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How To Design a Collaborative and Effective Hybrid Workplace

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Is the hybrid work­place the ​“new nor­mal”? If so, how can com­pa­nies design a col­lab­o­ra­tive and effec­tive hybrid work­place despite its inher­ent challenges?

There’s no escap­ing the truth: The world’s work­force has changed. COVID-19 upend­ed the sta­tus quo and hurled com­pa­nies for­ward into a world of remote work­ing and dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion. Now, com­pa­nies are ask­ing them­selves how to forge the best path forward.

After work­ing from home dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, 70% of employ­ees want remote work options and flex­i­bil­i­ty to con­tin­ue. Addi­tion­al­ly, 1 in 3 employ­ees says they’ll leave their jobs if the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work from home doesn’t continue.

Employ­ee desires paired with promis­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty stats have prompt­ed some busi­ness­es to stay remote. How­ev­er, many com­pa­nies are opt­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent: a hybrid work­place model.

Solving the Hybrid Workplace Conundrum

A hybrid mod­el allows a com­pa­ny to have both in-per­son and remote employ­ees to fit the desires of the employ­ees and the needs of the com­pa­ny. At face val­ue, it seems like the per­fect solu­tion. How­ev­er, the hybrid work­place isn’t with­out its challenges.

Hav­ing team mem­bers in sep­a­rate loca­tions can make col­lab­o­ra­tion stilt­ed. It can leave employ­ees feel­ing left out and lead to unin­tend­ed con­se­quences, like unequal treat­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tion gaps, asyn­chro­nous work­flows and more.

How­ev­er, with the right fore­thought, it’s absolute­ly pos­si­ble to cre­ate an effec­tive hybrid work­place mod­el that works for everyone.

7 Methods for Designing a Collaborative and Effective Hybrid Model

1. Focus on Creating an Equitable Environment

Fair­ness is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of a hybrid work­place. Fair­ness and equal­i­ty aren’t usu­al­ly the first things that come to mind when think­ing about hybrid work­places, but it’s one of the most sub­stan­tial hurdles.

Com­pa­nies have to focus on cre­at­ing equi­table options for col­lab­o­ra­tion and communication.

For instance, con­sid­er a meet­ing with a hybrid team, where the in-per­son peo­ple are togeth­er in a room and the vir­tu­al team mem­bers join via Zoom.

In this sce­nario, the in-per­son employ­ees would have a much eas­i­er time hear­ing, hav­ing their voice heard and con­tribut­ing. In con­trast, a remote work­er join­ing via Zoom might strug­gle with con­nec­tion issues or not being heard over the in-per­son chatter.

Orga­ni­za­tions can over­come this par­tic­u­lar gap by hav­ing the in-per­son team do meet­ings via Zoom like the vir­tu­al team. How­ev­er, equi­tabil­i­ty isn’t just about fair meet­ings. It extends to work­spaces, equip­ment and more.

In fact, 42% of remote employ­ees don’t have ade­quate essen­tial office sup­plies, and 10% lack reli­able inter­net con­nec­tions. To thrive in a hybrid envi­ron­ment, orga­ni­za­tions must under­stand these issues and find ways to ensure that all of their employ­ees have the sup­plies and solu­tions they need to succeed.

2. Adopt a Digital-First Mindset

Along the same lines, there must be inten­tion­al­i­ty behind how com­pa­nies build every­one into the work­ing expe­ri­ence. Com­pa­nies shouldn’t look at their team as two sep­a­rate groups of peo­ple and treat them that way. Instead, they need to focus on ways to get every­one on the same page.

To do this, com­pa­nies should adopt a dig­i­tal-first mind­set, because not every­one can be phys­i­cal­ly in the office. Rather than focus­ing on the in-office expe­ri­ence, com­pa­nies should piv­ot to focus on cre­at­ing a dig­i­tal com­pa­ny. The loca­tion of work­ers shouldn’t dic­tate the qual­i­ty or the method of work. In many ways, it’s about mak­ing the work­ing loca­tion a null issue.

Dig­i­tal real­ly speaks to how every­one will work togeth­er, where­as ​“remote” and ​“in-office” are sim­ply deno­ta­tions of loca­tion — friv­o­lous labels in a high-func­tion­ing, dig­i­tal-first hybrid workplace.

