Employers: Hybrid Work is Not The Problem — Your Guidelines Are. Here's Why and How to Fix Them. If you don't have clear, transparent and well-understood hybrid work guidelines, you're shooting yourself in the foot and harming retention and recruitment.
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As companies continue to navigate the new normal of remote and hybrid work, it's crucial that they establish clear expectations and guidelines for their employees. And unlike Disney and Twitter, it's very important that they don't change their minds randomly when the leadership changes.
However, a recent survey conducted by Mercer found that only a third of organizations have formal rules in place for managing flexible work. Mercer assessed 749 organizations and found that 48% rely on informal and ambiguous guidelines to manage flexible work, 17% are completely hands-off, and only 34% rely on clear and transparent formal rules. This lack of clear communication and expectations can have a serious impact on both retention and recruitment efforts.
And how effectively do companies communicate about the policies they do have? Fishbowl recently conducted a survey, with about 7,300 professionals surveyed about how well they understand their company's plan for hybrid work. 50.8% did understand their company's hybrid work guidelines, but 49.2% did not. Not a good outcome.
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I talk with 5-10 leaders every week on how to create effective hybrid work guidelines. As a highly experienced expert in this field, I can tell you most of them don't have clear guidelines for their employees. Yet when I ask them about their top concern, most say it's hiring and retaining talented staff.
Such anecdotes align with a recent study by Vistage, which revealed that a majority of small and medium-sized business leaders are planning to expand their workforce, with only a small percentage considering downsizing. This marks a change from the trend of large companies facing layoffs, as SME CEOs are hesitant to let go of recently-hired employees, according to Vistage Chief Research Officer Joe Galvin. The survey also highlighted that hiring difficulties are a major concern for these businesses, as they impede their ability to function at optimal capacity. 61% of CEOs surveyed cited hiring challenges as a major concern.
So that's CEOs — what about the true experts: HR leaders — what do they believe about hiring and retention as it relates to hybrid work? Well, you won't be surprised that 95% of HR leaders say that hybrid work offers an effective recruitment tool, according to IWG's HR Leaders & Hybrid Working Report. 60% also say hybrid work boosts retention, and 80% agree that it helps increase employee satisfaction.
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Hybrid work guidelines: failures and successes
Well, having poor guidelines and expectations unsurprisingly harms worker engagement, which undermines retention. Consider some examples of what happens in companies with whose leaders I talked to recently.
In a mid-size IT services company, employees were given the freedom to work from home but with little guidance on how to manage their time or communicate with their colleagues. This led to confusion and resentment among team members, with some feeling overworked and others feeling underutilized. Ultimately, this lack of structure led to high turnover rates and difficulties in attracting top talent.
Similarly, a large financial services company struggled with a lack of clear guidelines for remote work. Without proper expectations for communication and collaboration, team members found it difficult to stay on the same page and meet deadlines. This led to a decline in productivity and morale, causing top performers to seek employment opportunities elsewhere.
Moreover, such guidelines are critically important for retention. Consider one of my clients who let me speak about them, the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute. As a result of a consulting engagement, I helped them develop a robust set of hybrid work guidelines, which they put on their website in the "Join Us" section. Their HR director found it helpful for recruiting talented staff to the institute — and given the demanding market for data scientists, they definitely benefited from having a leg up.
What should hybrid work guidelines cover?
These examples illustrate the importance of having formal, written hybrid work guidelines in place. These guidelines should outline expectations for coming to the office, for communication, collaboration and work hours, as well as provide a clear framework for how to handle issues that may arise.
Effective communication is a key element of hybrid work guidelines. When employees are working remotely, it can be difficult to get a sense of what everyone is working on and how their contributions are impacting the team. Clear communication guidelines, such as regular check-ins and virtual team meetings, can help ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Effective collaboration is another important aspect of hybrid work guidelines. Collaboration tools like video conferencing and project management software can help facilitate collaboration, but employees need to be trained on how to use them effectively. Additionally, guidelines should establish expectations for how and when team members should be available to work together.
Finally, effective hybrid work guidelines must consider work hours and time management. Without a clear framework, employees may feel pressure to work longer hours or to be available at all times. This can lead to burnout and resentment, and can negatively impact both productivity and employee satisfaction.
In addition to the negative impact on retention and recruitment, a lack of clear hybrid work guidelines can also lead to other problems for companies. For example, without clear guidelines for data security and privacy, remote workers may inadvertently expose sensitive company information to cyber threats. This can result in costly data breaches and loss of business.
Another challenge that companies may face without clear hybrid work guidelines is managing employee engagement. When employees are working remotely, it can be difficult to keep them connected to the company's mission and goals. Hybrid work guidelines should include strategies for fostering employee engagement, such as virtual team-building activities and regular communication from leadership.
It's also important to note that hybrid work guidelines should be flexible and adaptable. As the world continues to change and evolve, so too should the way companies approach hybrid work. Guidelines should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect the latest best practices and changing employee needs.
One way to ensure that hybrid work guidelines are effective is to involve employees in the process of creating them. This can help ensure that guidelines are tailored to the specific needs of the organization and that employees are more likely to buy into them. Additionally, it's important to provide employees with the necessary training and resources to be successful in a hybrid work environment. This can include things like virtual communication and collaboration tools, as well as training on time management and data security.
Cognitive biases can also play a role in how companies approach hybrid work guidelines. For example, the sunk cost fallacy can cause leaders to cling to traditional office culture, even when it is no longer effective. The availability heuristic can also lead companies to overestimate the benefits of working in an office and underestimate the benefits of remote work. By being aware of these cognitive biases, leaders can make more informed decisions about how to manage hybrid work.
Related: How Has Remote Work Impacted Our Relationships With Other Employees? The Findings of This Study Will Surprise You.
It's clear that hybrid work guidelines are essential for effective communication, collaboration and time management. A lack of clear expectations and guidelines can lead to confusion, resentment, and high turnover rates. It can also undermine effective recruitment efforts. By establishing formal, written guidelines - as did the Information Sciences Institute - companies can ensure that their employees have the support and structure they need to be successful in a hybrid work environment. As a leader, it's important to recognize the importance of hybrid work guidelines and to take steps to establish them within your organization.