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The question of where employees should be working has never been more highly contested.  

LinkedIn is awash with arguments about the pros and cons of office-based work, remote work, and everything in between.

Meanwhile, return-to-office mandates have been sent out in droves with some companies going as far as trying to entice their employees back into the office with tacos, treehouses, and even virtual golf.

More and more employers are seeking to find a sweet spot between providing their employees flexibility and regaining their in-office cultures.

While the debate continues to rage (and likely will for some time), the vast majority of business leaders and HR experts agree: the future of work is hybrid.  

Not only is flexible work wildly popular amongst traditionally office-based employees, it’s also proven to “Improve work-life balance, retention, and engagement without harming performance.”  

As an HR leader, I led my business leaders through the push to remote work during the pandemic and then helped create the hybrid work model thereafter. And I can tell you it’s not easy.

I’m constantly reminded that people are complex and emotional beings. To be successful, a hybrid model must address the complex wants and needs of both your organization and your workers.

Here I'll cover the challenges of creating a hybrid model and best practices for leveraging the best of both worlds to create the optimum hybrid environment for your organization.  

Challenges Of Hybrid Working

Here are some challenges I’ve encountered when building our hybrid workforce strategy. 

  • Worker disgruntlement. Where colleagues work and how frequently they’re in the office remains a contentious topic. Many employees gained a significant amount of flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic that they’re reluctant to give up. Failing to address employee preferences and concerns can lead to disgruntlement, disengagement, and attrition.
  • Office space utilization. A primary benefit of hybrid work is that employers have the ability to reduce their office footprint and optimize their office space utilization. But this potential cost-saving benefit comes with its own set of challenges. Downsizing may require colleagues to use hotdesking or ‘hoteling’ style offices/cubes that can be a bit pesky to coordinate. Other changes in office style may also be required to make the most out of your space (i.e. converting conventional cubicles into in-person collaboration centers).
  • Technology. Bouncing between the office and remote locations requires the right technological infrastructure including network capabilities, laptops, printers, hardware, and collaboration tools. 
  • Information security. Having colleagues working from multiple locations requires enhanced information security protocols to ensure you protect the sensitive data of your organization and its customers. Remote work creates an increased risk of social engineering, phishing, and the potential for sensitive information to be accessed through unsecured networks. In fact, employees working remotely are three times more likely to click on a phishing email than those working from an office location. Remote work requires an enhanced focus on keeping your employees safe from malware and cyber-attacks and ensuring all information is accessed from secure machines. 
  • Onboarding and integrating new employees. While remote work allows some efficiencies from an onboarding perspective, additional planning is needed to ensure that your new colleagues are appropriately onboarded and integrated into your organization.

    Conscious efforts are required during on-site days to ensure your colleagues can learn the company culture, network, and build the relationships needed to be successful in the role and career (i.e., making sure new employees have an on-site seasoned buddy who is going into the office on the same cadence that they are to help with their onboarding). This is especially true as you think about integrating junior employees into your organization who haven’t had the benefit of working in an office-based environment and also benefit from the networking and mentorship that it can provide.
  • Inclusivity and equity. There’s a risk of creating an environment that favors onsite workers over remote workers or those in smaller hub office locations. This includes a lack of visibility to career opportunities and difficulties surrounding networking and information.
  • Effective Collaboration. Increased collaboration is one of the primary benefits that employers tout when communicating their hybrid strategies. However, collaboration challenges can still arise for remote workers or workers situated at different locations/satellite offices and in situations where a large number of colleagues are physically present together and others are trying to contribute virtually.
  • Work-life balance. There are pros and cons to maintaining a healthy work-life balance when working both in the office and remotely. On one hand, remote work makes it harder for people to shut down and stop working and blurs the lines between their personal time/work. It's easier to shut down when you leave the office, but the downside for some might be a super long commute that takes up their time. It's important to recognize that different people will be impacted differently.

