The pandemic has forced organizations around the world to adapt to remote or hybrid business models virtually overnight. While employees generally appreciated the flexibility and autonomy that remote work provided, they also reported missing the human interaction and community often found when employees are together in person.
Recent research found that physical workplaces where employees can gather, from indoor offices to outdoor venues, will continue to play a critical role despite the emergence of fully remote options.
“Most organizations and people want some version of a hybrid work experience where there’s flexibility to work remotely, but [they want to] also get into a shared space when needed,” said Helen Kupp, co-founder of Slack’s research consortium, Future Forum, and co-author of
How the future works: leading flexible teams to do the best work of their lives (Ascent Audio, 2022). “This means we need to redesign the way we work together instead of leaving it to chance.”
Physical workplaces also play a key role in ensuring that employees receive all the support they need, both physically and mentally, from their employers.
“Work must become an engaging and inclusive destination where every employee can reliably seek mental well-being support, peer recognition and a sense of belonging,” said Flore Pradère, director of global work dynamics research at JLL, a commercial real estate and investment management company. Chicago-based company. “It must also become the anchor of an organization, enabling optimal performance and shared achievement.”
Gartner’s Hybrid Workplace Employee Survey found that the traditional location-centric model erodes performance and well-being, while a human-centric model boosts performance, a result that favors hybrid workplaces.
“A human-centered approach it puts people in the office at the center of decision-making around workplace strategy and broader human resources initiatives,” said Alexia Cambon, research director in Gartner’s human resources practice. The key is to balance the needs of the individual, the team and the organization.”
Gartner research shows that HR can increase employee performance in a hybrid work environment by focusing on the following three core elements:
- Empathy-based leadership that understands employee performance in context.
- Intentional collaboration that includes both business and employee needs.
- Employee-driven flexibility that allows them to choose when, where and how they work.
Leadership based on empathy
“Empathy is the most important managerial trait in the hybrid workplace,” Cambon said. “Empathy is both a skill and a mindset that begins with a willingness to listen to employees to understand what they want and need to be successful.”
While 89 percent of HR leaders in the Gartner survey agreed that managers should lead with empathy in the hybrid environment, they found that the organizational investment to enable empathy-based management was falling short. .
“Managing with empathy requires moving away from ‘performance by input’ to ‘performance by results,'” Cambon said.
Empathy-based management has worked well for Drift, a Boston-based global technology company that has successfully transitioned from a traditional (pre-pandemic) office-based business model to a flexible hybrid model, according to Dena. Upton, vice president of personnel. At Drift, the HR team relies on frequent employee surveys to find out what’s going on in the organization and uses that data to support recommendations for changes to HR policies.
“We have to be able to align our people’s metrics with business results to get buy-in from senior leadership,” Upton said.
The survey data was instrumental in persuading the leadership team to change the company’s performance management system to focus on output rather than hours worked. “We found that giving employees the freedom to choose when, where and how they work has improved performance,” Upton said.
However, many organizations have managers who lack the necessary skills and experience to manage effectively in a hybrid environment.
“A Blended Learning Approach [integrating asynchronous and synchronous learning] can be a powerful way for managers to learn empathy and other hard skills like adaptability and resilience,” said Todd Moran, chief learning strategist at NovoEd, a San Francisco-based collaborative learning platform. cara provides an additional opportunity to practice and reinforce those skills with mentorship and coaching.”
Moran sees collaborative learning as a professional development tool that can help with employee engagement and retention in a hybrid environment. When companies invest in their employees’ growth, they send a message that they care, reconnecting them with the organization and creating a sense of shared purpose, she said.
Also, when determining what works best for an organization, “start by listening to your people and meeting them where they are,” Kupp said. Notably, two-thirds of leaders in a recent Future Forum survey were planning their hybrid strategy without employee input.
Intentional collaboration is the idea that HR should be thinking about innovation by design in the workplace rather than relying on chance or spontaneity. “When you’re intentional about how, when and where you meet as a team, your time together becomes an important source of innovation and creativity,” Cambon said.
Intentionality is especially important in a hybrid world, Kupp said. “We have an opportunity to be more intentional about when we should do digital work, when we should get back together, and how we can make the best use of our time. There are cases where I think face-to-face is exceptionally better,” she said.
“Organizations have an opportunity to rethink what the office is for,” said Jacky Cohen, director of human resources at Topia, an HR technology company in San Francisco. “The ‘why’ should be the guiding principle behind every HR policy. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why are we meeting? What is the intent behind the connection?’ “
After Drift changed its performance management system to focus on results rather than inputs, it also changed the way the company uses office space. While there are still desks out there for those who want or need them, the office is largely collaborative spaces with conversation areas. When employees get together for scheduled events and activities, such as sales bootcamps, networking activities and new product creation, they always include a digital component so employees who can’t make it to the office aren’t left out, Upton said.
“The hybrid model is a win-win, as long as there’s a genuine culture of connection and humanity behind it,” said Chris French, executive vice president of client strategy at Workhuman, a global performance management platform. “The office has to provide something that people can’t get remotely. They lose the sense of being in the office if they’re doing the same work they would at home. When the culture is strong, people can come together to work on goals.” , collective challenges, collaboration and strategy”.
In a hybrid work environment, the main focus of the office “is culture and connection,” said Jennifer Dennard, co-founder and COO of Range Labs, a workplace collaboration software company in Denver. “The resentment comes when people are required to walk into the office and then spend all day in Zoom meetings, which they could have done working from home. There’s no point in walking into the office when no one is there.”
When employees have the opportunity to interact face-to-face with senior leaders, it can be a powerful incentive for people to return to the office. But this assumes that the leaders will be there to meet with them.
“You can’t create two sets of rules, one for the top level and one for everyone else,” Dennard said. “There has to be some balance.”
At NovoEd, the CEO emphasizes the importance of senior leaders being emotionally and physically present to their people. “It puts the ‘question’ on the table,” Moran said. “But it doesn’t tell us how to do it.”
Flexibility can be a powerful recruiting and retention issue, as evidenced by a recent Future Forum survey in which 70 percent of respondents said they were “willing to walk” if they didn’t get the flexibility they want and need in the job market. worked.
“Flexibility isn’t just about location. It’s about time and place. It’s about scheduling flexibility,” Kupp said.
After Cisco’s Global Hybrid Work 2022 survey found that hybrid working improved all areas of employee performance, work-life balance, employee wellness, and workplace culture, company decentralized its programming process. As a result, team leaders and staff were empowered to make decisions together about when to go to the office, said Francine Katsoudas, director of people, policy and purpose.
“This new flexible way of working will change the way offices are used,” he said. “The office will be the ideal location for client meetings, team-building events, brainstorming sessions and ‘hands-on’ business.”
Kupp recommends creating team-level agreements that outline operating norms, core collaboration hours, and other rules and expectations, while maintaining company-wide guidelines for behavior.
“When teams decide what works best for them, it’s more scalable than when there’s a company-wide policy,” Cohen said, adding that at Topia, there’s more interest among engineers in meeting face-to-face than other teams. , including HR, which are more widely distributed.
“You can’t force people to go back to the office, but you can make the office more attractive by aiming to be more flexible,” Pradere said. “HR’s role is to work with managers and leaders to help them with this transition. People have to be willing to change and adapt.”
Cambon added that “all experiments require a course correction. The thing that keeps me up at night is that we will fail and that will be an excuse to go back to the old way.”
Arlene Hirsch is a professional counselor and author based in Chicago.