The Joys Of Hybrid Work. Ten Things We Have Learned.

As I’m sure you’ve read, Remote Work is here to stay. Not only did we thrive during the Pandemic, but two-thirds of employees prefer it. Remote work saves time on commute, saves money on dressing up, and helps people deal with family issues at home.

Yes, there are issues: we have to avoid video fatigue, learn to pace ourselves, and of course find a comfortable place at home. But even with these issues, it’s a very good thing.

Now that we’ve broken the stigma of remote work (it used to be frowned upon), companies are building Hybrid Work models. And I’m all for it. We’ve spent a decade studying employee engagement, employee experience (EX), and “the overwhelmed employee.” And in every study, we found that flexible, empathetic, well-designed workplaces are great.

Let me share what we’ve learned, and there’s a lot more to come when we launch our EX “Bible” later this summer. (And visit The Remote Work Bootcamp.)

  1. Hybrid Work Is Good For Business.

The first thing I want to reinforce is that hybrid work is good for business. Even if the CEO demands people to come to the office, employees love flexibility and agency to work the way they want. Yes, we sometimes have to meet face to face for design meetings, sales calls, and other important activities. But many of us need time for research, writing, design, and creative work – so giving people a “place to go” makes sense. Why else do we see so many people working in coffee shops?

While 83 percent of CEOs want employees to return in person, only 10 percent of employees want to come back full time.

Every company that’s tried this has seen positive results. Ford Motor Company, one of the oldest and most traditional companies in the world, now enthusiastically embraces flexible work – and employees love it. I’ve visited banks, insurance companies, Telcos, and lots of software companies that give people options, lots of locations to collaborate, and places and times to be alone. Microsoft’s entire campus is a massive hybrid work environment, as is Google’s and many others.

And we know this is working. Glint’s latest research shows that happiness at work is on the rise.

  1. Consider All Dimensions of Hybrid.

Hybrid work means more than working at home. It means considering location, time, business model, and more. Here are some dimensions to consider.

  • Location: will you let people work remotely all the time? Some of the time? Only when managers approve? Research shows that we do need face time for collaboration, design, and personal interaction. So many companies now have flexible policies and let managers decide when people have to show up in person.
  • Time zone: most of you are now familiar with the “follow the sun” issues of global work. Someone in your company is working all the time, so you should consider what “standard hours” may be and how you want managers to treat people in remote time zones.
  • Time of work: can people time shift their jobs? Many companies (SAP for example) let employees “share their job” with others, so they can deal with family care, elder care or other issues. Shift workers do this all the time, so there are dozens of good workforce scheduling tools to make this easy. I’d suggest you make it a policy, as long as someone isn’t invisible to their peers all the time. And if you want 24 hour support, you can design for “follow the sun” service.
  • Hours per week: do you have a “minimum number of hours” per week? You should. Most employees will not try to push the limits, but if someone does you need a policy to fall back on. And of course managers should accommodate emergencies, vacations, and other interruptions that keep people away from their jobs.
  • Employment relationship: while most of us grew up thinking about work as a full-time affair, this is not necessary. Today people work by the hour, by the job, by the project, and even based on outcomes. I call this the “pixelated” workforce, and it’s something you have to get comfortable with.
  • Required tools and norms: many companies set up hybrid work through special tools. Uber and Lyft drivers, for example, have a whole platform for hybrid work. Outsourced call center workers have platforms for remote work. So do salespeople, service reps, and consultants. You can design how “hybrid” the work by selecting the tools to match the model.
  • Inclusion of diversity: the diversity of the workforce is also a form of hybrid. In the old days, we expected full-time college grads for certain jobs. But what if the job is delegated to a foreign country where wages are lower (ie. India, Romania?), that’s a form of hybrid too.

Remember that careers have changed. More than 2/3 of Millennials have some kind of side-hustle, so people are more willing to take on new work arrangements than ever before.

  1. Focus On Culture

Hybrid work forces you to talk about culture. Why? Because there is no “management by walking around” anymore. Culture is created through work practices, management behaviors, reward systems, and how much flexibility you provide. It’s important to discuss these things, so people know what’s expected of them and what’s not allowed.

Hard-charging companies, for example, may start meetings on time and mandate attendance with cameras on. They may also demand that people come into the office on certain days. More relaxed or empowered cultures may have different norms. (In our company, client meetings can always interrupt normal internal meetings, for example).

Collaboration may actually suffer when people come into the office. Many clients tell us their companies became much more connected, collaborative, and empathetic during the Pandemic. As people go back to the office, some told us that people huddled back into their cubes and went back to the old ways. You, as an HR or business leader, have to prevent this.

I suggest that clients take time to reflect on everything that you learned during the Pandemic and write two columns: things that went well and those that went poorly. For everything that went well, spend time with your leadership to get an agreement on what you want to keep.

Many companies, for example, greatly simplified decision-making and performance management during the Pandemic. Most told us they want to keep this new, simplified way of working.

We are not “going back” to the office, we are “going forward” to a new, hybrid work culture.

  1. Build A Collaborative Technology Platform.

The technology industry is very focused on this market. Vendors like Zoom, Microsoft, Cisco, Salesforce, Google, Facebook, and almost all others are pouring billions of dollars into tools for virtual meetings, collaboration, knowledge management, safe workplace, wellbeing, and video sharing. You and your IT department should look at these platforms and put together a set of standard tools that work together.  I’m a huge fan of Microsoft Teams and Viva (we use it here), but you can build on Google Workplace, Slack, or others. But pick one core platform.

