After months of working virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that traditional definitions of the workplace won’t simply re-establish themselves.
With workers now able to start to return to work in larger numbers, employers face answering complicated questions about the nature of the workplace. After months of working virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that traditional definitions of the workplace won’t simply re-establish themselves.
While most businesses aren’t requiring all employees to return to conventional physical workplaces, neither are they suggesting that an entirely virtual workplace is the answer. Instead, most executives are contemplating hybrid workforces, combining physically present employees with a virtual workforce.
However, this hybridization isn’t going to be easy. As workers decide how to transition back to the office, they’re going to need to find ways to establish a level of equality between stay-at-home and on-site employees while also ensuring that the work being performed is monitored for quality and efficiency.
Ultimately, hybrid workforces will require a re-thinking of traditional relationships, both employee to supervisor and employee to employee. As we begin to return to work, managers and executives will need to be creative, rely on trusted advisors, and listen to the needs of their employees.
By this point, most remote workers have become familiar with the technologies required to perform their jobs while not on-site effectively. Whether through direct company training or, quite frankly, by holding on to the seat of their pants, both employers and employees have managed to learn how to use remote conferencing, database, and desktop technology and have gained a level of comfort working remotely.
But this kind of training is only a surface-level approach for the type of preparation your staff will need to hybridize the workplace effectively. Your workforce will need to not only fully master the technology required to integrate on-site and remote workers into the workflow, but they’ll also need training regarding how to deploy that technology to the fullest effect.
By and large, this training effort, which will include both employees and managers, will need to focus on communication procedures, measuring performance, and establishing a new structure of reporting.
Not every company will be able to return to work the same way. Some companies may want to remain largely remote, while others are more comfortable with a larger on-site population. Whatever the case, it’s essential to establish clear guidelines and expectations about who is eligible to work from home and which positions are required to be on-site.
This concern goes beyond simply knowing who will be physically present in the office at any given time, however. You also need to lay out clear guidelines for when all employees are expected to be working, as well as how they’re expected to be present, whether it’s on video communication, Slack, or more or less being on call at any given time.
One area where employers need to be especially careful is avoiding discrimination in the workplace based on physical presence. For much of the history of the American workforce, an employee’s physical presence in the office played a prominent role in their advancement. Being visible, engaging with other team members, and developing relationships throughout the company is a keystone element of career progression.
But with a significant portion of your workforce now working from home, while the rest of your employees figure out how to transition back to the office, the same methods of measuring performance and productivity are imbalanced, tilted toward those workers who are physically present in the office.
This points to a considerable challenge in determining who can return to the office. Individuals who are responsible for taking care of a child or an ailing family member, for instance, may not be able to return to work physically. Simultaneously, a more well-off employee may have the financial ability not to be affected by these concerns. How do these factors figure into evaluating an employee’s performance when presence has so long been a highly determining factor?
In the pre-pandemic workplace, it would be common to see the same information communicated in many different ways. An announcement might be made via email, be posted on a bulletin board, be distributed as a physical memo, and make its way around the office via word of mouth. Thanks to these many channels of communication, important information was unlikely to be missed.
While some employees will return to work on-site, many others will remain in their homes, isolated from most of these forms of communication. That makes it all the more imperative that executives and managers ensure equitable communication channels are established and maintained to ensure all employees have access to necessary information.
While email is an important tool, it’s only one of many available sources. You’ll need to make sure all critical information is available, especially management information, which can be made available via handbooks, resource links, or other online resources. And it never hurts to give your employees a phone call, either.
The transition to hybrid work isn’t just difficult for the organization; it’s a challenge for every employee who will need to re-learn how to function in the workplace effectively. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure that every employee feels as though they’re being included in figuring out how to transition back to the office.
Using polls, surveys, personal discussions, and focus groups, your employees will help you determine the relative importance of various factors such as performance evaluation and managerial methods. Once policies are implemented, maintain that communication so you can adjust as you continue through the transition.
We know that things aren’t going to be easy in a post-pandemic world. Hopefully, with enough time and thoughtful effort from both executives and employees, we can leverage the hybrid work plan for greater success.
Challenges are going to be inevitable as both employees and organizations work together to find a sustainable balance moving forward. If you're interested in new technologies and frameworks businesses are leveraging to make their hybrid return-to-work strategy successful, please let us know. We sit at the forefront of innovative ideas and companies shaping the landscape of tomorrow, today.