Employers are spending time and effort to slow down the hybrid work revolution. Instead, they should focus on making hybrid and remote work better for employees and their team leaders.
While there is no recipe for making hybrid work “work,” we do know it is now the expected way of working for knowledge workers. A Future Forum survey of 10,000-plus workers found 93% want flexibility in when they work, which has become even more important than where they work.
I believe getting this right requires employers do four things: make returning to the office commute-worthy; provide clarity on how job roles are best performed; make inclusivity a part of the workplace culture; and ensure choice to work from anywhere while tracking mobility patterns.
Make returning to the office commute-worthy for hybrid work
Let’s admit it, hybrid working is here to stay. As a result, office attendance has stabilized at 30% below pre-pandemic norms.
Rather than offer perks such as free lunch, indoor-outdoor work areas, wellness solutions and high-end fitness facilities to entice workers back to the office, leaders must rethink why the office is a place worth coming to. This means making it a place where employees feel productive, and where they can get something that they cannot get anywhere else.
A survey conducted by Executive Networks of 1,300 HR leaders, business leaders, knowledge workers and frontline workers found only 28% of knowledge workers said their company was making returning to the office “commute-worthy.”
Our sample of knowledge workers and frontline workers had suggestions for how employers can make returning to the office, even for two to three days a week, commute-worthy. These include:
- Expand training and mentoring for those who are in the office.
- Increase team leader check-in meetings with those in the office.
- Make workplace wellbeing options visible and accessible to all.
- Make workplace technologies easy to access so workers can connect with team members from anywhere.
- Be clear on the types of roles best suited to in the office, remote or hybrid.
Return-to-office policies are not “one-size-fits-all.” Instead, they need to be co-created with employees rather than mandated from the top. Employers must start addressing questions like:
- How can organizations optimize both flexibility and performance?
- Is my organization communicating the “why” behind coming to the office?
- What is the messaging around which job roles are in-office, hybrid or remote? How is this communicated?
- Are frontline managers equipped to have meaningful discussions about flexibility and performance with their teams?
Provide clarity on the best workplace experience for job roles
Establishing clear guidelines for team leaders to recommend the best type of workplace experience for their team members is critically important. That is what the global architecture, engineering and consultancy Ramboll did in launching its Future Workplace Taskforce.
Its global taskforce—comprised of senior leaders from HR, operations, facilities, IT, finance and talent management—identified key performance drivers of various job roles, such as the amount of time an employee spends in focused work, collaboration, coordination or in-office engagement reinforcing the culture. The taskforce then created a management toolkit to enable leaders to have conversations on how to be successful in new ways of working.
A snapshot of the global Ramboll workforce suggests that 65% follow a hybrid plan (or a mix of remote and office work) and 15% work solely in an Ramboll office, while the remainder work fully remote from a home or client office. But what surprised the Ramboll team was how these conversations differed by geography. For example, in Hong Kong, 100% of Ramboll team members come to the office, as many live in multi-generational households where work from home is not ideal.
Best yet, these conversations have impacted employee retention. According to Scott Wilson, director of global human resources, “over a period of 27 months across several business units, annualized voluntary attrition decreased by 5%, and employee engagement, measured by the Ramboll Employee Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, increased by .05%.”
The Ramboll Hybrid Work model shows how providing clarity in the workplace experience by job role can become a competitive advantage in the retention of talent.
Make inclusivity a part of the hybrid work culture
It’s impossible to discuss hybrid and remote work without addressing inclusivity. Flexibility of work practices is now a requirement of all workers, both knowledge/desk workers and frontline/deskless workers. Executive Networks research found 71% of HR leaders and 62% of business leaders agree there likely is “proximity bias” against remote/hybrid workers, making it difficult for those working off-site to advance their careers.
Proximity bias occurs when managers value the contributions of knowledge workers whom they see in the office every day over the contributions of remote or hybrid employees.
What can be done about proximity bias? HR and business leaders must take steps to value the contributions of fully remote and hybrid employees equally with those of in-office workers. And being aware of proximity is the first step to acting in a more inclusive way toward all employees, regardless of where they work.
There are several actions leaders can take to minimize proximity bias, including:
- developing training to identify and avoid proximity bias in the workplace;
- analyzing mentoring, coaching and promotions across employees who work in person, fully remote and hybrid to ensure equity; and
- being intentional about meeting with fully remote and hybrid employees on a regular basis outside of a Zoom or Teams call.
What’s clear is this: All workers must operate on a level playing field, regardless of whether they work in person, fully remote or hybrid.
Provide choice to work from anywhere, and track mobility patterns
Instead of debating the number of days a week employees should be in the office, companies should examine creative ways leaders can provide choice in working from anywhere.
This may include the corporate office, satellite offices, client locations or a range of co-working spaces. Companies such as AT&T, Spotify and Airbnb are doing this by partnering with LiquidSpace, an enterprise on-demand marketplace that gives employees access to a range of office spaces conveniently located to their home. This is especially important as the cost and time of the commute has become a barrier to returning to the office.
While providing choice in location and schedule flexibility is important, equally important is using data analytics to track how employees are working in new ways. McKinsey research finds only half of the companies surveyed have a workplace experience strategy using data analytics to track mobility patterns. These can include when and how employees are accessing different types of physical spaces, the demographics of specific populations coming to the office less frequently than others, and the sentiments of leaders and teams about the current and future use of the office.
As Bloomberg notes, workplace flexibility now has an amenity value; it is part of the total rewards package. Zip Recruiter finds employees who demand flexibility are willing to take a pay cut of up to 14% to have it.
Workplace flexibility is the “great differentiator” in attracting and retaining talent. Research by Scoop Technologies finds firms that require employees to come to the office every day are adding employees at a slower rate than those that offer workplace flexibility.
Successfully navigating the hybrid work revolution will require that employers acknowledge employees expect and demand workplace flexibility. Employers that do not offer this will find their employees opting for an employer that does!
At this fall’s HR Technology Conference, Jeanne Meister, executive vice president of Executive Networks, will moderate a mega session panel of CHROs entitled Flexible Work for All: Five Ways CHRO’s Are Leading the Future of Work. Click here to register for the conference.