Why your hybrid work strategy may actually be hurting productivity

As hybrid work arrangements become the norm in many sectors, HR professionals are looking to this new way of working as a shot in the arm for productivity, engagement and, ultimately, retention. However, if your hybrid strategy was designed with a one-size-fits-all approach, it could be doing more harm than good.

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That’s according to new research from The Hackett Group Inc.’s Thriving in the Emerging Hybrid Workplace, which found that blanket, mandated policies for all workers who can do their jobs remotely are more likely to lead to a reduced desire to stay with the employer and a decrease in the amount of work done each day.

Instead, giving employees greater choice, and the ability to negotiate virtual work arrangements with their respective managers, drives improvements in these areas, says Tony DiRomualdo, the Hackett Group’s senior research director.

Also see: How ‘smart automation’ can boost HR to world-class levels

It’s a reality that many employers have to consider, as the research found that most companies have continued their work-from-home strategies that developed in response to the pandemic: 85% of all workers whose jobs can be done virtually are currently either working from home (42%) or have a hybrid work arrangement (43%), where they are in the office 20%-80% of the time.

6 strategies for hybrid success

To make those arrangements more successful, DiRomualdo says, HR and business leaders must work together to design effective hybrid workplace models.

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“Our findings suggest that HR and business leaders need to dig a bit deeper to understand the factors that drive the ability of employees to collaborate,” DiRomualdo says, adding that some companies choose a single-mandate approach to hybrid work because they believe that’s the easiest arrangement to administer.

See also: Will hybrid work schedules move to 4 days in the office? 

“They may also believe it’s the fairest because it applies to everyone,” he adds. “But the reality is that it’s not that easy to administer, and in many cases, large segments of the population don’t comply.”

Based on the research, key recommendations include:

  • Practice open communication and active listening;
  • Implement policies and support tools to enable a diversity of work styles;
  • Equip managers and employees to continuously evolve work design and practices;
  • Schedule unstructured/informal meetings;
  • Be purposeful about using in-person time for creative work, relationship-building and silo-breaking activities;
  • Monitor and enhance employee performance drivers such as wellness and engagement, and measure employees on results and outcomes—not hours worked or face time.

Wanted: individualized flexibility with hybrid work

DiRomualdo says the research demonstrates that people want and need more flexibility across a range of factors, not just around where they work, based on their unique circumstances. Employers benefit by focusing on the needs of individuals and those of teams, instead of establishing a one-size-fits-all policy.

“Many senior leaders fear that hybrid workers will lose connection to the corporate culture,” he says, “but in fact, the reverse is true: Allowing flexibility for staff to work in the mode that’s best for them to be more productive—to balance their life with the goals of the organization—enhances their connection to the company and makes them more loyal and engaged.”

It’s a recognition that requires a bit of a mindset shift for leaders, especially those eager to return to pre-COVID norms.

At that time, DiRomualdo says, many senior leaders still maintained a “command and control” approach— but COVID forced everyone to work differently. “For the most part, things didn’t collapse,” he says. “Things actually got better. Mandates are an attempt to return to those days of command and control. But people simply aren’t as willing to comply as they once were.”

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected]