As we near the kick off 2022, the uncertainty of the past two years does not yet appear to be behind us. For the workforce, this means employers and employees continue to manage hybrid work models. A recent CNBC study found that 70% of companies expect this blend of in-person and remote work will become the “new normal” moving forward.
Organizations must adjust to labor force changes, and most organizational success is achieved when strong leaders guide their people through these transitions. Here are a few ways that you can efficiently lead your hybrid teams through uncertainty both in the office and virtually.
Making the Move Back to the Office
According to a poll conducted by Gartner HR, 66% of organizations are postponing office re-openings. Still, major companies are pushing for a return to the office. Goldman Sachs CEO David Soloman says about a remote work model, “…it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.” With highly powerful professionals offering this opinion, it is expected that other companies will be influenced by these leaders to follow suit. If this is the case for your organization, there are a variety of skills and strategies you can use to help your people make a smooth transition back to the office.
When preparing for a return to work in the office, consider that each of your employees had their own unique hardships to face over the last year and a half of hybrid working. For some, personal health or the health of a loved one became a major concern. It is crucial that your employees feel safe and cared for when returning to in-person work. Offer your people sympathy throughout the transition process as well as reassurance that any measure they choose to take for their own health and safety — such as wearing personal protective equipment and frequently cleaning office spaces — is encouraged and supported.
You can make it easier for employees to come back to work in person by giving your people the opportunity to be decision makers throughout the process. According to SHRM, you can offer your employees transitional objects. A transitional object helps us navigate uncertainty. It can take the form of something tangible, like a monetary reward. Or, it can be a less concrete but equally influential concept, like allowing employees to work under flexible hours or to choose their own schedule. People respond better to change if they feel they’ve had a say in some aspect, and a transitional object is the perfect way to help employees feel like they have an active voice in the changes they are experiencing. Being flexible and tolerant of the level of ambivalence toward the new unknown will help your people feel less like they are passive recipients of the changes they experience. Instead, you can lead your people to embrace the transition since they have the ability to make choices surrounding those changes and are allowed the freedom to form their own opinions along the way.
Remote Work Holds Strong
While we wait to see what the future holds, there are still many major companies maintaining a firm grasp on remote work. Social media giant Twitter told employees that they could work from home as long as they see fit, even if that means permanently. The reality is that there is no clear answer for what the future of work looks like, so it is not a bad idea to prepare for any possible outcome. Leaders can prepare to run an at-home team with a few tactics.
The main goal when leading a remote team is to keep a high level of employee engagement as well as an overall positive morale. The ways in which this is carried out can take a number of forms. As a leader, you can promote opportunities for employees to interact with each other via video chat technologies. Encourage your people to attend remote team building events such as virtual happy hours or break rooms. This will allow for your employees to have the chance to connect with their colleagues in a more casual capacity that is lost without in-person office interaction.
You can be an effective remote leader by both offering and asking for extensive amounts of feedback. As mentioned before, people respond more positively to new developments when they are involved with making decisions. American CEO Robert F. Smith once said, “We’re looking for those intellectually curious executives who can take feedback, who can take information and relate it to their markets and be an expert in that market.” As a leader you are in “the market” of managing your people and ensuring their career satisfaction. In a hybrid workforce, this means taking feedback from employees about their experience in remote work and implementing change where it is found to be necessary.
Not only is it important to take employee feedback, but you should also frequently offer feedback. When working on a remote team, it is easy for one’s efforts to feel unnoticed due to less frequent interactions with managers and team members. You can combat this by making a point to regularly connect with your people. Take time to tell them what is going well and where there may be room for improvement, and then offer them the opportunity to do the same for you and the remote work process. The key here is frequency: be sure to check in with your people often. Even when it feels like you are overcommunicating, it is better to be over-connected with your remote team than to have a group of disengaged employees.
The versatility to cater to any modifications that one’s workforce model may undergo will prove to be essential for successful business leaders of the future. With the presented ideas, you can prepare yourself and your employees for the possibilities ahead.