9 Hybrid Workforce Best Practices

Based on the challenges described above, here are my strategies and best practices for making your hybrid working model work.

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Start with employee feedback

While the challenges associated with implementing a hybrid workforce can feel daunting, the good news is we’re in a much better place to know what works and what doesn't. 

80% of leaders regret their early return to office plans but, through their trial and error, we’ve seen that the ones who are most successful “are making decisions with their employees, rather than for them.”

As American Express discovered, soliciting your employees’ feedback upfront to help co-design your hybrid work approach is an essential part of helping them adopt your change and ensure your hybrid model suits them as best it can.

However, there’s a level of intentionality required to tease out the right information needed to bake your employees' feedback into your plans. Priya Parker captures this beautifully:

“Asking employees if they want to “return to the office” is asking the wrong question. Instead, managers should ask: What did you long for when we couldn’t physically meet? What did you not miss and are ready to discard? What forms of meeting did you invent during the pandemic out of necessity that, surprisingly, worked? What might we experiment with now?”

Other great questions to consider include: 

  • What tasks or types of work do you find more productive when working remotely? What tasks do you prefer to do in the office?
  • How can we ensure effective communication and collaboration between remote and on-site team members?
  • What level of flexibility is most beneficial to you? 
  • What learning, growth, and development opportunities would be beneficial to ensure colleagues get the right level of professional development support in a hybrid environment?

Create a change management plan

Akin to any other major change you implement at your organization, a change management plan is crucial for guiding your organization through your hybrid workforce transition. 

Change can be highly disruptive for your employees and lead to decreased productivity, morale, and turnover if not addressed appropriately.

This is where your change management plan comes in. A well-executed change management strategy will minimize employee resistance, address their fears and uncertainties, maintain productivity, and ultimately promote the adoption and long-term success of the change.  

Change management plans start with creating awareness of the WHY behind the change and will address the unique concerns of each audience being impacted.

It’s critical that you build awareness for your colleagues and be transparent about the decision-making process.

Further, empowering your people managers to be change agents and lead their teams through the adoption of your hybrid ensures your employees at all levels get the support needed to work through the various levels of change adoption.  

The size, scope, and complexity of your organization will drive the level of change management required to support your hybrid workforce implementation.

For instance, you may need to come up with specific strategies for niche groups or personas within your organization. If your company has dedicated change management professionals, it will be essential to partner with them to develop the appropriate change management and communication strategy.

One tool that I find especially helpful for a layperson less experienced with driving change management is the change adoption curve.

This is a great tool and visual that can help you think through the various stages you need to take your employees through as they adopt your new hybrid model.

Further reading: HR Change Management: Effectively Lead Change As An HR Professional

Ensure leaders are leading by example 

Leaders in your organization must be extremely mindful of the shadow that they cast.  

Hypocritical “Do as I say, not as I do” type behaviors will completely undermine your hybrid work plan.

Leading by example can help set a positive tone, influence employee behaviors, and create a culture of trust and collaboration in your new hybrid work environment.    

Some ways your leaders can lead by example include:

  • Becoming early adopters. Leaders can demonstrate their support for the hybrid work model by becoming early adapters in participating in both remote and in-office activities. Asking your people leaders to adopt prior to asking your larger employee population to adopt the new hybrid model can showcase the value of the flexibility and benefits it offers.
  • Effectively balancing remote and in-office days. It’s critically important that leaders practice what they preach in balancing remote and in-office days. Ensuring leaders are taking advantage of remote work days in addition to coming into the office sets the tone and enables your employees to feel comfortable with their own balance.   
  • Communicating clearly and transparently. Part of being a leader means representing the company’s views, even if it’s a difficult discussion. It’s important that leaders do not shirk from constant communication and clearly communicate the company’s vision to their employees.
  • Listen actively and adapt. Half of communicating is listening. It’s essential that leaders actively listen to their colleagues, hear their concerns, and answer their questions. To the best of their ability, leaders should adapt and provide flexibility within the appropriate guardrails of your hybrid workforce policies and procedures (i.e., adjust the time they need to show up or leave the office, flex the days worked in the office if certain days are less desirable than others, or even give them a grace period at the launch of your hybrid approach to allow them to make appropriate accommodations needed to meet hybrid workplace expectations).  
  • Creating an inclusive environment. Lastly, leaders should ensure that they create an inclusive environment in which employees working remotely and in-office can thrive.  This means that remote teams and in-person employees all get to actively participate in discussion, and decision-making and get recognized.

