Managing the hybrid workforce

(Second of two parts)

A look into worker sentiment points to a general preference for an arrangement that involves flexibility in when and where employees perform their duties.

For one, the recent EY Future Consumer Index shows employees “losing interest in pre-pandemic work patterns,” a finding that reinforces those made in the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey that showed the majority of surveyed employees in Southeast Asia preferred not to return to pre-COVID ways of working.

In the first part of this article, we looked at the rise of the hybrid workforce and tackled the challenges in managing the workplace. Now we will look at the challenges of keeping employee well-being at the forefront in the hybrid work environment.

Two years of remote work have given employees more choice over how they spend their time and how to be productive outside of the office. It has given them a better appreciation of how important the quality of their time is in comparison to how much they earn. They have found renewed enthusiasm for staying in and buying experiences rather than new material goods.

It’s a cultural shift that can have profound implications for corporate leaders. One area that will demand greater attention is managing the workforce and the company culture as organizations institutionalize hybrid work strategies. We look at a few key items critical to success in embracing the flexibility that most employees crave for after years of remote work.

THE RIGHT WORKFORCE STRATEGYThe level of uncertainty on how an organization’s “return-to-office” position unfolds post-pandemic can be as high as that felt in the first couple of weeks when the pandemic catapulted much of the country into lockdown in 2020. How organizations have remained productive throughout the last two years can fuel speculation among employees who favor continuing with telecommuting.

They certainly will look to the leadership team for a clear message on the workforce strategy that will be in force in our post-pandemic world. It may not suffice to simply confirm that an organization will embrace a hybrid workforce strategy. Corporate leaders will have to answer such questions as whether the organization is leaning towards a remote-first strategy or is it gravitating back to the traditional set-up with a little flexibility.

But how does the organization arrive at such a decision? Do we bring the employee along for the journey and listen to what they have to say? All this will depend on company culture. Once a strategy is chosen, the workforce approach can be documented properly so that the entire organization is prepared to support this decision.

Communicating this to the entire organization can help various teams decide on how they can best support and enforce the strategy. Will a playbook be necessary to manage the change over the next six to 12 months?

A clear workforce strategy and a communication plan can work favorably for employees. It tells them what the company wants and gives teams the chance to contribute to achieving goals with the end-view of maintaining the hybrid workplace.

SETTING MILESTONESThe last thing corporate leaders would want to be in is a situation that requires closer monitoring of employee activity. Will putting in place measures that allow management to do real-time tracking of employee activity run counter to the workforce strategy? Workers may look at closer monitoring as a sign of a lack of trust, and this may eventually adversely affect company culture and employee engagement and retention.

To choose a hybrid team as a workforce strategy moving forward may be taken to mean as accepting that productivity has not been compromised over the past two years, when the pandemic forced us into remote work. This is the message that workers will read from a workforce decision to go hybrid. It can reinforce their own argument that it is possible to keep productivity up even in the confines of their homes or other alternative work sites.

It pays to set milestones on productivity to help teams work in unison to continue to deserve the flexibility that they desire from hybrid work arrangements. Clear milestones make it easier for teams to figure out on their own how to achieve team goals even as they remain in the comfort of their homes for most of the work week.

It is advisable though for teams to have a set day of the week when they are compelled to be in the office for various reasons. It can create what many have referred to as moments of spontaneous exchange of ideas that lead to innovation, heightened productivity, or better ways of doing things in the organization. It can also provide an “anchor” for your people to feel connected to the organization and to each other. This is especially meaningful to possible new hires who were onboarded during the pandemic and who may not have yet had in-person interactions with other team members.

PROMOTING INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIPChoosing which set of workers can be allowed to work from home and who remains on-site may not be as simple as identifying who faces clients and who works at a plant. Hybrid work models can be vulnerable to instances of resentment when disgruntled staff can feel left out of the perceived benefits of remote work, or conversely, remote employees may feel that those physically present in the office are more “favored” by the managers. It’s friction that, if left unresolved, may eventually create trouble within and among teams and stand in the way of productivity. However, building a company culture that fosters inclusion and a sense of belonging will help prevent this from happening.

With a remote workforce, an inclusive workplace culture becomes all the more important in keeping employees engaged. It all begins with a sense of belonging that can translate to employee satisfaction with work and productivity. In the traditional work arrangements, it is easier to cultivate that much-needed sense of community among team members. Remote work, however, can hinder interaction that is a building block to building belonging.

Leadership can play a vital role in this department to ensure that employee welfare programs adapt to these realities. The hybrid workplace also presents an opportunity to revisit programs on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), as this can contribute to successful recruitment and employee retention.

There can be many more challenges to learn along the way as most organizations take this route. Leaders’ responses can vary from one organization to another, but what matters is keeping morale and productivity high. In designing remote and hybrid work strategies, it is best for leaders to place employee well-being at the forefront and optimize available resources to support employees.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Czarina R. Miranda is the People Advisory Services Leader of SGV & Co.

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