The hybrid workplace model is the future of work. It gives employees the flexibility to choose when and where to work, allows companies to recruit from a larger talent pool, reduces feelings of isolation, and encourages collaboration.
If implemented correctly, a hybrid workplace can become the best of both fully remote and in-office worlds. But poor implementation will get you the exact opposite, the worst of both worlds.
Not preparing your managers to handle a hybrid team makes them more prone to having unconscious biases, like favoring those closest to them, which causes inequalities to emerge. They also can’t set their teams up for success because communication and collaboration across hybrid teams are different from that of fully remote and solely in-office teams. In addition to that, if you don’t give your team the digital tools they need to do their jobs, both employee performance and productivity will drop.
Get the most out of the hybrid workplace model by ensuring your leaders and managers are equipped to lead a hybrid team and are aware of the challenges of managing two workforces. Effective managers, thoughtful leaders, and the right tools will help all of your employees maintain a high level of performance despite being in different locations.
1. Combat Proximity Bias
Proximity bias is a person’s natural inclination to unconsciously favor those who are closer to them location-wise. It literally means favoring people who you physically see every day and undervaluing those who you don’t (i.e. remote workers).
Managers see some employees more than they see others in the hybrid workplace model, so proximity bias is more likely to occur. As Denise Brouder, founder of SWAYworkplace, said in an interview with Forbes, “The biggest barrier [to the future of work mindset] is easily proximity bias. There are still professionals saying you’ll miss out on career opportunities if you choose not to go back to the office, and we can’t let that be true.”
Proximity bias, whether intentional or unintentional, makes your remote team feel the need to come to the office to be heard and valued. When employees feel like they need to come to the office, the advantages of allowing employees to work remotely (e.g. reduced work stress because of flexibility) are negated. Favoritism as a result of proximity bias hampers employees from doing their best work and will eventually lead to high employee turnover and low productivity.
The first step to combatting proximity bias is to build awareness. Managers need to be hyperaware of potential biases that could lead them to favor one set of employees over their co-workers. They need to provide equal access to advancement opportunities and professional employee development based on skills and contributions rather than location.
After building the awareness that proximity bias exists, managers need to create an inclusive work environment that reduces the effects of the bias. One way to do that is to keep a fully distributed mindset — in other words, operating as if your entire team is remote when it comes to scheduling meetings, sharing information, and making important team decisions.
Clear communication and regular work performance reviews will give managers a clear picture of who is performing better, no matter their location.
2. Optimize Your Onboarding and Training Programs for Hybrid Workplace Dynamics
A hybrid workplace is likely a new concept or reality for many of your employees and managers. Both employees and managers—new and veteran—need to be trained to work in a hybrid setting. Employees need to know how to work with each other without excluding one another. Managers need to learn how to manage employees and enable them to hit their work performance goals both in and out of the office. And entire teams need to learn how to use the digital tools collaboratively.
You can train your team more effectively by optimizing both your onboarding program and your ongoing training. Make both types of programs accessible to employees regardless of their location by investing in a digital training solution or a learning management system (LMS). Using digital tools will make it easier for your training content to take the form of video, live online sessions, and/or self-paced learning modules.
Your onboarding and ongoing training programs should address common hybrid workplace issues, like what company culture looks like in a hybrid model, how to effectively communicate with teammates both in and out of the office, and how to use company-wide digital tools.
3. Take Advantage of the Different “Places” and “Times” of Work
In a hybrid workplace, the words “place” and “time” of work mean different things for different employees. Your employees’ places of work could be the office, a co-working space, or at home, while their time of work could be the regular nine-to-five or possibly whenever they please.
Different places of work have different sets of advantages. It is easier to socialize and collaborate in an office, for example, but working from home can be more energizing. Taking advantage of your employees’ regular “places” and “times” of work means encouraging one of the four drivers of productivity—energy, focus, coordination, and cooperation—to increase overall employee performance.
Each “place” and “time” of work is more compatible with a specific driver of productivity.
The office is a space where collaboration and socialization are easy—so intentionally design your office space to encourage cooperation among your employees. For example, instead of cubicles that isolate each worker to their own spaces, create an open floor plan where desks are shared and people can see each other from across the office. You can also change up seating arrangements periodically to encourage communication between employees who may have never met before.
The home or outside the office, on the other hand, is a more energizing space because employees can go on walks, have home-cooked meals, and enjoy the flexibility that being in an office doesn’t allow. Make sure your employees stay productive by ensuring they maintain boundaries with their families and friends. Provide the means to fund their home offices and schedule regular check-ins to remind them of the importance of maintaining boundaries.