Create a playbook

Gleb Tspiursky, one of the most active voices in the hybrid workforce arena, points out a fundamental mistake that many organizations make in their hybrid work approach: 68% of companies lack a structured playbook to support their hybrid approach

As Tsipursky points out, “The future of work is hybrid, and its success hinges largely on our ability to craft a well-documented approach to this model.”

A playbook is essential for building consistency, efficiency, knowledge transfer, and on-demand support for your employees and leaders. Additionally, this provides support in scalability and supports the onboarding and integration of new employees into your organization.

Items to consider for inclusion into your hybrid playbook include:

  • Rationale. The “why” behind your hybrid approach  
  • Hybrid model overview. An easily digestible summary of your model 
  • Scheduling and hours expectations. Any specific parameters as far as schedules/hours
  • Workspace and equipment support. Explain where your employees will work (i.e., dedicated workspaces, hoteling cubes, printer access, etc). 
  • Roles and responsibilities. Detail specific accountabilities through the process, especially leaders of people and what they need to do to support their teams/what level of autonomy they have 
  • Communication guidelines. How your people managers and others should communicate about your new hybrid workplace.
  • Team collaboration tools. The tools and processes available to support hybrid work and resources to support them in using these (i.e., Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.). 
  • Additional resources and contacts. Any additional resources and let employees know where to go for additional questions/support.

Your playbook should be posted in a location that’s easily accessible by both your employees and people managers.  

A common best practice is to have a page on your company intranet or shared repository dedicated to your hybrid model.

You can post your playbook and other resources (for example, training resources for leaders managing hybrid teams) on the site.

Once your hybrid workplace approach is fully adopted, you’ll want to transition your playbook into your employee handbook so that it becomes a part of your onboarding and overall employee experience.

Utilize the right tools 

Having the right collaboration tools and processes in place is essential for creating a successful hybrid workplace.  

Your people should be able to work together effectively regardless of whether they’re on-site or remote. You may also need to consider if any of your processes need to change to better enable collaboration across multiple environments.

One of my favorite tools my team and I have adopted is Miro— essentially an online whiteboard platform that is commonly used in the technology space by agile product teams. We’ve found it great for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, storing information centrally, and fostering innovation and creativity.

My team has even used Miro to facilitate engagement workshops and team-building activities. 

Flexible scheduling 

It’s essential that you provide your people with as much flexibility as possible within the constraints of your hybrid workforce model.  

According to research from McKinsey, flexible work is almost universally adopted if offered to employees.

In fact, 87% of workers will take advantage of hybrid remote work opportunities if they are given the opportunity.  

Employees value flexibility from their employers more than ever before, so creating a flexible model that empowers your employees to interact with your hybrid work on their own terms can be essential for employee engagement and buy-in. 

Consider providing flexibility on the following:

  • Hours worked (i.e., allowing caregivers, parents, etc. to work around family responsibilities) 
  • Days worked in-office versus remote
  • Number of days worked in-office 
  • Compressed workweek (i.e., 4 ten-hour days) 
  • Flex time
  • Location flexibility 
  • Short-term remote work based on need 
  • Comprehensive leave options to address personal needs.

Meeting equity 

You’ll likely run into situations where some employees are in the office while others are remote or in another office location. It’s essential to create an environment where all colleagues can have their voices heard regardless of their work location.  

