Recent times have been anything but normal, and the workplace is no exception. After well over a year of little to no in-office staff presence, the question on most managers’ minds is how to restart. Laying out a well-prepared back-to-office plan is essential, and understanding how the workplace must evolve is key.
Hybrid working is the future of office life. Combining the traditional setup with remote working is not only safer and more socially distanced, but if implemented properly can also boost productivity and staff motivation tenfold. Global business giant, Google, has been the poster child for a hybrid workplace and how to roll it out successfully, with many smaller companies looking to their structure for inspiration.
The best way of getting into the mindset of a hybrid work strategy is looking at the basic principles vital for success. This guide lays out the primary considerations you should make, and best practice hybrid work guidelines.
Have a Clear and Concise Vision
For both management and staff, having a clear view of the procedures and expectations for the hybrid work strategy is essential. Do not rush into a relaunch before thoroughly vetting your hybrid work plan and making it clear to all those who work for you and are going to be affected by the changes.
Keep the Focus on Safety
Of course, business goals are important, but right now safety has to be the primary concern. No back-to-work plan can be successful without putting the health and safety needs of your team first. Skipping over safety protocols is likely to set you back even further than where you started.
Work out How to Organize Your Staff
Decide exactly how you plan to divide your staff between the office and remote working and put a framework in place for how it should be controlled. Some businesses such as Google, for example, have divided up the workweek. Rather than splitting staff between remote or office work, each member has their time divided between the two. Both methods and hybrid work strategy have their benefits, so weigh up the pros and cons to figure out what's best for you.
Pros and Cons of a Split Work Week
- Every member of staff gets face-to-face contact with team members and management regularly.
- Easier to keep track of each person’s performance.
- Encourages team synergy when everybody feels part of the office environment.
- Beneficial for staff members with family commitments who perhaps value more time at home but don’t want to be there full-time.
- Allows for a gradual transition, with options to go more towards full-time office life, or more flexible.
- Dividing time can be anti-productive if not well-managed.
- Some people may feel unsettled if they feel neither here nor there.
- Can increase scheduling issues for managers and add a lot more work for those in charge.
- After so long working remotely, it is possible some people feel reluctant to return and are interested to work fully remotely.
- Mixing the two ways of working together opens you up to a lot of shuffling and potential unease further down the line.
- Increases the risk of spreading the virus.
Pros and Cons of Fully Remote Staff
- Opens up a far wider talent pool as staff can truly work from anywhere.
- Allows flexibility for staff who are not comfortable returning to the office.
- Working from home has proven extremely productive for many businesses.
- Reduces overheads when fewer people are in the office.
- Reduces risk of contact and spreading of COVID by limiting the number of people passing through the office.
- The work-life balance is significantly improved.
- Potential for a divide to appear between remote and in-house staff.
- Some jobs cannot be done fully remotely.
- Customer facing businesses need face-to-face contact to survive, so fully remote staff are not helpful.
- Lack of personal contact between staff and management can lead to disillusionment.
- Communication becomes even more important.
Implement New Communication Methods
As the hybrid work guidelines, try to apply flexibly new communication tools in your business. A flexible workspace cannot survive without excellent communication, no matter what hybrid work strategy you follow. The past year has shown businesses how valuable communication truly is, and how many options are out there. The traditional sit-down meeting in a conference room still has its place, of course, but there are far more productive ways to conduct business.
Utilizing online meeting platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams is a great way to keep all your staff, wherever they may be, in contact and feeling involved. Try swapping out most of your team meetings for group video calls and keeping the conference room for important occasions. Not only are social distancing rules upheld and safety risks reduced, but the remote staff doesn't feel left out of the pool, and feelings of division are subdued.
Look to the Future
Do not let your hybrid work model stagnate.; so much has changed in recent times and is sure to continue changing, and so must your hybrid work strategy. The plan you roll out, to begin with, may not be suitable for the long-term, so having contingencies in place for future development is essential.
Some of the ways you can pre-plan your hybrid work strategy are as follows:
- Speak with staff about their expectations and thoughts. The way your staff feels is an excellent marker for where the office mindset is going, something you must be in tune with for long-term success.
- Layout your hybrid work plan for the first year, taking into account planned growth and staffing needs.
- Work out the financials of implementing remote hybrid work for your company and set goals for outgoing costs. Marking progress against this expectation helps gauge the success of your plan.
- Understand that things might change and be prepared for staff to request changes to their work plan accordingly. Have parameters in place to allow for such things.
What Is a Hoteling Office Space?
