In this segment of “Office Optional with Larry English,” Larry discusses the importance of good ergonomic environments for your remote work employees.
After getting a taste for the flexibility offered by remote work, 73 percent of employees don’t want to go back to full-time office life, says the 2021 Microsoft Work Trend Index.
Companies can’t afford to sit on the sidelines any longer: They must figure out how to offer remote work, whether that means full-time work from home or a hybrid model incorporating some time on site. Otherwise, they risk losing top talent, as Microsoft found that more than 40 percent of the workforce is considering making a job switch this year – double from previous year’s data.
Yet going hybrid by default is a recipe for dysfunction and disaster. It’s not enough to announce that employees may continue working from home some of the time. My experience running a hybrid company for more than two decades has taught me that there’s a lot of strategy involved in orchestrating a well-functioning hybrid workplace with a healthy, productive and engaging culture.
Companies may have gotten by going remote without much forethought during the pandemic, but the time is now to think through everything from HR policies and technology to training leaders to effectively manage remote teams and training associates to collaborate virtually and engage fully with the organization. Start by thinking through the following questions:
What is your future of work vision?
Clarity of vision is the first step in going hybrid by design. An organization needs to define what needs to change and why, what are the top challenges and what is the reimagined vision for the hybrid workforce. This vision will align leadership and teams to a common way of operating and provide the starting point of a detailed roadmap forward.
- How will people collaborate as one team if they’re not all in the office at the same time?
- Can each job be performed on-site, remotely or a mix?
- Do employees need to live in proximity to a physical office, or can they be located anywhere?
- Will freelance or gig workers be part of the talent strategy?
- How will culture be maintained with a hybrid workforce?
- How will being a hybrid workplace help or hinder the operating model?
- How will you foster virtual leadership?
Leadership requires having an influence on people and inspiring good work. For those used to consistent face-to-face time, this can be a difficult skill to transition to the virtual world. Leading in a virtual environment requires different tactics, and training may be required.
The key is to be intentional. Ask questions about what your employees are working on, what they’re inspired by, whether they believe they have a purpose and how they’re feeling. Relationship building happens naturally in an office but takes extra effort when you’re remote. Carve out time to engage in non-work conversations with your teams and encourage employees to do the same with one another.
Although leaders may think they’ve been doing this all throughout the pandemic, research suggests they need to step it up: The latest Microsoft Work Trend Index found that leaders report stronger work relationships and better overall well-being than their employees.
What work can effectively be done remotely?
While some employee groups have little need to gather physically, others may need to get together in person regularly. To determine the right mix for each team, conduct a thorough assessment by asking the following questions:
- How critical is face-to-face interaction for the desired customer or stakeholder experience?
- Does the work itself require direct contact, or can it be accomplished virtually?
- Do team members work independently, or do they need frequent collaboration?
- Does the team require a high level of management oversight and guidance?
- Does the team have access to the technology they need to do their jobs virtually?
- What are your real estate needs?
Shifting your workforce to a hybrid model will change your real estate needs. Once you determine what work can effectively be done remotely, the next step is deciding who will be working remotely and how often. What is the technology hardware and software required to support different modes of employee work? How much collaboration space? Will you provide alternate on-demand options, such as a stipend for employees to join a coworking space or to set up a home office?
In the long-term, companies will likely need to increase their “we” space and decrease their “me” space to allow for increased in-person collaboration work and decreased solitary head-down time. It’s also important that companies have an interim strategy – you don’t want workers to simply return to their old desks in the meantime.
What are your technology requirements?
In a hybrid workplace, employees need tools to do their jobs well from anywhere. Companies must invest in productivity, collaboration and core business applications that will not only enable their future of work vision but also help them overcome an office-centric culture by allowing easy digital communication and relationship-building. Employees should be trained in using the tools, too, so they can leverage the technology to collaborate effectively.
How will you enable your organization to work asynchronously?
In a hybrid model, employees won’t always be working simultaneously. To allow for asynchronous work, you must remove manual handcuffs by digitizing every process possible and making sure people can easily access the information they need when they need it. In other words, the time is now to streamline and modernize day-to-day operations.
How will you translate your culture to the virtual world?
Going hybrid means your culture no longer lives at the office. You must figure out how to live your cultural norms in virtual operations and communicate your culture at every stage of the talent lifecycle, starting with onboarding. How can your onboarding process be digitized? How will you ensure new hires feel connected to the company and its mission as well as their fellow teammates? How will you develop your leaders and employees to thrive in a virtual/hybrid way of operating?
The at-home work environment matters, too. If your remote workers are slouching on the bed or couch and staring at a small screen, they’re not going to have a great experience. Productivity and well-being will suffer. Encouraging a more comfortable, productive environment may require employee education on proper ergonomics and investment in stipends for employees to upgrade their at-home workstations.
The most successful hybrid workplaces give employees flexibility to work from anywhere, engage leaders who are capable of virtually building relationships and inspiring great work, invest in the proper business tools and digitize as many processes and procedures as possible. Above all, a great hybrid workplace offers a great culture for employees, whether they log in from home, from the office or a mix.