Never Grow Up
Here's How You Can Engage Your All-New Hybrid Workforce
With the pandemic, offices across the world saw a shift from being in the workplace to remote working. However, the re-opening of offices and the economy is seeing a part of the workforce returning to the workplace while some part remains at home. The creation of this “hybrid workforce” has posed new challenges for managers and HR, particularly when it comes to employee engagement and keeping morale high. A BBC article called it the best and worst of both worlds, stating that while this new system made space for coming up with individually convenient structures and sociability patterns, allowing for more independence and flexibility in comparison to the conventional work mechanisms, it also created a disproportionate share of power that favoured the in-office workforce over the remote workers, and did not take into consideration many disparities that may make remote working uncomfortable for many. Right from the everyday lack of team building activities for employees to the larger socio-economic disparities.
Hybrid work models may remain unavailable for many, including frontline workers, service staff, factory workers, etc., but for many white-collar professionals, it is a lucrative option that would help them maintain a work-life balance. Although it may have been a tad easier in the past for leaders and admin staff to manage the entire team uniformly (whether in-person or digitally), it remains to be seen how a new talent management system will be undertaken to make the most of these unplanned times. Here are a few suggestions that may work well as a jumping-off point to tackle these upcoming challenges.
Appreciate your team!
To do this, it does not matter whether you are a team leader, a manager, or an apprentice! Take the time to engage with your team, whether in-office or working remotely, and to appreciate them for the work they have been putting in. This appreciation may come from the top-level management in the form of flexi-hours, monetary or non-monetary benefits, and is a sure-shot way of reminding your employees that the management cares! If you are a team lead or at a lower-level management post, you can take a minute to pen down or email a thank you note to your team for putting in their best efforts. Sometimes a little push or a pep-talk from colleagues helps the employees feel more secure about their work! Office management can ensure the provision of on-the-spot appreciation systems, which will allow for the development of a safe space for the team to feel mutually appreciated! Leaders may also encourage conversations between remote and on-location team members in the form of phone calls or video calls to support formal as well as personal growth and communication, thus strengthening social bonds that would have formed via in-person conversations, and reducing any sense of disconnect, tensions and animosity that employees may feel. These serve as more than just team building activities for employees, and can actually strengthen interpersonal relationships and boost productivity.
Remind your team that “grass isn’t always greener on the other side”
Do you note discrepancies within your team when it comes to in-office and remote working? You may want to remind them that the grass isn't always greener on the other side! It’s quite likely that the remote-working employees have been dreaming of coming into work, while the ones in-office just can’t stop thinking about working from home! If you find such thoughts creeping into your team, you may want to talk to them and rectify the situation as best as you can (maybe even develop a rotational plan!) A rotational plan (say working on location 3 days a week, and working remotely for the rest of the week) would give your entire team a chance to experience both sides of this new hybrid experiment, and help them feel at par with the others. This may also give managers a chance to reduce office space since they now have to cater to fewer employees working on-location, thus helping save on rent! Through a robust talent management system, this sort of hybrid methodology can become streamlined and successful.
Another way to improve employee communication and reduce animosities is by holding a weekly Gratitude Huddle, wherein all employees mention one thing they are grateful for in their work situation and one thing they’d like to improve. Concerns that can be addressed here such as patchy internet, technology or admin issues, can be tackled by managers to ensure a seamless work experience for its team members. For issues that are unchangeable, the team may suggest coping mechanisms: for example, if employees find themselves feeling lonely or alienated during lunch, the team could convene for a virtual lunch a few times a week.
Leaders, stay mindful
It is incredibly important for leaders to be mindful, particularly now! Don’t treat your team differently based on where they’ve decided to work from. Ensure that office timing and boundaries are set for working on location or remotely and that your team takes proper breaks regardless of the space they are operating in. It is also important to train personnel in leadership roles to inspire their team and to exercise care and compassion. Managers may also develop efficiency matrices to identify less important factors that are taking up space in their employees’s otherwise productive days; sometimes these factors may be as simple as being roped into virtual meetings for discussions that don’t concern the scope of their work! At the same time, to keep productivity at an all-time high, leaders may also conduct surveys or interviews with their teams to understand the circumstances they work best in, to seamlessly redefine traditional workspaces!
Opening doors to new possibilities
With a hybrid workforce, companies are now, more than ever, capable of being more receptive to the conditions and needs of pregnant women, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. This may help develop and maintain a more vibrant, diverse, and inclusive workforce, whilst also tapping into a much larger talent pool (one that goes far beyond geospatial locations!), a goal that many organisations have set for themselves in the coming years. This may also be a great opportunity for leaders to revisit their organisation’s goals, and to bring in a deeper sense of sensitization of and for its workforce!
Modus operandi is bound to change as the pandemic has thrown us into unchartered territories. While remote working was not a new concept for most of us, the suddenness that came with adapting to working digitally through the week certainly posed challenges. The new experiment with hybrid working will come with its own set of unique challenges that will differ from industry to industry. While certain companies like GitLab and IBM have set wonderful examples to pave the way, it remains to be seen how the rest of the world will adapt to this style of work. One thing remains, as long as your company can keep their employees engaged and satisfied, any mode of work they choose will reap bounties!