Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
When the pandemic began and forced businesses to go remote, the question on everyone’s mind was: “When will we go back to normal?” Now, two years later, there is no concept of normal. It’s time for us to embrace this change and start focusing on what comes next.
Hybrid models are now shaping the next era of work, but no one knows what that will look like. We are still exploring these uncharted waters. We were thrown into the remote sea and had no choice but to stay afloat. Now, as we settle into the hybrid model, we can take our time and do it right.
People want to believe there is one solution to the hybrid situation, but, in reality, it’s a continuum. The next phase of hybrid work comes through figuring out what works today, what works tomorrow and what works next as we identify the strengths and weaknesses of each aspect. If employers hope to retain employees and continue to thrive, they need to put this time and energy into developing a good hybrid model. The hybrid model is not going anywhere.
Hybrid models require consistent communication
As hybrid work becomes the default “best practice” for the next stage of business, leaders need to accept this shift and start creating unique approaches to manage it, such as continuous investment in work communication. One of the biggest challenges without an office is keeping people within a company connected.
Active channels of communication help teams identify problems sooner, build trust, drive collaboration, promote bonding and keep people engaged. This results in more productive, innovative and satisfied employees. Don’t just communicate, hyper communicate. Leverage emerging tools to stay on the cutting edge of digital workplace communication. We went above and beyond to communicate when the world went fully remote and now the hybrid model requires that same enthusiasm and investment.
Leaders should also look to establish cadence, the rhythm by which people can expect to work. When employees have specific times and places to voice concerns, identify challenges and work out solutions, they feel more confident working independently. Before we started work-from-home, my company used to dedicate a half-hour to holding what we call “snapshot meetings” once a month or as needed. Now, we do them every week, on the same day, at the same time.
Cadence is important in a hybrid model, so establish it with scheduled group meetings as well as with one-on-ones so each employee has an opportunity to speak privately with company leadership. Each company has its own rhythm, which means each company will need to establish its own cadence. Companies need a strong means of communication to make that happen.
Hybrid models require flexibility
Every employee works from home differently because they each have different needs. This means no one solution will make hybrid models work long-term. Setting company expectations can lay a foundational understanding of where leaders expect their employees to be and when. Remember, flexibility is key. Understand the difference between policies and practices.
Policies typically come with legal ramifications that hold employees accountable if they fail to follow them. Leaders can hide behind their policies, saying “there’s nothing I can do” when an employee needs some flexibility, but a handbook of strict company policies makes less sense in a hybrid environment.
To accommodate the diversity of each hybrid worker’s needs, leaders should carefully consider what should be policy and what is better suited as a practice. A zero-tolerance harassment policy is appropriate for any company model, but for hybrids, a rule requiring a set email response time may be better as a recommended practice, not a policy.
Life comes up unexpectedly, and an employee might need to leave during work hours for an emergency. Multiply that by several workers possibly in different time zones and with different ways of managing life, and it makes no sense to hold them legally accountable for failing to follow a rigid policy. Practice, rather than policy, creates a mechanism of expectations without imposing heavy penalties for flexibility.
In the face of resignation, focus on your employees
With the Great Resignation still nipping at our heels and millions of employees quitting each month, leaders need to prioritize creating hybrid models that work effectively for their company and its employees. Turnover is expensive, costing employers time, money, resources and energy to find new employees. Workers who feel undervalued in their job or limited in their growth opportunities are more likely to leave.
In contrast, clear job descriptions, open communication and flexible working hours have become standards for better retention. Leaders need to start translating solutions to worker needs into their hybrid approach if they want to attract enough workers to keep their doors open.
Initiating discussions with employees that show symptoms of withdrawal, absenteeism, low participation or apathy will demonstrate concern and will reveal the root of problems that cause employees to leave. A lack of engagement means a lack of productivity, and a lack of productivity means the company is not making money. The hybrid world is about efficiency in the bottom line, not giving employees a feel-good luxury. To move on to what comes next, leaders need to put in a constant effort for their employees.
Employees’ needs are changing, and most are not afraid to quit a job that fails to meet them. As long as everyone stays productive and the business is growing, listen to what they need and take steps to accommodate them. I was among the many leaders who felt uncomfortable with working from anywhere until I experienced it for myself. Now, I see the possibilities and understand the importance of a hybrid work environment. Leaders must stay flexible, take feedback and make adjustments to create the hybrid version that works best for them.