There’s no question that the pandemic changed both how and where we work. And with technology, businesses found ways to accomplish their goals even during a time of constant change.
For many industries, those changes included a move to remote work. Now, as employers consider a move back to the office, leaders are contemplating the hybrid workplace. Just as hesitancy and concern grew around early moves to remote work, hybrid work is getting pushback. While hybrid workplaces are a new endeavor for many organizations, there are ways to sustain this approach to work without sacrificing innovation, performance, or company culture.
The value of flexibility might be the biggest takeaway of working through months of uncertainty. A recent Harvard Business School survey of nearly 1,500 professionals found that 81% either don’t want to go back to the office or would prefer a hybrid schedule in the future. Plus, more than half of employees Gartner surveyed said the option of flexible work would impact whether they stayed in their current position. And it’s not just current employees: Jobseekers say the availability of remote or flexible work is a priority in their job search criteria.
With “The Great Resignation” in full swing and the battle for talent escalating, your organization should do everything it can to highlight a people-first employee experience defined by flexibility, transparency, and growth and development. Consider these common misconceptions surrounding hybrid work and the steps a company can take to thrive in this growing business model.
Misconception: Innovation suffers when workers are in different locations.
Collaboration and innovation didn’t stop when employees had to work remotely—they just took a different shape, often with ad hoc processes meant to be temporary. However, the transition to hybrid work offers an opportunity to reconsider the tools and processes that are either sustaining dynamic work or critically lacking. For example, HR teams in particular are experiencing how vital automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can be as they struggle to hire, develop, and retain workers amid such a competitive labor market.
According to a Gartner survey, hybrid teams of knowledge workers showed greater agility and intentionality than their on-site counterparts, in part because of their balanced use of synchronous and asynchronous tools. Asynchronous communication tools (Slack, Microsoft® Teams, Google docs, etc.) aren’t always thought of as collaborative in the same way as synchronous tools like video and audio calls. However, these tools allow colleagues to ask questions and offer feedback in real time when convenient for them. This means workers are less fatigued by back-to-back video meetings, and employees in different time zones can work together without as many constraints.
In addition to the communication tools already mentioned, more robust solutions exist. Talent experience platforms that prioritize the employee experience offer streamlined hyper-personalized support and development for employees, including connecting them with relevant learning opportunities, part-time gig work, employee resource groups, mentorships, and virtual and in-person events that suit their personal interests and career goals.
This kind of social and professional nurturing provides both remote and on-site colleagues with opportunities for serendipitous idea generation—the kind many organizations imagine happening only within the confines of an office hallway or a coffee break.
Misconception: Remote team members are perceived as lower-performing.
While the idea that flexible work hurts productivity was refuted[AF1] early in the move to remote work, a related misconception is that people who choose to work remotely more often are seen as lower-performing. In a PwC survey of 130 executives and 1,200 office workers in the United States, nearly 80% of respondents said employee performance was equal to or better than pre-pandemic performance.
Perceptions of performance depend in part on employee evaluation criteria. If you base assessments on who arrives at the office the earliest and leaves the latest, it might be time to reconsider. Many HR leaders are rethinking their approach to measuring productivity and performance because they’ve realized some of their tools were measuring activity, not productivity and outcomes.
Performance evaluation should be standardized for employees and take into account a range of factors, including quality of work, progress, efficiency, adaptability, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. Using a talent management system that tracks goals and outcomes for all employees ensures your team members are assessed on what they’ve accomplished wherever they choose to work. It should also offer individualized insights about performance that, when combined with industry, company, and employee skills gaps and goals, takes the guesswork out of career pathing and advancement. This is an area where AI can reduce bias and help ensure employees receive equal opportunities.
Misconception: Hybrid work is detrimental to company culture.
Is a company culture that’s constricted to a building really culture? During the pandemic, companies faced new challenges and evolved to meet new demands. Your company culture shouldn’t reflect the company you were but instead the company you’ve become. That includes a reconsideration of the office as the seat of your corporate culture.
While 68% of executives say workers should be in the office at least 3 days a week to sustain company culture, the majority of employees asked about culture change during the shift to remote work reported company culture had actually improved. Consider what culture means to your organization and how you supported those values in the past. Be willing to move away from qualities that no longer align with your work while preserving what’s intrinsic to your organization. Then map those goals onto new behaviors that translate into hybrid spaces.
Robust company culture starts at the top with leaders who model successful hybrid work. That can mean joining a meeting remotely instead of always working from the office, ensuring remote workers’ requests and suggestions carry the same weight as on-site workers’, or crafting community-building strategies that simultaneously engage remote and on-site workers.
Remember, company culture is a pillar of your employer brand—a vital element to both candidates and employees who are deciding whether to apply to or stay at a company right now.
The Role of the Office Is Changing
Until recently, office space and in-person work were a given for most companies that didn’t endure much scrutiny. As companies return to physical spaces, leaders need to be intentional about optimizing the characteristics of the office in ways that complement the features of remote work. Companies that prioritize their talent experience—particularly as it pertains to candidates and employees—should use the same principles of personalization, transparency, and seamless communication to guide the evolution of a thriving hybrid workplace.
Brad Goldoor is the Chief People Officer and co-founder at Phenom where he oversees employee engagement initiatives, hiring, and onboarding. Brad is a passionate entrepreneur focused on creating an innovative, positive, and “not normal” candidate and employee experiences. Throughout his career, he worked in sales for global organizations including CareerBuilder and Gannett, until co-founding Phenom. He earned his BA at the University of Pittsburgh.