The hybrid work environment has become a new reality, with many people seeking some combination of on-location and remote work. What’s the key to success for small business owners? Be flexible and willing to adapt, and keep your focus on employee wellbeing.
The Hybrid Work Environment Is Here to Stay
Whether you embrace the idea of a hybrid workplace or feel some ambivalence, it’s a workplace model that’s here to stay.
According to The Remote Work & Compensation Pulse Survey conducted by Salary.com in 2021, 44% of workers want a hybrid work option, while 48% prefer to be fully remote — meaning 92% of employees surveyed want to have some form of remote work as an option.
Meanwhile, Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Index reports that 52% of those surveyed say they’re likely to consider switching to either hybrid or remote work.
These numbers point to another new reality: many of today’s workers are willing to make sacrifices or give up their current jobs to fulfill their desire for more flexible work. For example, OwlLabs reported that 46% of employees in 2021 were willing to take a 5% cut in pay to have a hybrid work option. And the 2022 Work Trends Index reports that the lack of flexible work options was one of the top five reasons employees quit last year.
What does this mean for the small business owner? Offering a hybrid work option can help you retain valued employees and attract new talent. But managing such a workplace presents a host of other challenges. Check out the following five tips to help you more effectively manage your hybrid work team.
1. Develop a hybrid workplace policy.
Clear expectations are at the heart of a successful hybrid work environment. They help your remote workers understand their roles and responsibilities within this more non-traditional work arrangement.
Start with your employees when developing your policy. Knowing their preferences and how they work will help inform your rules and procedures. Areas your hybrid workplace policy should address include:
- Core work hours — Establish the core hours during which remote employees are expected to be online. For example, you may want everyone to be available on weekdays between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
- Hybrid work schedules — Outline the different hybrid schedules available within your workplace and what each type of schedule involves. Address issues like the ability to change to a fully remote option if an employee moves out of state.
- Remote locations — If a remote employee doesn’t want to work from home, are coworking spaces or local coffee shops acceptable? Will you offer a stipend for cowork space? Establishing guidelines in this area will make your policies clear and reduce potential misunderstandings.
- Cybersecurity — Set out security rules concerning access and the usage of the technology you’re providing. For example, what kind of security is required on company laptops? Will employees need to use a VPN to access your internal systems?
2. Include employee wellbeing in productivity goals
You may worry that offering a hybrid work option will negatively impact employee productivity. But it turns out that remote work may have the opposite effect: productivity increased during the pandemic when many businesses had to rely on a largely remote workforce.
There’s a high cost to this increased productivity, though. Monster found that 69% of employees who worked from home during the pandemic experienced burnout.
Productivity goals are important for every business. The key is to establish how to reach those goals to avoid employee burnout. For example:
- Response time — One of the drawbacks of remote work is the “always-on mindset,” which can be a significant factor in employee burnout. Consider setting guidelines regarding what types of communications require immediate responses and which ones do not, to ease the pressure of feeling like an instant reply is always necessary.
- Reduce “Zoom fatigue” — A study by Virtira Consulting found that 49% of employees reported exhaustion stemming from the number of video calls they attended during the pandemic. One way to combat this potential for burnout is to ensure meetings are only called when necessary, and aim for shorter meetings rather than longer. And recent research from the Harvard Business Review found that being on camera during virtual meetings had a positive correlation to Zoom fatigue.
- Respect personal time — Monitor for the effect of the “triple peak day.” This term refers to a trend that finds remote staff consistently working outside of traditional work hours. While some employees consider this a perk of remote work, you need to ensure your remote team doesn’t feel like work is encroaching on their personal time.
3. Create a remote-inclusive community.
While there are many benefits to working remotely from home, there are certain downsides, too. For example, not “being seen” around the office might mean an employee may not be top of mind when it comes to new opportunities.
Here are some ways to create a more remote-inclusive community for your hybrid workforce:
- Events — Include remote staff in your company events. For example, if you’re holding a company-wide lunch, send gift cards for meal delivery services to remote employees so they can join in. And even if an event is on-location only, your remote team should be invited so they know they have the option to attend in person.
- Digital watercooler — Staying connected while still retaining the ability to work from home is one of the top reasons employees seek hybrid work options. Establishing different digital spaces that can serve as online watercoolers, such as special Slack channels, can provide that connection on the days employees are working remotely.
- More 1:1 connections — Foster individual connection through more frequent one-on-ones and mentorship opportunities. Your one-on-ones also allow you to stay on top of how your remote staff is handling the hybrid environment.
4. Make communication a priority.
Communication has a significant impact on employee satisfaction. But here’s the challenge for the hybrid work environment: according to Gallup, most companies don’t communicate well even in the traditional on-site workspace.
And this means communication becomes even more of a priority when managing a hybrid workplace. Some ways you can focus on communication include:
- The huddle — Incorporate team “huddles” into your daily or weekly routine so everyone can stay up-to-date on the latest project happenings.
- Status updates — Establish a message or chat channel on Teams or Slack for daily status updates.
- Shorter 1:1s — Opt for more frequent and shorter one-on-ones over less frequent, longer ones. Hold these meetings on a regular schedule to provide consistent support.
- Asynchronicity — Increase opportunities for asynchronous communications (communications that don’t need an immediate response), where such communications make sense.
5. Establish hybrid meeting guidelines.
Meetings that include in-person and remote participants can be particularly challenging. So what’s the best way to approach them? Develop and distribute hybrid meeting guidelines in advance so all participants know what to expect and how the meeting will be facilitated.
As you develop your guidelines, place yourself in the shoes of your remote participants: what will they see and hear, and how will they be seen and heard? You may also want to consider adding some of the following:
- In-room perspective — Ask in-person participants to log in individually so they’re on screen too, or set up additional webcams so remote attendees can see everyone in the room as well as any non-digital visuals such as whiteboards. You should also let remote participants know how they will be seen and heard by on-location attendees.
- Pre- and post-meeting — The first person to enter the physical meeting space should start the meeting online so remote participants can join in the pre-meeting chats. And when the meeting ends, allow time for everyone to talk and say their goodbyes.
- Time zone differences — Make an effort to accommodate different time zones when scheduling meetings and calls, rather than expecting remote participants outside your time zone to block off personal time for meetings.
- Rules of conduct — Establish a meeting etiquette policy, such as the procedure for taking turns, what the moderator’s tasks include and what constitutes appropriate attire. Use the CHARMS framework (Chat, Hand raising, Agenda, Recording, Moderator, Support) as a starting point.
The hybrid work environment can be more challenging to manage for the small business owner, but a willingness to adapt and a focus on employee wellbeing and engagement are some of the keys to success.