Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a near constant state of change in the world of work — from how and where people get their work done, to what they expect from their employers in terms of benefits and support. One notable shift is that many organizations now recognize that there’s no need for their employees to go back into an office full-time. And that’s why hybrid work models have become the way forward in nearly every industry that can accommodate remote working.
But like any new change in the workplace, there’s been a significant learning curve associated with hybrid working and the model continues to evolve and improve. Leaders are figuring out what works best for their business, employees are voicing their concerns and needs, and both groups are making compromises with the goal of getting hybrid right for everyone.
To support companies who are making the transition to this new way of working, I created a LinkedIn Learning Course called Hybrid Working Foundations. It’s a great tool for any leader who is ready to make the leap to hybrid working but could benefit from some tools and practical advice to help set them up for success.
In today’s article, I want to highlight a few key takeaways from my course as well as some new research, insights, and company examples. Be sure to check out my course if you’re looking for a more comprehensive guide to hybrid working.
When it comes to the hybrid office…
1. Do redesign your office with new employee expectations in mind. People don’t need to commute into an office just to sit at a desk all day — that’s what they’ll use their time at home for. The hybrid office should be much more focused on creating those serendipitous “water cooler” moments that drive connections and a true sense of culture.
As Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky recently shared with Business Insider, “the office has to do something a home can't do.” His prediction? “People will still go to offices, but it'll be for different purposes, for collaboration spaces.” He’s exactly right, and that’s why companies like Rite Aid, JP Morgan, and many others are setting the example by replacing cubicles and assigned desks with flexible spaces geared toward team gatherings and social interactions.
2. Don’t let office workdays turn into a free-for-all where people have to rush to find a workspace. As companies have downsized their real estate to accommodate a much smaller number of employees in the office each day, some have neglected to think through how this will actually work. Even if your organization has a rotating schedule for when your staff go into the building, that doesn’t mean that people will neatly sort themselves out into the different spaces you offer.
This can a layer of unnecessary stress for employees who are already navigating the challenges of having to switch between two entirely different work environments. With this in mind, I can’t emphasize enough how critical is it that employers give workers the tools they need to book workspaces in advance, for example those provided by Condeco. It’s a small investment that can really move the needle on hybrid worker satisfaction.
When it comes to keeping things fair…
3. Do focus on the employee groups that are more likely to feel excluded and face career repercussions. It’s easy to think that everyone would prefer a hybrid work arrangement over full-time office work. But one study found that 40% of college students and recent graduates prefer fully in-person work, partly because they aren’t getting enough mentoring and networking opportunities when they’re remote.
Meanwhile, a recent Fortune article highlighted that nearly 60% of women in a hybrid arrangement say they’ve been excluded from important meetings and about half feel they don’t have enough exposure to company leaders. Companies need to pay special attention to these employee groups as they evaluate their hybrid model, or they’ll have to accept when these workers eventually seek out employment elsewhere.
4. Don’t expect fairness issues to just “work themselves out” or tell people to come into the office more often if they feel left out. The value of facetime is very real, and employers and managers have to put actual measures in place to address this. Expecting people to come in more often essentially punishes workers for making use of their hybrid arrangements, and eventually this might create a situation where everyone feels compelled to go in and the hybrid model ceases to exist.
I’ve previously written about how to address fairness issues, and a lot of the strategies center around offering the right technologies to help put everyone on a more even playing field. For example, in a study conducted by Condeco, 68% of respondents said that achieving “digital equality” during calls is one of the most important things that companies can do to ensure effective collaboration.
When it comes to your hybrid work policy…
5. Do take a flexible approach and be open to evolving your policy. Companies like Apple are already facing pushback for requiring people to be in the office on set days. If there isn’t a business reason to do this, err on the side of offering more flexibility rather than less. Giving people the ability to make their own scheduling decisions shows that you trust them, and it lets them optimize their workweek in a way that truly improves their work-life balance.
And remember, it’s okay that you might not perfect your hybrid policy right away — the most successful hybrid companies are receptive to feedback and change. They recognize that an overly authoritarian approach will ultimately drive people away from their company, whereas an employer that listens to its workers will be more likely to gain their long-term loyalty.
6. Don’t mislead employees about your policy. There are lots of examples of employees who were told they’d receive a certain amount of flexibility, only to discover (often after being hired) that they’d been misled. I know it’s tempting to advertise hybrid work arrangements as a benefit you offer, but be careful about how you approach this or there could be significant repercussions on worker morale and your business.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t make any updates to your policy — things may change, and you won’t be able to cater to every employee’s individual needs and preferences. But try to find the right balance here, and if you have to pull back on some aspects of your hybrid policy, be as transparent as possible about why you’re making those decisions.
When it comes to setting people up for success…
7. Do invest in the right technologies. And no, I don’t just mean Zoom! Of course, hybrid workers do need standard tools that enable effective communication, document sharing, and collaboration. But they can also benefit from technologies that support virtual social interactions, workspace booking, and unique types of collaboration (e.g., online whiteboards).
However, according to Condeco’s study, 49% of employees feel their company isn’t using the right tools for hybrid working and only 12% say their company has invested in new tech to support changed working behaviors. Without the right tools in place, your hybrid teams will almost certainly struggle to maintain a high level of productivity. So I’d say it’s never a bad idea to revisit your tech stack and ensure that it’s truly meeting the needs of your workforce.
8. Don’t offer tools without integration capabilities, and don’t expect your employees to get up-to-speed right away. Best-in-class technologies designed to support hybrid working will always integrate with commonly-used services like Office 365 or Google Drive. Don’t settle for anything less, or be prepared to deal with disgruntled workers who now have to juggle a standalone tool in an already complex technology ecosystem.
Another important tip is to build in a learning curve for any new tools you adopt. You should offer training opportunities, and it’s also critical that you encourage manager buy-in and support. I’ve seen far too many instances where managers expect their staff to adopt a new tool, but they refuse to use it themselves or they continue with the old way of doing things just because they can.
Navigating the shift to hybrid
Although I’m a strong advocate for hybrid working, I recognize that getting this right will involve some trial and error. The organizations making the best progress are those that are paying close attention to the latest research and observing what other companies are doing right (or wrong). I hope that today’s article has provided some helpful insights no matter where you are on your journey, and I encourage you to take my Hybrid Working Foundations course if you’re ready for the next step.
Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know how your company has evolved its approach to hybrid working.