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Lack of Hybrid Work Norms Causes Turnover, Here's How to Establish Them

A lack of established norms for hybrid work can lead to an increased turnover. What do “hybrid work norms” look like and what role should orgs play in creating them? Read more.

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Gartner has indicated that the lack of established norms for hybrid work can lead to an increased likelihood of turnover. In fact, they report that in settings without these established norms, it’s 12% more likely that employees will leave. 

What do “hybrid work norms” look like and what role should HR be playing in establishing, communicating, and monitoring them? 

What are hybrid work norms?

A norm is something that is considered to be typical or standard. In work settings, norms are related to how the work gets done, establishing expectations for how team members will interact and communicate with each other.

Gartner suggests that explicit norms should be established in three key areas:

  1. Norms that foster connections.

  2. Norms that enable flexibility.

  3. Norms that increase visibility.

Whether you realize it or not, chances are you already have norms in place related to hybrid work—you just may not have explicitly referred to them this way, or even explicitly stated them. For instance:

  • Using asynchronous project management and communications tools like Asana or Slack.

  • Whether cameras should be on or off during Zoom meetings.

  • Agreed-upon windows of time to be "at your desk" to enable collaboration with colleagues in other time zones.

  • Times that are off limits for sending work emails, like evenings and weekends.

When expectations, or norms, are not explicit, though, misunderstandings and conflict will occur. Consider, for instance, the tension that can arise in a situation where a manager emails at all hours simply to send messages when they think of something and not expecting any immediate response or action, and an employee feeling that the email must be responded to quickly.

These types of misunderstandings have become more common in hybrid and remote work settings as HR leaders, managers, and employees continue to navigate a new normal that hasn’t likely had specific norms established. 

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Creating explicit working norms

A Mercer survey found that only 34% of organizations have formal rules in place for managing flexible work. Based on an assessment of 749 organizations they found that 48% relied on information or ambiguous guidelines and 17% were completely hands-off.

Explicit norms can help organizations minimize misunderstanding and boost engagement and retention. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy say:

“During stressful times (i.e. right now), it’s good practice to write down the unstated cultural and emotional norms that exist within your team or company. They might have changed since you all started working from home, or perhaps they’ve never been explicit to everyone.”

When creating, or documenting these norms, it’s also important to seek input from the employees who will be impacted by them. Seeking input doesn’t mean that you’ll follow the personal preferences of every employee—that’s simply not possible. What it does mean, though, is that you will have a better understanding of what’s important to employees, what misunderstandings or misperceptions may exist, and where more clarity could help improve teamwork, collaboration, and engagement.

Examples of hybrid work norms

Hybrid work norms will obviously vary based on organizational and individual needs and preferences. Some examples, though, could include:

  • An agreement that emails will only be responded to during regular business hours (not during the evening or on weekends).

  • Establishing timeframes for when phone, email, Slack, or other communications or requests will be responded to: for instance, two hours for phone calls, within one day for non-urgent emails.   

  • Remote teams should plan to be online and available to collaborate across time zones for certain time windows—say 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for those on the West Coast.

Carnegie Mellon University published its working norms for a hybrid workforce on its website which address scheduling and meeting management, team management, engaging with remote employees, and learning opportunities.

When creating hybrid work norms there are some important best practices to follow for optimal results—and to ensure employees adhere to these expectations. 

7 best practices for establishing hybrid work norms

Having the right hybrid work strategy can improve retention, according to research from The Hackett Group. Based on their research, they recommend:

  1. Openly communicating with and actively listening to employees.

  2. Implementing policies and supporting practices and tools that address a variety of work styles.

  3. Equipping managers and employees to continuously evolve work design and practices. 

  4. Scheduling unstructured/informal meeting opportunities.

  5. Being purposeful about using in-person time for creative work, relationship-building, and silo-breaking activities. 

  6. Monitoring and taking steps to enhance employee performance drivers, such as wellness and engagement.

  7. Measuring employees on their work output, results, and outcomes rather than on performative work or hours logged.

Hybrid work is here to stay. And, as companies are increasingly finding that today’s employees value the freedom and flexibility that remote and hybrid work can bring, savvy employers recognize the role hybrid work can play in attracting and retaining top talent. Being thoughtful and explicit about hybrid work norms can help. Your people analytics data and collaborative analytics can give you a great starting point to begin conversations around establishing hybrid work norms.

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