How to Find a Productive Middle Ground for Working in the New Normal(ish)
For many businesses, the return to a more traditional, in-person workplace feels more like a game of tug-of-war than a long-awaited homecoming. Pulling that invisible rope toward the workplace, plenty of managers want their teams back on site to collaborate, align and strategize. Pulling toward home, many employees have grown accustomed to the convenience, rhythm, and efficiency of working remotely.
Businesses eager to satisfy both groups and recruit new talent know that the middle ground—a hybrid balance of remote and in-person work—is a good, flexible place to be. Google, for example, just shared its newly launched hybrid work model, and businesses large and small are following suit. However, finding a productive middle ground that balances employee wants and business needs is not a simple task, as Google’s sophisticated hybrid plan demonstrates. For businesses working to iron out their hybrid work strategy, here are tips for taking the entire workforce (those you employ and those you hope to employ) into account.
Tip 1: Ask First
For the hybrid model to work, start by finding out what employees and business leaders want. The best hybrid plan begins with polls and/or interviews of talent and leadership to determine why in-person matters, why remote work is valued, and who wants what. What should you examine?
Find out from managers which types of roles were effective remotely and where there are challenges.
Look at productivity for individuals and for teams. Many businesses were pleased to find that productivity increased during lockdowns. Find out from team leaders if productivity gains held or dipped after that early surge and if it was related to the work or the workers.
Assess how many employees are okay coming into an office full-time and part-time and who is asking for 100% remote work.
Explore whether remote requests are a goal or a requirement for employees and if a middle ground can be negotiated.
This data becomes the foundation for planning a workable hybrid model that can offer the flexibility employees seek and the structure businesses need.
Tip 2: Make a Clear, Compelling Case
Plenty of employees are asking to work at home and citing their remote effectiveness to make their case. One message managers often hear today is this: Without the commute and fewer workplace interruptions, I am more productive than ever. Why should the company give up that advantage?
That’s exactly the kind of question businesses need to answer as they ask their employees to return to the office for some of the workweek. What does a business gain with in-person engagement? How can you ensure employees see a hybrid model as a recognition of the value they bring to the workplace and team rather than a punitive measure that will mean more oversight and less flexibility?
Make the case by explaining what was lost or hard to replicate in fully remote models for your organization, such as collaboration, innovation, client engagement, team alignment and talent development. Productivity is only one measure of success. Identify metrics that showed where the business struggled and share them clearly. For example, a business might demonstrate it in terms of product delivery: While individual productivity was up by 5%, the company’s go-to-market product delivery speed fell by 20%.
Remind reluctant employees that wanting them in the office is about what they bring to the entire operation and culture, not just their role. The message is this: It’s not you, it’s us. We are a company that needs to grow and evolve, and we can’t do it if we remain separated all the time, and we definitely can’t do it without your talent. Humans need to know they are needed. Don’t be shy about letting your employees know they are valued and missed.
Tip 3: Offer Incentives
For some jobs, full or partial return to the workplace cannot be avoided. One way to sweeten and smooth the return is to offer perks. Perhaps it’s a bump in pay? Employers nationwide are finding that bringing on new talent means offering higher rates and salaries due to competition from other employers and the draw of unemployment and stimulus benefits.
Money, however, is not the only benefit employees and candidates respond to. Additional perks that often encourage employees to return to the office include:
Increase in benefits (healthcare, retirement, etc.)
Increased paid time off
Meal compensation, such as lunches and/or team dinners
Tip 4: Be Transparent
Employees will be watching carefully which jobs can continue fully remote, who gets hybrid options, and who is required on-site all the time. Make sure roles and work categories are thoughtfully considered, established, and communicated. If employees perceive that work arrangements are being determined based on the whim and want of managers, they won’t be happy, they might not comply, and they might start looking elsewhere in today’s talent-driven, opportunity-rich job market. Transparency and clear communications can help ensure people don’t feel slighted and that remote work is used strategically and not preferentially.
Tip 5: Make the Return Matter
It’s been a long time since teams were together. Make the return a celebration of your culture. Remind people of the values that connect you and the fun that can and will be had. How can businesses make the return feel important? Here are a few ideas:
Create a welcome back video from leadership talking about what they've missed and their vision for moving forward.
Sponsor a few shared lunches among teams to honor the return.
Create a welcome back event.
Deliver welcome back packages at workstations.
Businesses that find a way to honor the return are demonstrating an understanding of the many changes their employees have endured. Moving forward together will be an adjustment for all. Recognizing this newest transformative workplace change and helping employees adjust is an important part of moving ensuring hybrid work can work for all.