While hybrid workplace environments might rewrite the traditional ways of doing business, that shift doesn't have to be a negative one. In fact, restructuring how your organization supports and empowers employees to do their work across diverse circumstances will strengthen your business. But the tumultuous transitions throughout the past two years may have left key stakeholders craving a return to normalcy that can place your employee retention and engagement at risk.
There are two statistics you need to know that perfectly frame the issue. First, according to Apollo Technical's review of an Accenture report, "69% of companies with negative or no growth reject the concept of hybrid workforces and prefer all onsite or all remote employees." At the same time, "Hybrid work models are used by 63% of high-growth companies."
The connection is clear — refusing to allow hybrid work is bad for business, and actively fostering it is good for business. So what does that mean for your future workplace?
Strong hybrid work environments improve retention and increase the appeal for new candidates while creating concrete operational norms that satisfy those key stakeholders. In this guide, we'll walk through how to set the stage for your future workplace and how your HR department can proactively respond to changing needs and norms.
The Future Workplace Is More Than a Building
While some work tasks do need to take place in specific locations based on the nature of the work, many tasks performed in a traditional office setting can be done somewhere else. The shift to virtual work during the pandemic proved that, and many professionals have no intention of going back to how things were.
Zoom calls, professional messaging platforms like Slack, and an increasingly large suite of real-time work and communication platforms make in-person proximity unnecessary. That requirement can even get in the way of real productivity, as employees lose time to commutes, have to make compromises for childcare and personal events, and feel the rising stress and burnout of having to journey back to the office.
That requirement also doesn't change how many of their clients, third-party contacts, and co-workers in other office locations will still require the use of all those virtual solutions.
Instead, build workplace requirements based on where workers are most productive, not on what used to be the norm. Consider these examples:
- Industrial and manufacturing work: Because the tasks require specialized equipment, work has to take place in the factory.
- Consulting and fieldwork: Employees may need to visit client locations, spend the day at your office location, or take lots of virtual meetings where the physical location doesn't matter. As a result, these employees need flexibility.
- Office work: For many "office" employees, going virtual allows them to accomplish the majority of their workload quickly and efficiently. If they work best at home, then that's their ideal workplace. Hybrid or flexible arrangements also allow them to come in for important meetings, as needed.
Independent tasks can be done at home, and collaborative tasks can be done over virtual meetings or in the office. This also poses interesting opportunities for your in-person location: instead of small cubicles, you can change the layout to prioritize conference rooms, smaller meeting rooms, common areas, and other collaboration-focused options.
How HR Leaders Should Respond
While flexibility is key for modern businesses, your operation still needs strong guidelines and policies so everything stays clear-cut, measurable, and efficient. For stakeholders that want a return to the old status quo and employees that know flexibility is better for their productivity, creating documentation, communication channels, and focusing on transparency gives everyone the right mix of stability and agility. Make these five actions a priority.
1. Communicate Company Needs
While virtual work is sufficient (or even excellent) for most tasks, the need for in-person collaboration will never disappear. Make sure all employees are aware of what tasks demand an in-person presence, the in-person requirements for different roles, and other key expectations. Clarity and transparency will reduce frustration.
2. Have Documented Hybrid and Flexible Work Policies
During the past two years, ad hoc adjustments to work policies were the norm for many organizations, leading to stress, high turnover, and dissatisfaction from all sides. Iron out your organization's flexible work policies fully, and get approval from all necessary parties. While adjustments may be needed in the future, documented policies are key. Within these policies, set expectations for in-person attendance and flexible arrangements for different roles, clarify the procedures for requesting and receiving hybrid work arrangements, and more.
3. Establish and track program goals and metrics
As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.” These words hold true today. Set flexible and hybrid work goals for program adoption, policy adherence, employee engagement, business results, and other relevant metrics for your organization. Hybrid doesn’t mean ad hoc — measure KPIs, seek insights, and be ready to modify the program to optimize performance and positive impact on workplace culture.
4. Engage Employees
Your employees also need to feel involved in these decisions and any changes that impact them. Don’t wait for annual employee satisfaction surveys to begin implementing updates — set up communication pathways where employees feel safe offering feedback and bringing up concerns to get real-time feedback for continuous improvement. When you clearly value employees’ sentiment, you have a better chance of creating a great place to work.
5. Make Physical Workplaces Safe
Many employees are hesitant about in-person work because of continued COVID-19 concerns and variant waves. Your organization can't afford to assume the virus will continue to decline and then fully disappear. Instead, create standard policies for testing, masks, vaccines, positive tests, and in-person safety norms that track to the CDC COVID-19 Community Risk Levels. At ReturnSafe, we specialize in creating complete solutions for employee testing, records tracking, and safety protocols that increase safety and peace of mind.
6. Redesign Physical Spaces to Facilitate Collaboration
As we briefly discussed earlier, support the shift to hybrid work by physically restructuring the workplace. Make collaboration-forward spaces like meeting rooms, conference rooms, and casual seating areas. If you require in-person work, ensure individual workstations are sufficiently spaced out and enclosed to allow concerned employees to feel safe — and be safe.
Partner With ReturnSafe to Optimize Your Future Workplace
Set your organization up for success with proactive measuring and monitoring systems that help your teams stay ahead of the curve and confidently enter the future of work. Contact ReturnSafe today to see how our services can integrate with your future of work initiatives.