Consider the following to help support meeting equity:

  • Establish ground rules and encourage active participation
  • Leverage hybrid-friendly video conferencing tools
  • Rotate meeting locations
  • Leverage pre-reads and establish clear meeting agendas.

Be intentional about together days

Enhancing collaboration and communication should be the cornerstone of your employees’ in-office experience. But it takes proper planning and coordination to ensure your people realize these benefits.  

Consider the following to help your teams get the most out of their in-person together days:

  • Optimize physical space. If your office space looks like the traditional office wasteland of cubicles stretching as far as the eye can see, it might be time to modernize.
  • Coordinate with team members. In-person time only works if people are—well—in-person. Expectations should be set in advance to ensure your team’s schedules are aligned and that employee are available and aligned on objectives for their time together. Leaders should set clear goals around what the team will accomplish and what tasks require in-person collaboration.
  • Promote team meetings and one-on-one interactions. Key touchpoints like team meetings and one-on-one meetings are a great use of your time in person. In-person team meetings help foster communication, camaraderie, and engagement.  Likewise, in-person one-on-ones enable leaders to strengthen relationships and facilitate more meaningful conversations. This can be especially impactful for providing coaching, feedback, and career development support.
  • Prioritize collaborative experiences. Workshops, brainstorming sessions, and other collaborative meetings are especially conducive to in-person time.  Leaders should coordinate with the teams to better understand what tasks the team needs to accomplish collaboratively that might benefit from face-to-face time working together. 
  • Networking and social time. Networking and social time are critical to employee engagement, well-being, and career growth. This is especially true of junior and newer workers still learning the ropes of your corporate culture and what it takes to navigate a career within your organization.
  • Learning and development. Some learning and development activities can also benefit from face-to-face interactions. Training sessions, workshops, hands-on/on-the-job training, coaching, and skill building are all great ways to level up your employee's skills.  An added benefit here is having your employees go through these activities in person can also be great for team building as well.

Establish a post-launch listening strategy

Not only is it critical to get your employee’s feedback up front as you design your hybrid workplace approach, but it’s further essential that you have a well-developed listening strategy to evaluate the success of your hybrid workforce model and can appropriately tweak it to continue to meet the needs of your business and your employees.

Listening to your people empowers them to have a voice in shaping the hybrid work model, which can lead to higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and productivity.

Consider tactics like surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews to collect anonymous feedback for your colleagues. It’s beneficial that you create a safe space for your employees to share feedback and have their voices heard.

Lastly, what good is a listening strategy if you don’t take action against it?  

Like all products and services you offer to your employees, you should iterate and refine your hybrid approach post-implementation.  

It’s always a best practice to share with your employees that ‘you’ve heard their voice’ and share with them the changes you are making based on the feedback that they provided.  This will bolster engagement and create a culture through which they’ll be more willing to offer feedback in the future.  

Remember, You’re Unique 

While there’s a lot of chatter about the ‘right way’ to implement a hybrid workforce, it’s important to remember that every organization is as unique and complex as the people who make it.

While it's beneficial to read about best practices and learn from others, it’s equally essential that you keep an open mind and customize your approach based on the needs of your organization.

As Deloitte articulates, “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for all these challenges. There is not one playbook for all organizations due to the different contexts, business operations, and ecosystems starting levels of maturity in these areas, the corporate culture, the international footprint, the mix of generations, etc.”

If you have any tips or advice to share regarding your hybrid approach I’d love to hear them. Leave something in the comments or find me in the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business leaders passionate about building organizations of the future.

Some further resources:

By Alex Link

Alex is a HR Director for a Fortune 4 organization with a passion for developing the leaders of tomorrow. He has a Masters of Science in Human Resources and Labor Relations and has extensive experience in HR, Leadership Development, Talent Management, Learning and Development, and more. When not focused on helping people realize their career aspirations, he enjoys playing guitar, reading sci-fi fantasy novels, relaxing with his wife, and playing with their two young children.