Explainers

Adapting to the Hybrid Workplace after a Year of Change

Managers must establish policies and frameworks that allow people to do their best work, regardless of where they are.

Over the past year, teams have had to cope with an enormous amount of change in both their personal and professional lives—so now, with vaccinations rolling out, it’s no surprise that people are hoping to return to some semblance of normalcy. But we’d argue that rather than going back to the old routine, organizations are about to go through another set of big changes as teams adapt to the hybrid workplace.

As noted in our State of Work report, 63% of workers want to continue working remotely, at least part-time. To navigate this transitional period, managers must establish policies and frameworks that allow people to do their best work, regardless of where they are. In particular, leaders should evaluate:

  • Resources. Do people have fast-enough Internet at home, and do they have access to secure networks? Are there resources (such as physical files or machines) that are only available in the office? How can you ensure equitable access?
  • Scheduling. Who plans to be in the office, when? Are there days or events where it’s necessary for a whole team to be physically present? To avoid surprises, keep track of when individuals are scheduled to come in vs. working from home.
  • Performance Reviews. Watch out for bias—it’s easy for people working in the office to be “top of mind” for new assignments and rewards, while literally not seeing the hard work remote workers put in. Are there certain benchmarks or KPI’s that are harder to achieve in a virtual environment?
  • Onboarding and Team Formation. Without informal or casual interactions at the office, it can be harder for teams to get to know each other and establish effective ways of working. As a result, it’s never been more important to think through the onboarding process and team bonding activities.

Given everything teams have gone through thus far, the thought of implementing these additional changes can feel overwhelming, and people may display different degrees of reticence—yet it’s essential if the hybrid workplace is going to be a success. That’s why it’s just as important to remember some basic principles of change management:

  • Take back control where you can. We’ve been through a lot of uncontrolled change lately, where it feels like change is happening TO individuals, not with them. What does it look like to take back control and give people directed change? Identify what you can control as a leader, and how your team can create an effective hybrid workplace. Giving people tangible results will reduce their uncertainty and make them more open to new ways of doing things.
  • Hold fast to the familiar. Let people know what they can count on—what’s familiar and not going to change? If you can’t say what’s saying the same, people will struggle because it may feel like too much is happening—that nothing is in control, and there’s no clear path forward. Give people consistency where possible, and articulate the plan for the immediate future.
  • Make sure that you’re not avoiding a needed change, even (or especially) if you don’t want to do it. This often manifests as prioritizing another issue and pointing to it as a sign of progress, even if it’s not really addressing the real change that needs to be made (AKA bikeshedding). Carefully evaluate priorities in terms of the short-term tensions vs. the long-term change—are you creating a more flexible, responsive workforce, or putting off the hard work to get there?

Remember, there’s never a “good” time to change: customers will always have demands, markets will be in flux. At the same time, things will always change, so it’s up to us as leaders to help our teams effectively sense, prioritize, and respond to what’s happening around them.

Published March 22, 2021