Keeping employees engaged in a hybrid workplace
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic caused, among others, a temporary remote working situation for many employees. As the workforce around the globe starts going back to the office, employees express the need to preserve some form of remote working. To respond to the needs of their employees without eliminating on-site working, more and more companies are turning their workplace into a hybrid one.
The abrupt transition to remote working
With half of humanity being on lockdown in the midst of the pandemic, remote working was the last resort for many companies to continue their operations. Contrary to the initial hesitation on whether employees would remain productive while working from home, most surveys show that productivity levels not only did not take a hit but in some cases they even increased. This has created a strong argument for employees to advocate for remote working, even when the global health emergency is over. Less time spent on commuting, more structure, and fewer distractions are among the reasons why some prefer working from home.
Despite these demonstrated benefits of homeworking, many have missed the human interactions at the office. What is more, working from home has affected the mental health of some workers in a negative way. Other studies have shown that this new way of working resulted in many employees putting in longer hours than previously. On top of that, remote working has had a negative impact on the onboarding of new hires as well. It is therefore clear that the arguments to return to the office are also strong.
How to compromise between the two work models? Enter the hybrid workplace.
What is the hybrid work model?
The hybrid work model is a combination of working remotely and working at the office. The most common hybrid work models are:
- All employees will work some days of the week from a remote location, and the rest of the days they will work on-site.
- Some employees will work entirely from a remote location, while others will exclusively be at the office.
- A combination of the two previous models.
In the post-pandemic era, remote working implies not only working from home but also working from a third location, like this article by WeWork explains, or even from a holiday destination.
Why should companies consider hybrid working?
To put it bluntly, companies may no longer have the option to refuse to implement some type of hybrid work model for white collars. In this survey by Wakefield Research published on Envoy, nearly half of respondents (48%) say they’d like to work some days remotely. Moreover, 47% stated they would likely leave their job if it didn’t offer a hybrid work model post-pandemic. Finally, a staggering 92% of millennials identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting.
How to engage employees in a hybrid workspace?
While productivity was not necessarily affected by remote working, engagement may have plummeted. The impact of a hybrid workplace on employee engagement can be seen through a different perspective; the physical, more practical aspect, and the one that concerns company culture.
First, there is the physical aspect. Some activities that take place directly with the use of the software a company uses (e.g. updating the CRM) can be performed equally well from a remote location — provided of course that the employee has the equipment and access rights. However, there are other activities that usually require on-site presence, like workshops or brainstorms, because non-digital whiteboards or other physical prototypes are used. How can employees working remotely participate in such activities? While the answer remains open, this article on Harvard Business Review indicates that the progress in both digital technologies and a rethinking of the space and hardware use (e.g. multiple screens that allow the remote participants to get a 360-degree view of the prototype of the board) can be a step in the right direction.
Then there is the more complicated aspect of work culture. Instead of trying to convince the employees who are reluctant to go back to the office, employers can instead emphasize –or even create from scratch– the added value of being physically present. Workshops and brainstorms can expand beyond the immediate corporate needs. As the “Culture in the hybrid workplace,” episode of the McKinsey Talks Talent podcast suggests, employers should think about creating sessions that bring together different groups to try to brainstorm on new ideas but also to develop new relationships. You can find here some ideas for activities to enable such sessions. Most importantly, invest in proper, frequent internal communication.
Remote or hybrid working is here to stay. You should focus, therefore, on building the relationship between you and your team members through frequent, meaningful communication. Engaging your employees is, therefore, more crucial than ever.