It has been more than a year since the pandemic that sent nine-to-fivers packing their desks and relocating to dining tables at home. As regulations lift and workplaces open, companies are now trialling new combinations of working remotely and from an office.
Some have recalled staff back in separate groups, while others are on staggered schedules. Whatever the specifics, one thing is sure: the hybrid model is dictated from top leadership – leading the charge to get as many workers back to their seats as quickly as possible – and hastily implemented in a cut-and-paste manner down the chain of command.
Perhaps that is not surprising, speed has never been more important for companies seeking to bounce back. Despite what others may have you think, there is no shortcut.
Without strong leaders on all levels, these return-to-work models do not make reliable guides.
One hybrid model doesn’t fit all
There is no definite standard of what hybrid work should look like, and of course there is none. It depends on the industry in which the company operates and its corporate structure. Similarly, there should not be one be-all-end-all hybrid model across the departments within your organisation.
Say you impose a split-team work arrangement; your Sales Division will continue to bring in steady business, but with less hands on the loading docks, your Warehouse Crew can no longer keep pace with operational demands. Some workloads may decrease, while for others their workload may increase.
Considering a hybrid work model also extends beyond just departmental functions. Individual work style strengths also play a part. If there’s one thing we learned from weeks of defaulting to online communication, it is that some people take better to working from home. Put them back within the confines of a cubicle and they lose their spark.
Conversely, employees who benefit from meeting in-person cannot be expected to achieve the same efficiency from behind a screen. Ask any seasoned worker and they will tell you that remote work is the silver lining of the pandemic. But for those who are on the learning curve or even promotion-list, zero physical proximity with their higher-ups will stunt their progress.
In fact, the knowledge that was once accessible is now siloed in emails and chats groups. New hires can forget about shadowing their managers without flouting the 2-metre rule.
One hybrid model doesn’t fit all and forcing it to work across the entire organisation will lead to decreased productivity and poor employee experiences.
What has leadership got to do with it?
Top management earns their stripes by making big calls for the company. But when it comes to running smaller units, the real decision-making power lies in the hands of team leaders and project managers. It is up to you to align your operations with the type of hybrid model that best fits the team.
The team leader decides how these distinct modes; remote and onsite work, can integrate to advance the company’s goals. At The Little Black Book, we have worked hard to provide what we call a blended hybrid structure. We are a mix of team members who prefer to be in the office during work hours and those who only come back as needed.
In addition to daily check-ins, we hold weekly face-to-face meetings. Or in this case, facemask-to-facemask meetings. Team leaders are empowered to delegate growth, not just tasks, make operational decisions and establish working norms. Working norms ensure that your downlines are clear about what is expected of them.
For instance, we ask our remote team members to give notice of any extended time away from the laptop during the workday. Even without a punchout clock or timesheet, your team has the structure it needs to function seamlessly.
This type of decentralised decision-making allows greater autonomy within departments or teams, and thus greater productivity. For rigid bureaucratic types, the blended hybrid model might sound too ‘work when you feel like it’. However, it is not about pandemic-proofing the office, setting everyone loose and hoping for the best – it starts with company culture.
Time to adapt your work manifesto
It is time for leaders to rethink performance metrics, which in this post-pandemic reality, is not about how long an employee stays behind after everyone has clocked out. For a blended hybrid model to work, the focus should be on measuring work output rather than hours. Rewrite your cultural manifesto into one that values communication, practices fairness and assumes goodwill of its team members. And even more crucially, include this in your culture deck: remote work is a competitive advantage.
The pandemic will soon play out, but we believe that the hybrid work has a permanent place in the employment mix. Approach this new framework less like an interim response to the pandemic, and more like an opportunity to grow your organisation globally. With a blended hybrid structure in place, your internal teams will have access to remote-ready talent from all over the world – but not otherwise possible if you continue to run top-to-bottom.
Every organisation should look beyond operating in survivalist mode and plant the seeds for long term success. After all, as your organisation continues to recover from the pandemic, the very nature of how its department and teams work will evolve.
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