The goal is that employees will take the energy and ideas from the office home where they can leverage async work to execute faster and with fewer distractions. If organizations can pull this off, they’ll see that hybrid is a way of working that sustains a strong pace of innovation and creates a culture where employees are connected and engaged.
Chief products and technology officer at PwC
When remote work became the norm, we saw companies for the first time exploring ways to ensure their people felt connected and included outside of the traditional office setting. With roughly two-thirds of workers preferring hybrid work, many organizations still need to embrace a culture of flexibility by implementing the right policies — and tools — that meet employees where they are.
Providing your workforce with everyday flexibility shouldn’t be something that is earned or awarded, but rather an integral part of your company’s culture. Ways for companies to nurture a culture of flexibility and set up hybrid workers for success include:
- Offering your team personalized flexibility. Every employee is different, and giving individuals more of a say in how they work goes a long way in ensuring your workforce feels supported and encouraged to work in the way that best suits each member's specific style.
- Encouraging your leaders to develop plans that reflect and equally accommodate each different way of working, whether that is virtual, hybrid or in person.
- Providing your people with the right tech tools to support their tailored way of working, social networking and team collaboration. This can be challenging as we are seeing tech stacks still trying to catch up with the reality of hybrid working, but I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made to create a more seamless work experience and feel confident this will only continue to improve.
- Prioritizing the skills of your workforce by offering learning opportunities that will help employees be more successful in working and managing in a hybrid environment.
Chief people officer at Coupa
In hybrid work models, inclusivity remains a challenge. Inclusivity, or the lack thereof, is particularly evident in meetings. You might have a few people together in person, a few on video and a few on the phone. With a mix of channels, it’s challenging for everyone to feel encouraged to speak up. The root cause is often related to psychological safety and proximity bias. That’s why it’s critical for companies to set up programs that ensure employees feel safe and respected, regardless of how or where they show up.
At Coupa we've launched new resources to ensure a safe space for employees to be heard, engage in meaningful dialogue and have equal access to professional development.
For example, we host "Coupa Chats," which are discussions about topics varying from personal passions to societal issues to give employees a safe place to connect, voice their feelings if they choose and empathize with each other. We acknowledge that outside issues in the world can impact each of us. Taking this time helps create connection.
We also created the Coupa Career Coach to help employees develop career journeys remotely. It’s an interactive online tool that outlines expectations of knowledge, scope, autonomy and training for every role.
With programs like these, not only is it our intention to create a workplace that's inclusive and where employees feel safe, valued and supported, but we think that if we can help employees overall become more impactful people when they leave the organization, we’ve done our job.
Head of global engagement marketing at Asana
The pandemic has made it easier for teams to adopt hybrid schedules, enabling more remote-capable employees to continue splitting their time between remote and in-office work. Asana’s annual Anatomy of Work Global Index found that 50% of U.S. workers say it’s easier for them to concentrate while working remotely, but that 43% of workers feel more isolated when working from home. For employees to really get the best of both worlds — the distraction-free focus of remote work paired with the engagement and interpersonal connection of in-office culture — it’s critical for leaders to think through hybrid models that include some collaborative face-to-face time.
To achieve this, managers need to embrace synchronized hybrid work. This way of working sets a common schedule for everyone to be in the office at the same time, allowing for employees to feel more connected while having dedicated remote work time for focused work. To implement it, managers must work with their teams to create a hybrid schedule that fits their unique needs. Once in-office time is established, managers should encourage employees to prioritize that specific collaboration time through 1:1 meetings and huddles like brainstorming sessions, as well as reserve in-person team bonding. According to the Anatomy of Work Global Index, 49% of workers see the office as more of a social space than they used to, so it’s time to start considering synchronized in-person work.
Global vice chair, diversity, equity & inclusiveness at EY
The message is clear to businesses across the globe: if you’re not tailoring flexibility policies to the needs of your people, you risk losing them.
In a global study conducted by EY, more than half of the people surveyed say they would quit their jobs if not given the flexibility they desire. Millennials and Gen Z are the most likely to want flexibility (at 90% and 88%, respectively) and nearly twice as likely to quit (60%) than Baby Boomers (33%) if it’s not offered to them.
While introducing more flexible ways of working may challenge the traditional office environment, it provides an opportunity for employers to show they’re invested in their people, which helps build trust.
Flexibility at EY long precedes the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the concept of flexibility is always evolving, we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Often what’s standing in the way is a gap between what employers are doing to address flexibility (or what they think they’re doing) and what employees actually want and need.
Three actions can help bridge that flexibility gap and foster a culture of inclusion: Make sure perceptions of flexibility align across the organization, balance the unique needs of groups with individual experiences and recognize the power of human connection.
In order for all of our people to thrive, we believe in proactive listening and greater understanding of our workforces, including their differences and different experiences. And this, coupled with our culture and flexibility policies, is essential to peoples' unique needs, and in a world that is moving so fast around us.
CEO at Inpixon
Effective hybrid work requires effective tools for the mobile employee, not just remote employees. Remote workers are not just working in their home office or viewing information through desktop browser on a large monitor. They are often on the go. They're waiting to pick up the kids, dialing in from a coffee shop or transiting between myriad locations. The only tech they have with them at all times is their smartphone.
Too many corporate tools, services and databases are still not mobile-friendly. Large corporations would do well to follow the "mobile-first" mantra and launch a company-branded, employee-facing app that integrates meetings, communications, intranet resources and more into a single digital touchpoint: the mobile phone. This will help to facilitate a great workplace experience ... wherever that workplace may be.
Chief people officer at Qualtrics
We've seen the pandemic force many organizations to try a new way of working and embrace the value of hybrid work, with employees exercising the flexibility to work when and where it suits both their individual needs and the type of work they are doing. According to Qualtrics research, 55% of employees said having more control over their hours and schedule would make them want to stay with their current company longer.
With employee needs continuing to change, regular and ongoing listening has never been more important. Doing so helps an organization understand what their people need and can inform their decision-making, creating opportunities to not only meet but exceed employees’ expectations.
At Qualtrics, we’ve learned that a majority of our employees want to work from an office for one to two days per week, with the goal of connecting with colleagues and customers. Some teams will come in more frequently and others less, based on the work they are doing. We’ve used employee feedback to inform how we think about the design of our future work experience, and have plans to continually ask employees how we’re doing and where we have the opportunity to improve.
When it comes to hybrid work, it’s not about replicating the past — it’s about architecting the future work experience.
See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated Aug. 18, 2022).
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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