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Top 8 Questions on Hybrid, Remote, and Return to Office, Answered

Planning for a return to the office is complex. We’ve answered top questions about hybrid remote work and returning to the office. Read more.

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It’s never too early to talk to your employees about their hybrid work experience

When is it too late to open a conversation with your employees about their experience with hybrid and remote work? How about now?

According to a McKinsey survey, 40% of employees say their employers have not communicated about their post-pandemic work plans, and 28% of employees reported what they have heard is vague.

There can be major implications from lack of communication, especially when 54% of remote workers say they would look for another job if their employers stopped offering remote work options, and 50% of workers have recently deemed themselves “quiet quitters”— those who are doing the work they’re paid for, but are no longer going above and beyond.  

If you haven’t started these conversations already, now is a great time to start

Digging into hybrid work

When I’m working on a solution for a market problem, I tend to get obsessed and like to work through it by trying to fit questions or ideas that I have into every conversation I can. Since I get to talk to customers across the globe, I’m granted plenty of opportunities. I consider this a form of ethnographic research. If we’ve been in a meeting lately, you’ll recognize this as my ‘small talk’ during the first five minutes of the call. 

Lately, I’ve been focused on trying to solve a workflow for a company’s work setting—remote, hybrid work, in-office—as they plan their return to the office. I’d like to share a few things I’ve heard as I’ve gathered anecdotal information.

Common concerns about return to office 

“I was hired as a remote worker during the pandemic and there is an office nearby, but I am not sure why I should go there to work.” 

I get the strong sense that teams are having issues with committing to being fully remote, especially if the message from the top is encouraging people to come back to the office, at least partly. If your team is remote, embrace it and adapt your processes to match! If you’re unclear about expectations on your team, seek clarity. This is an opportunity for leadership to take vague statements and clarify expectations for their teams. 

“My contract still says that I am an office-based employee but I moved out of town during the pandemic with the full knowledge of my manager.”

A large part of setting clear expectations is to take steps to clean up the paperwork and record keeping. 

“We have embraced remote working on my team and now I have relocated to a different city, which is great for my personal life. I do feel more disconnected from my team, however.”

This is a very natural response to being on a distributed team. And, it might be time for us to reset our expectations on what team connection looks like in the new work environment. Remote teams are connected in different ways. Seeking cultural activities that can be enjoyed remotely to build new connections within the team is likely the right answer. 

“The Zoom meetings we have are just talking heads and we haven’t figured out how to use any online collaboration tools.”

The fact that many teams have not found the right online solutions to collaborate, and that most team meetings are individuals talking in sequence on Zoom seems like a disservice. If we are to embrace remote work, we need to solve this issue. I’ve found great progress can be made with online whiteboarding sessions. My recent favorite is FigJam, but I’ve also used tools like Miro and MURAL

“The nearest office is an hour away. Even if there were a co-working space nearer I’m not sure I would use it as my teammates are not there.”

For someone who has adapted to, and can be very productive by, working from home the time we all accepted as necessary to commute to the office now feels wasted. We need to provide a different value proposition for employees to overcome the ‘cost’ of commuting, such as office perks, events, and committed collaboration opportunities. 

“Coming together as a team for in-person meetings and events is great, but it is also overwhelming and not a lot of actual work gets done.”

Team on-sites are really working! We can gather and solve problems together, but we need to do it more often to keep that muscle in shape. I personally had a disastrous meeting toward the end of our recent on-site week where it felt like we had forgotten how to collaborate. I honestly think we all got tired. 

“My manager has set a goal for coming into the office a certain number of days per week ongoing.”

What’s the purpose of the manager setting the in-office goal? I suspect it’s a recognition that collaboration has dropped and is a critical factor for company success. If people analytics has taught me anything, it’s that the most important thing is to measure the behavior you want to change as closely as possible. Using days in the office, broadly, across all teams is a poor proxy for measuring collaboration. 

We get too focused on requiring folks to come into the office for a certain number of days when we should be looking to bring people together for certain activities. Instead of measuring days in the office, we might want to measure by meeting or meeting type. What percent of collaborative meetings have good online or in-person representation? If days in the office is all you have, certainly measure it. Measuring something is better than nothing. If you see a drop in collaboration and teams aren’t able to work together effectively online, bringing them back to the office might give them a jumpstart. 

“I want to comply with the manager’s goal but I really want it to be right for me too.”

I can see there’s common ground here. If we could find a solution together to optimize productivity and collaboration it would be in everyone’s best interest. In my experience, data is our best friend when looking for a win-win solution between employers and employees. Looking at the data together, objectively, we’ll be able to find a balanced solution. 

How to build a return to office plan that works for everyone  

Done right, creating a hybrid work plan starts with planning the work that needs to be done and identifying the resources needed to accomplish it. Then, you can choose and optimize the parameters of the work setting. Listening to employees will lead you to diagnose the underlying issues in your company.

Here are some tips to get started: 

  • Get feedback from your employees with a survey or assessment tool. They will tell you what is important to them and guide you where to look for solutions. 

  • Look at job design and where employees currently live. Analyze the current behavior of attendance in-office. 

  • Don’t make people decisions informed by real-estate. Make real-estate decisions informed by your people. 

  • Embrace remote work and have more frequent on-site meetings that are collaborative and focused on delivering innovation in a concentrated format. 

Learn how Visier can help you build an effective hybrid workforce.

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