Adapting to the Remote and Hybrid Work Revolution
Revolution signifies a radical and pervasive change, especially one made suddenly. With remote and hybrid work models, the 2020 global pandemic burst open the gates for these already rapidly growing business practices. The good news is that the pandemic’s near-immediate impact meant that most organizations that hadn’t already implemented some degree of remote or hybrid work models have now endured the initial pains and pitfalls of adopting them. The not-so-welcome, but likely expected news is that more change is coming.
While most feel that we are inching closer towards finding a path past the pandemic as we know it today, all would agree that it will still cast lasting changes in virtually all aspects of life, including the future of how we work. Changes to traditional on-location work models are nothing new. Flex schedules, telecommuting, remote work, WFH, work-from-anywhere, hoteling, and hybrid work models are concepts and terms we’ve all become familiar with. The question now is this – how will organizations continue to evolve and optimize their work models to meet the needs of employees, customers, and the overall business?
Understanding the Challenges of Remote and Hybrid Work Models
All of the work models we’ve highlighted involve a common theme – a significant degree of work being performed and delivered by employees away from a centralized office or workplace. Even with some employees returning to centralized work locations, remote work is expected to remain a large part of the equation for many organizations. Leaders of the organization must continually assess how well they are addressing the challenges that remote and hybrid work brings and where they can do better. Common challenges (and related questions that leaders should examine) include:
- Building and maintaining a strong, healthy culture – What parts of our culture do we need to protect most? What cultural norms need to change to better integrate with remote and hybrid work?
- Actualizing employee engagement and inclusion – What practices will help employees not to feel alone in their endeavors? How can we support and sustain community and collaboration?
- Promoting accountability – How do we maintain expected standards of work as well as feedback and ideation across employee groups?
- Ensuring effective two-way communication – Are we being proactive and multi-layered in our employee communications? Are regular 1:1 communications occurring to ensure understanding and ask for feedback?
- Supporting continued learning and development – Do remote employees have all the tools they need to succeed and full understanding and confidence in using them?
Businesses that demonstrate adaptability and discipline in addressing these challenges will have a much higher probability of success as work models continue to evolve. Addressing these common challenges will also help to surface other challenges of remote and hybrid work that are unique to the business as well as ideas for how to overcome them.
Setting the Stage for Equitable and Effective Remote and Hybrid Work
One of the biggest challenges that organizations adopting hybrid work models (where some employees work remotely while others work in a centralized office) will face is establishing equity and indistinguishable effectiveness across these two groups, or in some case more, employee segments. To establish and sustain equitability and effectiveness in hybrid work models, employers should:
- Afford the same work model opportunities to all employees – Employees understandably want to follow the work model that best fits their lives. For example, if an employee’s current role demands an on-location presence and their preference is for a remote role, demonstrate empathy and engage in dialogue about what may be needed to enable such a move or whether there are opportunities to lessen the burden of their on-location work requirement.
- Adjust recruiting practices and existing employee supports – In seeking new talent for the organization, ensure applicants understand the locational requirements or flexibility offered for the role they are seeking so that it can factor into their consideration. For employees moving to a new work structure (e.g. from on-location to 100% remote), provide ongoing support (including focused learning and development) to support a positive acclimation to the change.
- Be clear and consistent about expectations and how performance will be managed – When employees across different work models hear and experience the same set of expectations being applied to all, perceptions of inequity are minimized. This should also be overtly reinforced throughout all performance management processes.
- Be cognizant of unintended consequences of physical distancing – Without active prevention, employees working remotely could feel disadvantaged to those that work in closer proximity to on-site leaders. This ties back to the need for evolved performance management, effective communication, and openness of opportunities to mitigate these instances.
- Eliminate or minimize external barriers to equity – Understand the ancillary variables that could degrade the performance of remote workers; variables such as wi-fi options and availability and ergonomic-related items (e.g. desk, chair, screen setup) and work to eliminate or minimize their impact.
The list of practices noted above is by no means comprehensive when it comes to establishing and maintaining equitability and effectiveness in a hybrid workforce environment. That, in large part, is because of the highly varied individual circumstances of each employee and the unique elements of the business itself. Echoing the paramount importance of communication, leaders and managers must actively seek out 1:1 feedback from every employee to understand their individual needs, wants, and concerns. Employees must feel comfortable in constructively expressing concerns at any time.
Adaptability for Sustained Remote and Hybrid Work Success
Undoubtedly, 2020 has forced a steep learning curve for many organizations and leaders when it comes to adopting remote or hybrid work models. While no one knows what the full extent of the COVID-19 pandemic will be, it is widely expected that hybrid work models will become more of a norm for a diverse array of organizations. Success in this environment will require a high degree of adaptability from both leaders and employees alike as they work collaboratively to shape the best possible path for all.
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