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Making hybrid and remote work make sense for you

Making hybrid and remote work make sense for you

Synopsis
5 Minute Read

If hybrid work is an option for your organization, there are many factors you should consider before deciding how, of if, you want to adopt it. These include your organization’s culture, your ESG commitments and priorities, your bottom line, and perhaps most importantly, the feedback of your team members.

There’s no silver bullet solution to how and where your team will work best — your hybrid work strategy must be tailored to your circumstances. But no matter what balance of remote or in-person work you land on, have a rationale for why it makes sense for your team.

If you’re an organizational leader or business owner, you know better than anyone that “we’ve always done it this way” is almost never a good reason to keep doing something. Your circumstances change all the time, and how you operate needs to adapt with them.

This principle applies to how and where your team works.

The fact that you always came into your shared workspace full time before COVID should have little or no bearing on whether you do so now, because we’re living in a completely different world.

That doesn’t mean that a full-time return to office is a bad choice for your organization; rather, it means that every decision you make about adopting remote, in-person, or hybrid work needs to be scrutinized beyond your own preferences or traditions.

There is no catch-all solution since work-from-home orders in Canada were lifted. Even among organizations in the same industry, we’re seeing immense variation in how, if at all, they leverage hybrid and remote work. If you want to keep employee engagement high and your culture intact, your only option is to is to create a workforce plan that makes sense for your unique organization and team.

The ripple effects of hybrid and remote work

As you build out your hybrid or remote work strategy, think big picture about how the physical location of your people impacts everything else.

Culture

One of the main drivers of your culture is the relationships between coworkers, i.e. how your employees choose to interact with each other.

It’s worthwhile to ask yourself to what degree those relationships have historically been based on in-person interactions (coffee, in-person meetings, team drinks after work, etc.), and how much of your culture you risk losing when your team is physically separate. Which of your team’s interactions can, and can’t, be replicated remotely? Which of your organization’s traditions will your team insist on keeping, and which could you part with?

Your hiring and onboarding practices are another important element of your culture that will change if you work remotely.

Ask yourself: what are the most important experiences you want a new hire to have right away? If they involve informal interactions with your team, learning hands-on tasks, or job shadowing, you may consider having them on-site full time for the beginning of their tenure. If it’s more important to have them do sustained independent work, experience flexibility, and absorb knowledge, you may want to accomplish that virtually and accompany it with sporadic opportunities to gather with the team in person.

ESG commitments

Full- or part-time remote work will also affect your ESG commitments. Here are some obvious examples, although they are by no means an exhaustive list:

Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (EDI) – You need to be aware of how hybrid work can, consciously or not, create a gap between your EDI commitments and your actions. Although most of the research on this topic is still in its infancy, much of the early data shows that women, racialized groups, and people with disabilities are more likely to choose, and benefit from, remote work. There are also separate studies showing in-person employees are often seen as being more productive, and that they receive promotions and raises more frequently.

If some of your workforce is at home and some in your workplace, challenge yourself to be extra aware of interpersonal dynamics and unconscious biases. 

Are you rewarding presenteeism or productivity? Are you mindful of pay equity? While the answers will depend on your circumstances, thoughtfully asking these questions is valuable in itself.

Sustainability – If your organization has made commitments to lower its environmental footprint, ask yourself how hybrid work impacts your efforts.

Hybrid work does present an opportunity for some quick wins when it comes to environmental sustainability — fewer emissions from employees commuting, fewer materials being used and thrown away in the workplace, more efficient use of space, etc. If your organization is able to use remote work some or all of the time, but chooses full-time on-site work, you may need a rationale for why it makes sense from an environmental perspective.

Once again, this is about avoiding the gap between your words and your actions; stakeholders, including your employees, will be taking notice.

Bottom line

How does hybrid work have the potential to impact your bottom line? To whatever degree you’re able, look at data on how the following have shifted since the advent of COVID:

  • Employee productivity
  • Use of physical workspace or office space
  • Client service models and preferences
  • Discretionary expenses in your organization (including events, materials, supplies, etc.)
  • Talent acquisition costs and turnover

These are some examples of areas where you can find new efficiencies, cut costs, or increase profitability, simply by adopting a work model that works better for your team and customers. If you approach it strategically, shifting to remote, on-site, or some combination of the two, could end up boosting your bottom line.

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Making your hybrid work plan the best of both worlds

Most organizational leaders and business owners would agree that, in a post-COVID world, there are advantages and disadvantages to both 100 percent remote and 100 percent on-site work.

If your plan is to land in the middle of the spectrum by going hybrid, your mandate is to combine the advantages of each, and eliminate the disadvantages, as much as possible.

Imagine a hybrid employee who visits the office two days per week, only to find that it’s mostly empty, all meetings still happen virtually, and at least one person in the office has a cough. That employee may, understandably, ask themselves what’s the point of working on-site, with the time and money spent on commuting.

To prevent this, deliberately design in-person work — however often it happens — to deliver the benefits of camaraderie and spontaneity. For example, you could:

  • Create “anchor days” where all members of a certain team are together in the office
  • Design meetings to accommodate all in-person employees into a shared space, with virtual attendees tuning in
  • Re-imagine your physical workspace, and its amenities, to be more welcoming and vibrant

These are only some ideas that can help you seize the “best of both worlds” in your hybrid work plan.

Flexibility and autonomy come first

To build a hybrid work model that fosters employee engagement rather than resentment, you need to start by getting to know your people better. Use workforce surveys and conversations to assess what they need and expect from work.

Building one strategy that fully accommodates everyone’s desires will be almost impossible, especially if you have a large team. But that shouldn’t stop you from asking them and involving them in the process.

Keep in mind that what most employees truly want is flexibility and autonomy in their work. Working from home can contribute to that, but it’s not an end in itself — flexibility and autonomy come in many forms. Even if your organization provides a product or service that can only happen in person, you can provide flexibility by offering variety in job duties, cross-training, and the opportunity for employees to focus on tasks they enjoy.

Looking inwards

Among all the conflicting data about the merits of hybrid work, there is one universal truth to be found across all organizations: each decision you make about your work model must have a rationale behind it, especially if it’s compulsory. Ask yourself which tasks must be done in person, or are better accomplished remotely, and why — and expect your employees to ask those same questions. To justify any decision about where work gets done with “we’ve always done it this way” won’t cut it.

Don’t build your hybrid work strategy on the whims of your organizational leaders, what the data says you should do, or what your competitors are doing. This is a time to look inwards, be humble, and create a customized strategy.

Contact us

To learn more, contact:

Len Nanjad, Partner
[email protected] 
587.441.5480

Mary Larson, MBA, ICD.D, Partner
[email protected] 
514.228.7905

Kevin Joy, MBA, Partner
[email protected] 
514.228.7898

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