5 ways to help your hybrid workforce succeed

Trust and technology are key, Upwork chief people officer Zoë Harte said during the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference.
By: | May 12, 2021 • 3 min read
(Image: Adobe)

Remote work has steadily gained in popularity over the years. But COVID-19, says Zoë Harte, chief people officer at Upwork, “accelerated that trend, forcing may reluctant companies to go remote overnight.”

Now with COVID-19 vaccines here and many employers considering a return to the workplace, Harte has a message about remote and hybrid workplace: Embrace the change; don’t move away from it.

Zoe Harte of Upwork

“The good news is that many companies have come to realize their worst fears about remote work have not come true, and there are many things about remote work that improved engagement, productivity and more,” she said Tuesday afternoon at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, held virtually through Thursday. Registration for the event, which is free for attendees, is still open.

Related: Conference registrants, claim your free copy of Joan Lunden’s latest book Why Did I Come into This Room? A Candid Conversation about Aging here.

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Upwork, a freelancing platform, embraced remote work pre-pandemic, Harte said, with 1,200 team members working across 800 cities “so we already knew firsthand the incredible outcome that distributed teams could deliver.” In May 2020, it made the decision to go fully remote, Harte said, “in part because employee sentiment had reached an all-time high.”

Remote and hybrid workforces made up of full-time employees, some of whom may be in the office, plus remote employees and independent or freelance talent, Harte said, have many benefits for employers—if managed correctly. The arrangement can offer employers the ability to scale up and down when they need to, it can spark innovation, and it can increase diversity and inclusion efforts.

Recent surveys also indicate that employers that do not allow for workers to continue remote work post-pandemic will likely lose a lot of their employees post-pandemic.

Related: Requiring employees to return to the office? Get ready for them to quit

So how can you successfully maintain a remote or hybrid workforce? Harte offered five tips.

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Reevaluate your onboarding. “I recommend developing an onboarding process that includes sharing core values, your brand voice and standards and sharing those with a set of clear expectations for the new team member,” she said. “Tell them who to reach out to with questions. Set objectives and outcomes for each team member and then set measurable goals that track back to the company goals.”

Establish team rituals. “It is critical to establish a strong foundation of personal relationships,” Harte said, noting that it builds trust, goodwill and allows employees to have fun—especially when they’re not in the same location. That in turn boosts morale. Consider inviting remote workers to non-work events, too. Upwork, for instance, hosts everything from online yoga and meditation to online cooking lessons and talent shows for its employees. “Attending is entirely their choice, but it’s nice to extend the invitation,” she said.

Related: For regular updates from the HRE team on benefits and more, register for our newsletters.

Celebrate accountability. Trust and accountability are paramount in managing remote workers, Harte said. “Hold people accountable for doing the work and achieving their expected outcomes, but trust employees and other hybrid team members to do the work in the way work works for them,” she said. “If you’re micromanaging people to work in ways that don’t work for them, you’ll just make them and you miserable.”

Foster an open environment. Employers should have conversations about what’s working—and what’s not. Smart organizations should allow employees to say what’s right for them. Upwork, for instance, provides bereavement leave for workers—but Harte says it’s up to workers to say who their family is. “We don’t restrict it to a narrow band of immediate family.”

Invest in the right technology. “Communication is so important when it comes to working across time zones and locations,” Harte says. To succeed, team members need the right tools—and a variety of them—so that everyone can collaborate and communicate.

Also, be thoughtful about checking in on team members, she said, “not just because you want to know how their work is going, but also because you want to know how they are doing as a person. That’s how you foster that really important connection that drives a team to perform well together.”

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Conference sessions will be available on-demand through June 11. Click here to view this entire session.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.