My colleague and fellow consultant Andrea Bachinski recently introduced a new TC blog series, Solution Area FAQs. In this series we’re responding to the most commonly asked questions we receive from clients around the work our Solution Areas undertake. Andrea covered our Culture Solution; today, I’ll answer questions around workplace – specifically the common questions we receive from leaders and employees re-entering the physical workplace while adapting to a new hybrid work environment.
With that, here are a few of the most-asked workplace questions, along with TC’s input about how others are addressing these dynamic workplace challenges.
What is a Hybrid Work Environment?
A hybrid work environment is a nebulous term – it means different things to different employees, leaders, and organizations. Generally, it describes a work environment where employees split their time between working remotely and from the physical office.
For some employers, a hybrid work environment designates that team members work remotely on set days and in the physical office space on others. For other organizations, employees have the freedom to choose when to work remotely and when to spend in the physical office. However, the general idea is that individuals whose jobs allow for remote work now have increased flexibility. Approximately half of the U.S. full-time workforce — 60 million workers — report that their current job can be done remotely working from home, at least part of the time. (Gallup)
According to a recent Gallup Poll, as of February 2022, “most remote-capable employees continue to work from home at least part of the time, with the mix nearly even split — 42% have a hybrid schedule, and 39% work entirely from home.”
As such, many organizations and employees that have the ability to work in a hybrid environment are realizing they can be as productive at home as they are at the office. However, they’re also discovering a hybrid work environment directly impacts culture, business processes, and how people fulfill the organization’s mission. It may sound straightforward, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how you make hybrid work for your organization.
In working with our clients, we’ve found that for service organizations and most of the federal government, there’s little true need to be on-site from a productivity standpoint. However, that doesn’t mean time on-site isn’t important when it comes to teamwork, collaboration, knowledge sharing, networking, getting to know one another, and sustaining and maintaining a desired culture. It’s up to leadership to evaluate an organization’s culture and business needs and make the determination of what will work best for both its people and mission.
How Are Organizations Establishing a Hybrid Work Environment?
We get asked this question quite a bit, along with these follow up questions:
- “What are other organizations doing about hybrid work?”
- “What are they doing about their physical office?”
- “What are they requiring in terms of in-office hours, days of the week, etc.?”
Generally, we find that leaders are curious to learn how similar organizations are operating in this new remote-capable work environment. Additionally, some leaders are looking outside of their realm – especially the federal government. For example, a leader may look at an organization like Google and say, “Well, this is what they do. Why can’t we do that?” In Google’s case, “that” is offering employees a fully remote work option and an amenity-heavy, innovative physical office. While imitation is the highest form of flattery, mirroring another organization’s hybrid work environment can make re-entry or your organization’s new hybrid workplace policy sticky as every organization and its employees have different needs.
At The Clearing, we help leaders understand and plan what will work bespoke for them by using the best practices we’ve acquired working across industries – specifically a set of re-entry questions for leaders to consider when developing their plan. It provides that window into what others are doing while also helping draw lines in the sand around needs for physical workspace, for people to be onsite, etc.
Additionally, our workplace team pulled together tips around four critical areas leaders must examine when it comes to inclusivity in the hybrid workplace to ensure their people feel safe, supported, and empowered to thrive.
How Do I Create Opportunities for People to Come Together?
We recognize as an organization, and from our clients, that it remains critical for people to have human connection. Whether it’s for getting to know the organization and the mission a little bit deeper, informal on-the-job training, or simply imbuing a sense of the culture, some facets of the workplace work better in person. However, a lot of people have found joy and productivity or other tertiary benefits that make working outside of the office very attractive. To encourage people to return to the office, it’s important to consider programming. What are you offering that makes people want to come to the office?
When a leader draws that line in the sand and states that employees must be in the office two days a week or everyone must be in on Wednesdays it feels more like a mandate and less a useful opportunity. Negative elements of being in the office may surface. For example, comments may be:
- “Oh, everybody’s going to be there. It’s going to be harder to get my work done.”
- “I have a full day of meetings and there are not enough meeting rooms.”
- “I’m going to be late to pick my kids up from school if I can’t leave on time.”
We’ve found organizations achieve success when coming into the office isn’t framed solely about the work, but instead treated as a destination. Essentially, flipping the script so it’s not why I have to come into the office but why I want to come into the office. Here are a few examples:
- In a hybrid environment, make the office the destination for work supplies. It becomes an organic way to get team members used to coming in person.
- Use the office as the jumping-off point for team events (e.g., we’re going to meet at the office for our team meeting and then go to lunch).
- Provide snacks, lunch, or other perks on the days you want people to come in person.
- Use an employee communication channel (such as Slack) to allow people to communicate more easily when they’ll be in person so that others who may need to meet with them can choose the same day.
Leveraging the approaches above may help mitigate the risk that people will not return to the office, find the office sparsely populated, and determine future trips aren’t worth it. To make a hybrid workplace work for you, invite your teams to think creatively about incentives not only to get people back into your physical space but also to preserve the culture you worked so hard to build.
Finally, creating these opportunities for people to gather in person allows you to evaluate how people are using the office in a hybrid environment. This will help you make decisions around what to do with the office space based on real team members’ needs and desires.
How Might I Measure Success for my Current Workplace?
Many of our clients ask us how to measure success. Whether going through a renovation, move, or shift into a hybrid work environment, it requires time and money to successfully transform a workplace. As we work with leaders to develop plans for transformation, we build in success measures to help guide the process and shape the end result.
When considering success measures, we think about how we want the people impacted to feel post-transformation and how the transformation has measurably improved the organization’s bottom line and productivity. To do this, we look at two elements: intangible and tangible factors.
On the intangible side we look to answer questions like:
- Do people feel like this transformation was positive?
- Do employees feel like their job takes less effort because they went through this transformation?
- Has the transformation made team members’ jobs more enjoyable?
On the tangible side, it’s about the return on investment. As an example, consider a move to a hybrid environment and a reduction in physical space.
- What was being paid for the old space? How much are you saving in the new, smaller space?
- How was the old space or work environment hindering productivity? How much more productive is the workforce in the post-transformation space or environment?
- Is your workforce saving money because they’re not coming in every day?
- What other benefits or compensation has been reduced with fewer employees in the office every day?
People are typically the number one investment in an organization. We work with organizations to consider the value of the investment over the lifetime of the space. Even if the workplace transformation cost is high, when evaluated as a percentage over the life of the lease or building, it is minuscule compared to the amount of time, money, and resources spent on people. Providing your number one investment with a work environment (virtual or in-person) that supports them will help them feel taken care of, more fulfilled, and more productive in their work – enhancing your ROI.
If you have more questions about Workplace or navigating a post-pandemic shift, I’d love to chat. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, keep an eye out for FAQ posts from The Clearing’s experts in Strategy, Leadership, Culture, and Customer Experience.