17 August 2022
How to create a great employee experience in a hybrid world
The Covid-19 global pandemic ushered in many new words into our everyday vocabulary. Hybrid work was perhaps not a new concept pre-pandemic but certainly the term ‘hybrid work’ or ‘hybrid working’ has become much more common place.
What exactly is hybrid work and what are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of working? And importantly how can businesses create a great employee experience in a hybrid world?
This year the Oxford English Dictionary has welcomed the term, ‘hybrid working’. It defines the term as “providing flexible models for working or learning, specifically by using digital communications technology to allow effective remote access and home working in combination with or in preference to traditional office or teaching environments.
Hybrid work is a game changing departure from the traditional work model enabled by technology. It turns the traditional 9 – 5 model on its head. The number one purpose of hybrid work is to give employees flexibility in where they work and thus provide better work-life balance.
The pandemic led to people questioning what they wanted from their careers and led to “The Great Resignation”. One of the main left their roles was due to a lack of flexibility. Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index report sums it up, “Employees want control of where, when and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options”. It was even reported that people would drop their salary expectations considerably in order to gain job flexibility. The hybrid-working model became very appealing to employees and a key offering for employers to attract and retain talent.
There is no doubt that the hybrid working model offers many exciting benefits but it also poses interesting challenges. How do you ensure an equal voice for employees that are opposed when their colleagues are in the office? How do you prevent favouritism? How do you prevent cliques from forming? These complex questions will take their toll on relationships over time. Managing a hybrid working team can be challenging because it is difficult to keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the hearts and minds of colleagues that you physically do not see every day.
Employee engagement and creating a positive culture that encourages people to do their best work is very important for employee retention. Engaging employees is a challenge even when everyone is under the same roof so the challenge of employee engagement becomes even more complex when faced with the question of how to engage people that are working flexible shifts or located in different places, and even in different time zones! If an employer gets hybrid working wrong, it has the potential to jeopardise the company culture and team collaboration. However, if an employer gets the right blend of ingredients together and executes a well thought out hybrid working model, it has the potential to unleash greater productivity, engagement and innovation within the business.
So how can employers create a great employee experience in a hybrid world?
How to create a great employee experience
Reassure the team they are not alone
It is important to reassure employees that while they are following a hybrid model of work, they are supported. Working from home can be a lonely and isolating experience, there isn’t the same opportunity for ad hoc social interactions with colleagues or on the spot work related collaboration that happens in the office environment. It is important that leaders reassure team members working remotely that they are supported and this can be done by good communication. A big part of good communication is the ability to ask high quality questions and developing active listening skills. Leaders should seek the opportunity for 1 to 1 conversations with their individual team members on a regular basis especially with a hybrid working team.
Foster creative ways people can collaborate and connect
The pandemic highlighted just how important empathy and human connection is at work. In many ways, the pandemic broke down barriers between employers and employees and through our shared struggles and challenges we deepened our relationships and connected with each other showing genuine care. The hybrid working model requires us to build on our lessons from the pandemic and encourage opportunities for employees to continue to collaborate and connect. Leaders should foster a culture of open communication and honest feedback to learn how individuals and the team can best be supported. Voluntary groups, employee-led groups, community-based learning, quizzes, games, informal virtual coffee/tea meet ups, lunch and learns, book clubs are potential ideas of things that could work to keep a community culture alive and thrive while operating a hybrid working model.
Empower employee voice and act on the feedback
None of us are mind readers, however when you are working face-to-face you can pick up non-verbal signs and signals that someone is unhappy and take the appropriate action. In a hybrid working environment it can be very challenging to guess what makes employees happy and engaged at work. As well as regular one-to-one check-ins, leaders should carry out regular employee engagement surveys to gain an insight into how the team feels. It is no good to just carry out the survey though, it is how you act on this feedback that is the important part. It is not just a tick box exercise and asking employees opinions without the intention of making the changes and acting on the feedback can do more damage than good. Following any survey create a tailored plan that caters as much as possible towards the preferences and needs of all workers.
Be clear about expectations and avoid micro-management
A successful hybrid working environment boils down in many ways to trust. Managers trusting employees to deliver on the agreed work and employees not abusing that trust. It is even more important for managers to be absolutely crystal clear about goals, objectives, timescales, and their expectations overall to avoid any misunderstandings. It is just as important for employees to set out how they plan on managing their workload and time. We all generally work better when we have a clear objective to work towards and we are clear about the specific aim we need to achieve on a daily basis. When expectations have been clarified, managers should avoid micro-managing which can be tempting especially when dealing with remote workers. When agreed objectives are met, it should reassure managers that remote workers are just as, if not more productive, as onsite employees.
The hybrid working model is here to stay. Keeping employees engaged in a remote setting comes with extra challenges but the key to this is developing systems and processes that enable good communication to flow between managers and remote workers. It is imperative that businesses embrace digital technology that enables fast and convenient communication among teams. Fast and efficient communication will allow remote workers to feel as they belong and are connected to the workplace culture and therefore more engaged. The hybrid working model has the potential to be a great win-win situation for all parties allowing for greater flexibility and boosting productivity, the most important thing is remembering our lessons from the pandemic about the importance of human connection and finding ways of how to use technology appropriately to help foster that connection.