The innovations are astounding. Platforms like Microsoft Teams and Stream can video capture every conversation, transcribe meetings, and instantly help people catch up on what they missed. Tools like Loom and Guru can store video and documents and make knowledge management real. We love Otter.ai to transcribe voice from calls; platforms like EdCast, Degreed, Fuse, and Wisetail can quickly create a learning portal; tools like WalkMe, Pendo and Spekit can instantly make apps easier to use;  tools like Cultivate, Glint, CultureAmp, Peakon, and Viva Insights can capture mood, help people save time, and provide online coaching.

The HR Tech market is doing backflips to get involved. I call it the merger between HR Tech and Work Tech. Every HR platform, from Workday to Paycom to ADP is trying to build features to accommodate hybrid work. I just interviewed four large manufacturing companies that use Infor, and they use the platform for onboarding, communications, workforce scheduling, and every aspect of employee communications – embracing workers in trucks, retail locations, and many in low bandwidth areas.

HR should partner with IT to create this toolset. You’ll be amazed how well these new systems work, and I would focus on integration above all. We will explain more on this topic when we launch our big EX study later this summer, but this is a massive opportunity to make work easier for people.

  1. Establish A Listening Platform and Culture

As I talked about in Employee Listening is the most important practice in business, hybrid work is a rapidly changing situation. People will constantly bring up new ideas, issues, and suggestions. You need to survey people regularly, create open channels for conversation, and hold lots of open town-hall meetings.

Among all the practices we studied during the pandemic, Listening came up as the most important and impactful of all. Listening helps with productivity, inclusion, diversity, and employee retention. And this requires a set of tools and analytics platforms that make it easy, scalable, and open. Workday just spent more than $500 Million to acquire Peakon; Qualtrics is now worth more than $20 Billion; Medallia now offers end-to-end listening which directs feedback to the right stakeholder. This is more than just turning on SurveyMonkey and sending out a few questionnaires: this is an opportunity to build a platform for employee listening, and use it for direction going forward.

  1. Integrate Hybrid Work with the Wellbeing Program

Hybrid work can be great for many people, but it also introduces new pressures on employees. Some people work too many hours; others may be drinking or abusing drugs at home; some may be interrupted or harassed by family members; and others may just have trouble with travel, internet, or setting up a safe work location.

Your Wellbeing (and Facilities) team has to be part of the Hybrid Work program. What mental health, coaching, fitness, and wellbeing benefits will you provide? How will you help people stretch, walk, and take time off if they’re remote for long periods of time? How will you give people a break when they travel or work on the road? These are not new issues, but they should be included in your Hybrid Work program. (Join Wellbeing at Work our collaborative learning program to learn more.)

  1. Bring Leadership Into The Conversation

Many of you remember the famous Yahoo fiasco where the CEO peered into everyone’s VPN log history and came down hard on people who were home but not working full time. If leaders don’t trust or believe in your hybrid work program, it won’t work at all. And many leaders, to be honest, are still not sure how to feel.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPM Chase, famously made the edict that “he wants everyone back in the office.” As successful as he is, this kind of message backfires for many people. We are in a very tight (and tightening) labor market: you want flexibility to be central to your program. If people feel constrained, monitored, or unprotected at work, they’ll “check out” in the office, show up in an unproductive way, and undermine your company behind your back. Get leaders involved in the conversation: they have to feel comfortable with the policy you develop.

By the way, new research from Glint shows that managers are among the most stressed people in your company. Not only should they agree on your hybrid strategy, we have to make sure this makes their lives easier too. Companies like Verizon, Sanofi and others have started monthly open-mic meetings for managers to discuss their own strategies to cope with hybrid work.

  1. Double down on IT security.

I spent more than 25 years working remotely, managing remote employees, and working as a partner in a remote-first consulting firm. If there’s one thing to note: sometimes weird things happen. Problems like theft, embezzlement, data loss, and bad behavior continue to happen. And I’ve seen it all.

Your IT security team should look at your policy, and decide whether location information, VPN security, or new password policies are needed. Make sure you communicate your company’s data privacy and protection policies and continue the communications about behavior and leadership principles. I’ve seen lots of poor behavior happen when people are not in the office, and now it’s all tracked and monitored for posterity.

  1. Experiment With New Ideas

As I mentioned above, Remote Work is not “going back” its an opportunity to “go forward.” We no longer “go to work” or “come in to work” – we essentially “do work” wherever we are. This means there will be a lot of new ideas yet to come, so keep your mind open.

As we interviewed dozens of companies about Hybrid Work, we uncovered lots of new ideas. Companies are now using Virtual Reality training to replace fly-in meetings. Organizations are providing extra healthcare and educational benefits to help women come back to work. Managers are having peer-to-peer meetings to see what’s working.

  1. Trust

Let me leave you with one more point. Work is not a “place” – it’s “what people do.” You and your leadership have to trust people. Give them clarity, mission, skills, and growth – they will figure out how to get work done. Trust remains one of the most important tools you have.

If you follow the guidelines in this article, your Hybrid Work program will thrive. And your company will grow like never before.

Other Resources

The Remote Work Bootcamp – a collaborative learning program designed for your teams.

Remote Work Is Here To Stay, But It’s Not As Great As We Hoped – a good look at how we’ve learned to adapt.

Human-Centered Leadership – part of The Big Reset.

People-Centric Management – interview with LinkedIn.