Office hoteling is rising in popularity, with some major corporations jumping on board with the trend. The basic principle is the elimination of assigned seats, meaning there is no such thing as "your desk" anymore. The idea is to open up the office and maximize fluidity, productivity, and collaboration by getting rid of confined designated areas.
Unlike hot desking, a hoteling office space requires that staff book or reserve a workspace for the time they need it. This is a great system, which allows everyone to work symbiotically around the office, creating a truly effective hybrid workforce.
Microsoft offers a great program to help an office run this way. It helps keep track of bookings and who is sitting where. They built many clear and precise hybrid work guidelines for the employees to follow and increase performance. In certain office setups, hoteling is a worthwhile consideration for a hybrid work strategy.
Pros and Cons of Office Hoteling
- Encourages staff to work together.
- Increased productivity around the office.
- Avoids empty desk space going to waste if someone is working remotely.
- Better networking as people work near new people from other departments.
- Gives staff power to decide the best way for them to work, boosting engagement and motivation.
- Can be a headache for IT if people are constantly changing computers.
- Trying to find someone quickly is impossible if you don’t know where they are sitting that day.
- Assigned group seating ensures staff are close to the others in their department who they need to communicate with regularly.
- Some people find moving desk disruptive and take longer to get into the groove each morning.
- Having your own personal space is a bonus in many people’s minds.
What Can Go Wrong in a Hybrid Work Environment?
Failure to follow hybrid work guidelines and rushing into a re-launch without proper considerations can go wrong in a lot of ways. The main concern for most people right now is safety, and how you bridge the return makes all the difference.
Common mistakes for Hybrid Workplaces
- Not paying attention to the mindset of your staff
- Failing to enforce safety regulations
- Making too much change too quickly without notice
- Offering too much flexibility
- Not allowing for enough flexibility
- Expecting everything to go back to normal
- Making changes without the proper infrastructure in place to support them
All these mistakes can be avoided with proper planning and clear communication, not to mention a little creativity!
The Importance of Listening to Your Staff
As a manager or business owner, it can be tempting to roll out the hybrid work strategy you feel is best. This is, above all, the biggest mistake you can make. You may have the best vision for what your business needs to be successful, but if it is not aligned with your staff and doesn’t give them confidence in returning to work. If people feel uncomfortable, their motivation is likely to be low. Low motivation equals low productivity, which is the last thing you want in a team.
Your plan cannot be dictated entirely by staff, of course, but it also can’t be done without them. Getting the balance right is not easy, but making an effort is essential to make returning to work with a hybrid work plan successful. Here are a few tips on how to make your staff feel valued and involved in the decision-making process:
Ask for Opinions on Hybrid Working Solutions
You may find that your entire team is desperate to get back into the office and have no interest in remote working, in which case your focus can be on optimizing office space through office hoteling or collaborative workspaces. On the other hand, the general consensus could be more towards remote working, so you could look at utilizing out-of-office staff more efficiently.
The main thing is that you know what your staff is thinking and how they would choose to proceed if in charge. You can take these opinions on board and make decisions accordingly.
Listen To and Respect Individual Situations
This gets harder the more your company grows, but it is no less important. A team member who lives with an elderly relative or is immune compromised may be reluctant to return to a busy workplace, so scheduling them for remote working is beneficial. Refusing to accommodate situations like this does not look good from an HR perspective and is likely to drag down staff morale.
You may also have staff members who have hated working from home. If you don’t listen to them and leave them as remote workers when the office reopens, you could lose valuable people.
Keep the Conversation Going
Remote or not, people need to feel heard. What is right for someone at the point of reopening may not be right six months down the line. Maintaining a line of communication over time is a good way to ease concerns and keep motivation high.
Organization Is Everything
Times are uncertain enough as it is. As a manager or business owner, staff look to you for stability. If your hybrid work plan is disorganized, the atmosphere is disorganized, and the staff is likely to feel a little lost. Whatever direction you choose to go in, make sure you have structure.
If you are splitting up the work week between office and remote working, have well planned schedules given out well in advance. If you are making staff fully remote, lay out clear expectations and guidelines for what they should be doing. Regarding office hoteling or hot desking, have a booking system in place and tested before going live.
No hybrid working strategy can thrive without organization, just like no business can succeed in disarray.
This period in time has not been easy in the business world. Companies have been forced to adapt in order to survive and now as regulations and restrictions ease off, the adapting must continue.
Hybrid working is undoubtedly an integral part of the future of office life. Businesses that embrace the possibilities of a hybrid working strategy and use it to their advantage are the ones who are sure to come out on top. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Google that have created a highly flexible working model focused on staff engagement, productivity, and safety is a smart move for the modern business.
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