According to one leading research consulting group, a third of first attempts at hybrid work plans will fail, and how companies respond to that failure will be important, because the same firm predicts that companies that adopt a strict return-to-office model will be plagued by higher than normal employee attrition rates.

Forrester’s new Predictions 2022 report provides a wake-up call for leaders who are embracing hybrid working, noting that the reasons for so many organisations’ failures will be two-fold.

The first failure will be one of design and execution. Despite leadership support for the hybrid model, firms that neglect to evolve how they conduct meetings, design job roles, and manage promotions for the hybrid experience, and instead attempt to rely upon face-to-face experiences even as people are working from home, will encounter myriad challenges.

The risks are real, both to daily productivity and workflow, as well as to organisational risk, as noted in a recent Wall St. Journal article titled, “Can Companies Have a Hybrid Workplace – and Keep Things Fair?”

“Concerns about keeping things fair go beyond convenience and day-to-day workflow: Some companies worry that the wrong balance could reverse gains among historically marginalized groups like working moms and people of color, because they may opt for the highest levels of flexibility and put themselves at a disadvantage.”

The second failure will be one of missed opportunity to learn and improve operationally, once it’s clear that hybrid working is impacting the company negatively.

“When it’s clear that productivity is suffering, these same execs will blame hybrid work rather than looking in the mirror at the real culprit,” write the authors of the above-mentioned Forrester paper.

Even though it feels for some that we’ve been working from home forever, in reality, it’s still very early days. We’re still very much in the learning phase relating to the technologies, practices, and preferences that work best to support employees on the days they are working from home.

Keys to getting hybrid working right 

Smaller businesses with fewer resources “are using the demand for home and hybrid working as an opportunity to attract and retain the top talent who are motivated by flexibility over finances”, said Marine Fournier, international head of HR at Powell Software, in an article for People Management, adding that the pandemic had seen an advancement in digital HR solutions including for onboarding remotely and communicating with staff. Leaning into hybrid work models can help smaller organisations compete for talent outside their geographic area, and those that can quickly evolve their cultures to embrace and enable a great work environment will find themselves with an important competitive advantage.

  • Maximise the value of time spent together in person. One new twist is the importance of making employees’ time together in the office truly valuable, rather than just replicating work that can be done easily (and without the hassle of commuting) at home.) Part of the redesign that needs to happen is ensuring that time together in the office is truly well-spent, productive, collaborative and the things that cannot be accomplished remotely are intentionally scheduled for when people are together. A handful of ideas you can build upon include:
    • Encourage teams to come in on the same day, for team meetings and one-on-ones
    • Turn highly collaborative meetings – such as project kickoffs or brainstorming sessions – into events, and invite in-person attendance
    • Welcome new hires with in-person meetings with their team and key stakeholders
    • Build time for mentoring, training, job-shadowing into in-office days to strengthen connections between people and make learning more robust.
  • Make meetings work for everyone. Meetings that combine groups of people working in the office together with employees working remotely are a fact of life, and in most cases, a terrible experience for everyone. Remote employees struggle to be heard, whilst their in-office peers struggle to remember to include those not at the table.

One company is stopping these problems before they happen with a new meeting protocol. If even one employee of the internet-infrastructure company Cloudflare is remote and dialing in via Zoom, everyone attending that meeting will also dial-in – even if they’re in the office.

“We want that one person, maybe in New York or London, to have an equitable experience,” Janet Van Huysse, Cloudflare’s chief people officer, told the Wall Street Journal in the previously-mentioned article.

  • Don’t overlook continuous learning. The opportunity to gain new experience and expand one’s skill set is a core element of employee engagement that benefits both employer and employee. With upskilling becoming increasingly important as companies make adjustments in response to labor shortages, ensuring employees working remotely have equal opportunity for mentorship and learning.

“This is the new normal–workplace learning and upskilling needs to adapt to it. For that reason, HR and L&D teams face a unique challenge: how to introduce engaging workplace learning initiatives to their remote or hybrid workplaces that support lifelong learning. Our proposition is that organizations should be supporting continuous learning for their remote teams,” notes an article titled “Remote Workplaces Need Continuous Learning Initiatives,” by Together, a mentorship platform.

  • Evaluate your team consistently. Engagement Multiplier takes what some could call a “pulse” approach to surveys – rather than relying upon a single annual survey, we recommend surveying teams quarterly, to surface issues, ideas, and opportunities, so leadership can make any necessary adjustments, as well as capitalise upon employees’ insights. Earlier in this article, we noted the observation from Forrester that many leaders will blame hybrid work for productivity declines – overlooking the underlying causes within their organisations that lead to their hybrid plans’ failures. Soliciting your team’s feedback about the hybrid work experience is your failsafe against this kind of blunder, ensuring you’re operating from a position of clarity and truth.

One option we recommend to clients – especially those that have achieved engaged status and are consistently scoring within the engaged range of scores – is using an on-demand survey to assess a particular topic and gather focused feedback. For leaders of hybrid organisations, our new Remote Work survey, which assesses remote teams across multiple dimensions, is particularly useful. Whether employees are in the office part-time or are working from home full-time, leaders need to understand what about the experience is working well, and where improvements can be made, to ensure employees remain engaged and productive.

Organisations are not static, unchanging environments, and changes in the team, workload, assignment, and myriad other circumstances can impact morale and engagement with breathtaking speed. Maintaining a view into how people are doing is doubly difficult when you don’t see them every day. Using short, focused surveys like our On-Demand surveys helps leaders understand how a specific team (or, for that matter, the whole organisation) is faring, how new programs and policies are working, and invites fresh feedback and thinking from employees.