How to Create a New Hybrid Workforce Dynamic Built on Trust
We're living in a time of employee reckoning. In the past year alone, several well-known companies were brought down by employees seeking justice.
Activision Blizzard's CEO was exposed for hiding sexual harassment incidents and encouraging a toxic company culture.
Better.com's CEO took a leave of absence after facing backlash for firing hundreds of employees over a group Zoom call.
Upbeat TV personality Ellen DeGeneres had to cancel her talk show after employees alleged she and her producers created a workplace environment rife with racism, poor communication, and bullying.
Employees have begun to stand up for their rights and aren't willing to suffer mistreatment at work. The rise of social change movements (e.g. Black Lives Matter and Me Too) have shown that you have to take employee concerns more seriously, and that social justice matters, especially in the workplace.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced major changes If you don't accommodate employees' needs and develop a hybrid workforce, you'll be left behind. Culture, access, and employee happiness are more important than ever. You have to find a balance between keeping employees happy and protecting your company.
The last things your company needs are exclusion, HR incidents, lawsuits, and rapid turnover, which can increase when you're not communicating well or meeting employees' needs.
Follow our guide to make sure you’re accommodating this new world of work and preventing serious incidents (e.g. harassment, bullying, discrimination) from occurring.
Are your internal policies and procedures biased?
In this new world of work, employees won't stand for a workplace that's biased against them, even if it's unintentional. Watch this free webinar to learn how to recognize and minimize unconscious bias in your organization.
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Since the start of COVID-19, the employer/employee relationship has begun to shift. The combination of more potential positions (thanks to remote-first workplaces) and seeing how their organizations handled a crisis gave employees new insight, putting the power into their hands.
A report by Deloitte explains that employees are taking a hard look at their employers and evaluating whether they share values with the organization. They also want to feel supported as a worker and as a person. Some are just looking for better opportunities for growth and mobility, or even a stronger benefits package.
If their employer doesn't meet these standards, they're likely to leave for a job that better meets their needs, as part of what Josh Bersin calls "The Great Migration." To make your organization more appealing and keep your talent around, Bersin suggests striving for the top level of organizational maturity, as illustrated below.
Follow the steps below to ensure your hybrid workforce feels supported and appreciated so they don't leave for greener pastures.
Hybrid workforce models have created a new category for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): proximity.
Do you remember when you missed a day of school as a kid and you felt totally out of the loop for classwork and social happenings?
Failure to communicate with and involve remote employees can give them the same isolated and unsupported feeling.
"Target, Uber, and Consumer Reports now build 'proximity' as another dimension of intersectionality in their analytics, and monitor pay, promotion, and development opportunities for equity," Bersin notes.
To avoid potential proximity-related DEI complaints, make sure your processes for promoting employees and even assigning tasks are equitable for both remote and in-office employees. Face-time in the office might make you think of certain employees first, but they might not be the best fit for a project or role.
In addition, make sure remote employees get the same opportunities to build social connections as their in-office counterparts. While it's tempting to go for impromptu happy hours or host office chili cook-offs, try to limit in-person social gatherings that leave remote workers out.
The disparity in social bonds can not only take an emotional toll, but could negatively affect team dynamics on work projects, too.
Finally, ensure that remote employees know how to access resources from their home office. Send a detailed email explaining where and how to file a report if they have a complaint or concern. Also communicate where they can find employee resources such as your EAP, explanation of benefits, pay stubs, and suggestion box.
When you have a hybrid workforce, supporting your employees' health and well-being looks different. Not only do you have to create a safe in-office experience, but also offer the same resources to those working remotely.
Your employees might be suffering from burnout, COVID-19 anxiety and Zoom fatigue, all of which could affect their mental health and, in turn, their work.
To keep them feeling their best, Dr. Britt Andreatta, author of Wired to Connect, suggests taking these three steps:
- Provide services to help relieve stress and burnout (e.g. an employee assistance plan, stress-busting activities)
- Support your top talent (or they might leave for a less stressful position)
- Set realistic expectations
Employees are also now looking for more flexibility when it comes to their health and well-being. Here are some ways to nurture your employees' health and safety and, as a result, keep them around:
- Offer flexible benefits packages (i.e. give employees choice of higher salary vs. more health insurance vs. stock options, etc.)
- Include specific "mental health days" in your PTO
- Allow employees to choose their work location, regardless of reason (e.g. fear of getting sick, compromised immune system, productivity, etc.)
- Recognize the signs of declined mental health in employees (e.g. more sick days, less productivity, personality changes) and check in with them to see how you can help before things get worse
- Survey employees about areas of friction in their jobs and address as many risk factors as possible to prevent issues
In an office environment, all employees are set up for success with their work equipment. Unless you're not compliant with the ADA, you've provided accommodations to those that need them and given employees equal access to networks, electronics, and other tools they need.
However, in a hybrid work model, employees who choose or have to work remotely might not have everything they require to do their best work.
For example, employees with disabilities who need accommodations on site will need them for their home office, too. Help them find a way to transport their special equipment from the workplace to their home, if possible. If that's a no-go, cover the expenses of new equipment.