In terms of “time” of work, take advantage of both synchronous and asynchronous work to enhance coordination and focus, respectively. Ask your employees to let their managers and colleagues know when they plan to engage in deep work or focus time by putting planned asynchronous time slots on their calendars. Managers should only schedule synchronous meetings when employees, no matter where they are, have stated that they are free for synchronous meetings.
4. Focus on Outcomes, Not Tasks
Focusing on outcomes means setting a clear end goal for your team but giving them the freedom to determine how they get there, instead of micromanaging them by dictating each task they need to complete.
Hybrid team managers lack the ability to personally monitor their remote workers (or their entire teams if the managers themselves are remote), so they may be more prone to micromanaging their employees by focusing on small tasks. It’s also easier for managers to think that in-office employees are working harder because they see the work happening, meaning in-office employees are promoted more often despite mediocre work performance.
In addition to enabling subjective employee performance reviews, micromanagement or explicit monitoring also places unnecessary pressure on employees which leads to a lower level of work performance. Monitoring your employees too closely hampers employee productivity and creativity.
[source] Talk to your employees to set measurable outcomes for performance reviews.
Instead of focusing on small tasks or the amount of time an employee spends at their desks, focus on measurable outcomes or achievable metrics. When an employee has a new project or starts performing a new set of tasks, talk to them to set clear goals and timelines. Here are some things to ask your employees:
- What is your main objective for this project?
- What organizational goal does this project relate to?
- What are your key performance indicators (KPIs)?
- What tangible benefit will we get when the project is over?
- Who is involved in the project and what are their roles?
- What resources (i.e. how much time and money) do you need to successfully complete this project?
- How will this project benefit your career development?
- What is your proposed timeline of events for this project, including specific tasks and due dates?
You can also use this template by LifeLabs Learning to set clear, attainable outcomes with your team.
5. Invest in Technology for Better Communication and Collaboration
Creating a culture of open communication encourages collaboration across your entire team. And collaboration among team members increases employee satisfaction, workplace productivity, and individual creativity. Companies that encourage teamwork and collaboration are five times more likely to have better overall performance—which also translates to better business outcomes.
But communication is one of the main challenges of a hybrid workplace, as evidenced by the fact that almost half of remote employees don’t receive important information because the important information was communicated in person. Remote workers are also more prone to feeling shunned which leads to problems with productivity, morale, stress, and retention.
As our HR department said, “Investment in the right tools and actively working with leadership and people managers has helped us make hybrid workforce operations meaningful for us.”
If you want your team to meet individual and group work performance expectations, you need to invest in tools that encourage communication and collaboration across your entire team. If your employees find communicating with their teammates too hard or inconvenient, they’re not going to do it (e.g. communicating through e-mail is neither real-time nor convenient). Here are some great tools you can invest in to encourage communication and collaboration across your entire team:
Apart from investing in tools, you can also organize activities like all-hands meetings, town halls, and virtual water-cooler chats using video conferencing tools to increase transparency.
6. Develop a Culture of Feedback
Feedback drives improvement, employee performance, and results. Regularly and frequently scheduling feedback sessions for both remote and in-office employees helps managers reduce burnout, increase employee confidence, and improve employee engagement. Sixty-eight percent of employees said that feedback conversations helped improve their individual work performance.
Feedback is crucial for hybrid companies that want employees’ performances to keep improving. In the office, you can see how your employees are doing and spontaneously give them feedback. Remote workers, on the other hand, need intentional feedback to let them know that they’re doing their jobs effectively and how they can improve even more.
Seventy-one percent of employees who think their companies have effective performance management systems in place said their managers were trained in providing feedback and mentoring. Since giving feedback starts at the top, you need to train your managers in providing employee performance feedback. Give them access to digital courses that focus on skills development, just-in-time training modules, and virtual office hours.
Apart from making sure your managers know how to give feedback, you also need to enable your team to have work performance discussions with each other and give feedback to their managers. Encourage a culture of feedback by institutionalizing spontaneous feedback sessions, regular one-on-one calls, and the use of real-time feedback tools and 360-degree feedback tools.
Maintain Employee Performance in Hybrid Teams by Encouraging Equity Across Your Entire Workforce
Transitioning to a hybrid team comes with its own quirks and challenges, but you can maintain, and even increase, productivity and improve employee performance by focusing on setting all of your employees up for success.