How to Manage a Happy and Healthy Hybrid Workforce
The post-pandemic "new normal" abounds with opportunities for both employees and employers, but are you paying attention to the risks? Here are ways to make sure you are taking care of your employees at home and at the office.
As Americans start to gain hope that the Covid-19 pandemic is finally being brought under control and business begin to return to the new normal, the future of what business will look like is still largely unknown.
On one hand, many workers are confident they can work effectively remotely, with 45% of employees saying they were more productive when they worked off-site. The majority of workers (83%) also said they prefer hybrid environments that let them work remotely at least 25% of the time. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a stark warning to employers, releasing a report in which they warned the public that work-from-home models may be hazardous. Studies have found, for example, that 65% of people working remotely are putting in more hours than they had in the office, and 67% surveyed said they felt burned out.
Using hybrid setups effectively as a permanent solution to post-pandemic challenges requires everyone involved to be aware of the challenges of these environments.
Related: 3 Ways to Coach a Hybrid Workforce
Encourage discipline about self-care and free time to minimize burnout
One highlight from the WHO report was a recommendation that workers establish firm boundaries, including a way to signal their availability to others. They paired this with the recommendation to engage in regular social and physical activity. Although employees need to take personal responsibility for these boundaries and activities, as leaders we can help our employees — and by doing so, achieve higher levels of productivity that result from a workforce that is satisfied with their work-life balance.
As you encourage them to pursue hobbies and activities that afford them rest and pleasure, model by engaging in those activities yourself. Perhaps most importantly, proactively schedule one-on-one meetings. These interactions provide a platform for you to see how each individual employee is coping and keep them from feeling like they are getting lost in the shuffle. You might find that some people on your team need additional individual support from you. Even if you can't provide everything to everyone, your visibility and effort to reach out matter.
Address faultlines that emerge
As workers choose where they want to work, team members can easily drift into distance- and technology-based silos. These "faultlines" are at the heart of all of the five "C challenges" of hybrid — coordination, communication, connection, culture and creativity. In practice, they can show up as difficulty scheduling meetings, a lack of clarity on project goals, confusion about the use of systems and similar issues. The end result can be not only a decrease in productivity, but also a breakdown in the unified support of the company's values.
Fixing faultlines is not simply a matter of logistics, such as making sure you schedule meetings only on days when all workers are on site. It requires being upfront about all of the underlying beliefs around what's happening. Maybe on-site workers don't like WFH employees messaging them after hours because they value a firm clock-out, or perhaps some people don't want to brainstorm on scheduled video calls because they feel like brainstorming requires the kind of spontaneity a planned call can't offer.
Once you are familiar with the underlying concepts around a faultline, you can work with the team from the bottom up to challenge biases and find practical ways to bridge existing gaps. It's a powerful way to make sure employees understand and take ownership for the direction, vision and operation of the business.
Help employees see how they connect to the mission
Lots of people enjoy the freedom and security of a good paycheck. But when it comes right down to it, money isn't everything. Workers also want to believe that their work has a purpose larger them themselves. That what they do contributes to society. They want to believe in the mission of the company. For some, the mission is more personal: It is supporting their coworkers. Workers may leave a job if their office environments aren't supportive and don't provide them with purpose or meaning.
The numbers back up the idea that connecting people to the larger organizational mission benefits companies. One recent study indicates that people who don't feel their work impacts the company's mission are 630% more likely to leave their jobs than their colleagues who do. According to a Gallup poll, increasing worker connection to the mission by 10% creates a 4% boost in profitability, even as turnover dips by 8%.
Creating this sense of connection is part of your role as a manager, and you can do it in both small and large ways. Talking to workers one-on-one about project goals, discussing the mission in your company newsletter or letting them participate directly in the development of organizational processes all are legitimate pathways to get employees to think about how and why they fit.
Remote and hybrid work might help individuals and organizations alike through greater flexibility, reduced operational costs and productivity. But these environments have a dark side no one should ignore: They can potentially create burnout and other issues.
Amidst these contrasts, as expressed by Vera Paquete-Perdigão, director of the governance and tripartism department for the International Labou Organization, "...we have the opportunity to embed new supportive policies, practices and norms to ensure millions of teleworkers to have healthy, happy, productive and decent work."
Seize this opportunity. Be intentional, because when you deliberately listen to, create equality for and protect others, and when you show people their purpose on purpose, they won't hesitate to turn it around and help your team succeed.
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