In addition, some employees might live in areas with poor internet or cell phone network access. Others might not be able to afford an internet or phone package large enough for both professional and personal use.
Encourage these employees to work on-site whenever possible. If they can't or don't feel comfortable, be flexible about technological issues they might encounter. Try to assign them tasks that require limited internet use or phone time. You might even want to reimburse part or all of your employees' phone and internet packages or provide hot spots to ensure they stay connected.
With so many changes happening in the past few years (e.g. social issues, approach to mental health, public health concerns), employees might have a tough time trusting their employers as they go back to work, and vice versa.
Will you protect them from harassment, discrimination, and exclusion? How do you plan to support their physical and mental well-being? Can you meet their professional and personal needs?
To rebuild that trust and make the transition to hybrid or in-person work smoother, Andreatta suggests that employers:
- Set a slow pace and realistic expectations for the first few weeks to help employees find their footing again
- Provide connection opportunities (such as events and "field trips") to build or rebuild team bonds
- Offer mental health services and resources (e.g. an EAP, meditation classes, paid time off) to reduce burnout and stress
- Make in-office work intentional, such as for important meetings or collaboration
- Celebrate employees' efforts and progress in this hard time
Use Andreatta's suggestions and the steps below to show employees you prioritize creating a safe, inclusive, and purposeful work environment.
According to Andreatta, employees are "now well entrenched in work from home habits," the most important being flexible hours. They've been able to take time out of regular work hours to care for their family members or take a break, and adjust their schedules to fit their family's needs.
One study found that 60 per cent of employees want to keep flexibility in their work schedules in a hybrid workforce model. "We can't put this back in the bottle," Andreatta says. Employees are "not going to accept the old ways of working." Be understanding of this and focus on quality of work, not quantity of hours logged on their work computers.
Employers that push workers into traditional schedules or workplaces too hard or too fast risk losing top talent to more amenable organizations.
When planning your hybrid work model, figure out ways to offer flexibility, such as allowing employee to:
- Split up work hours to accommodate caregiving or medical appointments
- Start or finish working outside of traditional hours to fit their schedule
- Work full time in the office or at home, or a combination of both
- Keep cameras or microphones off during online meetings
To avoid confusion and protect your company from potential lawsuits, try not to take flexibility on a case-by-case basis. Explain required online hours (i.e., being available from at least 10-2 each day), which employees are eligible for flexible work (e.g. full-time, part-time, managers, etc.), and other expectations in your relevant policy.
Without a remote work policy, your hybrid workforce might not know what's expected of them when they're working from home. Download this free template to start writing yours.
In the past, many employers only wanted to support employees' professional development so far as it helped them in their current job. Now, though, employees are looking for workplaces where they can grow their skill set and use their role to further their personal and professional goals.
"You've got to treat your employees as people and support their individual interests," he says. "If you do that, you'll create a meaningful work culture. This will also build organizational loyalty, which will increase motivation. Employees will be excited to show up for work each day, and they'll be invested in the organization," says Scott Newton, former executive director of clinical operations at Teletracking.
How do you do that?
Start by shifting your workplace approach to a people-first model. This means focusing on the people behind the work, not just the outcomes.
Here are some steps you can take to create a meaningful, employee-centric workplace:
- Assign tasks and projects based on employees' skills, strengths, goals, and interests
- Encourage employees to communicate and work in ways that are natural to them (i.e. diverse working and learning styles)
- Make sure every employee and their contributions are valued by their team
- Encourage employees to seek out learning and professional development opportunities
- Ask managers to check in with employees to ensure they're feeling engaged and satisfied with their work
Taking all of these steps to manage your hybrid workforce can be overwhelming, especially if you don't know where to start. Before you implement any changes, you need to analyze your incident data and employee comments.
First, look at the types of workplace incidents that have occurred both in-office and remotely. For example: are there a lot of harassment complaints? Do employees feel discriminated against or excluded? Has someone been accused of misconduct more than once or involved in multiple incidents?
To organize this data faster and more accurately, use case management software like Case IQ. With just a few clicks, you can create graphs, charts, and heat maps that show your areas of risk, helping you focus your workplace model and prevent incidents in the future.
Next, ask employees for feedback. Ask questions such as:
- What do you wish the organization did differently?
- How could the organization improve?
- What problems do you face (or do you see your coworkers facing) regularly?
- Are there any perks you wish the organization offered? What perks do you not care about/utilize?
Take this feedback into account as you change your company to fit employees' new expectations. By listening to their needs and addressing their concerns, you'll retain employees for longer and keep them happier. You'll also earn a reputation as a caring organization, which might attract new talent and even more customers or clients.
Building the workplace of the future is no easy feat. But taking the time to address your employees' needs and interests now that the world has changed will help you create a workplace where existing and new employees will want to stay.
You'll create a work environment where employees feel safe and valued, increasing loyalty and decreasing incidents. Your reputation as an organization should also improve, granting you a positive public reputation and even, potentially, bringing in new business.