3. Lean on IT and Available Tech Resources

When the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic hit, every­one had to adjust quick­ly. Busi­ness­es cre­at­ed solu­tions togeth­er to make do. How­ev­er, in a dig­i­tal-first, hybrid envi­ron­ment, good enough isn’t enough. Employ­ees are drown­ing in con­vo­lut­ed and inef­fec­tu­al technologies.

  • 54% of employ­ees are over­whelmed by the sheer num­ber of tech­nolo­gies they have to use.
  • In addi­tion, 61% of employ­ees sur­veyed say they aren’t sat­is­fied with their company’s tech­nolo­gies because they’re unre­li­able and buggy.
  • These aggra­va­tions have led to 55% of remote employ­ees feel­ing dis­con­nect­ed in their all-vir­tu­al environment.

The answer isn’t to run back to the office. Instead, com­pa­nies should lean on emerg­ing tech and their IT depart­ments to cre­ate a pos­i­tive and seam­less expe­ri­ence for their employ­ees. Tech­nol­o­gy is the only way to bridge the gap between dig­i­tal and in-house work­ers, but lousy tech isn’t going to work in this new environment.

Orga­ni­za­tions should lever­age their exist­ing IT depart­ments and view them more like strate­gic part­ners for nav­i­gat­ing this new dig­i­tal normal.

4. Establish Opportunities for Spontaneous Connection

In an office set­ting, it’s easy for employ­ees to inter­act with each oth­er spon­ta­neous­ly. It’s sim­ple to cre­ate space for team lunch­es and col­lab­o­ra­tion when peo­ple are face-to-face. These touch­points are often serendip­i­tous and unforced.

It’s hard­er to do online, espe­cial­ly since remote work­ing tends to lead to more asyn­chro­nous work­flows. How­ev­er, in the dig­i­tal world, most com­mu­ni­ca­tion is very inten­tion­al and planned.

As a result, it takes a thought­ful approach to estab­lish the same sort of oppor­tu­ni­ty for spon­ta­neous con­nec­tion in a hybrid or com­plete­ly remote sce­nario. Com­pa­nies should con­sid­er solu­tions like con­sis­tent mes­sag­ing on a Slack chan­nel, or Side­kick, which allows a con­tin­u­al video stream with employ­ees where they can engage when they want or turn off the sound and dis­en­gage when they need to.

5. Rethink the Physical Office Design

66% of busi­ness­es are con­sid­er­ing ren­o­vat­ing their phys­i­cal work­space to bet­ter accom­mo­date hybrid work environments.

For many, it’s about redesign­ing phys­i­cal work­spaces to be col­lab­o­ra­tive. Rather than sep­a­rate cubi­cles and iso­lat­ed offices, the mod­ern work­space is an open con­cept that is built for mean­ing­ful inter­ac­tions. There are gen­er­al­ly qui­et spaces for solo work, but the pri­ma­ry goal is collaboration.

Oth­ers are con­sid­er­ing office hotel­ing, which gets rid of per­ma­nent seat­ing and allows employ­ees to reserve con­fer­ence rooms and work­spaces when they need them. This con­cept works well for hybrid mod­els because it will enable dig­i­tal team mem­bers to par­tic­i­pate when they want. It’s like say­ing, ​“You don’t have to be phys­i­cal­ly here, but you’re still a part of the team, so come in when you’d like to come in.”

6. Prioritize Employee Experience Above All Else

There aren’t any sol­id rules to run­ning a suc­cess­ful hybrid work­place. This is vir­tu­al­ly unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry for most com­pa­nies, espe­cial­ly in West­ern coun­tries. As a result, most orga­ni­za­tions will need to be flex­i­ble, adapt­able and will­ing to work through the inex­orable grow­ing pains.

How­ev­er, the best thing any orga­ni­za­tion con­sid­er­ing a hybrid work­place mod­el can do is to pri­or­i­tize their employ­ees’ expe­ri­ence and hap­pi­ness. Whether the employ­ees are in-per­son or vir­tu­al, com­pa­nies should put their peo­ples’ well-being and engage­ment at the forefront.

Employ­ee sur­veys, con­tin­u­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­paren­cy are crit­i­cal com­po­nents to nav­i­gat­ing the tran­si­tion to a hybrid work­place. Com­pa­nies need to be sure to think about their employ­ees with every deci­sion and each new piece of tech.

If com­pa­nies con­sid­er how the envi­ron­ment and inher­ent dis­par­i­ties can impact their team and work to fill in those gaps, they’ll be set up for long-term suc­cess and hap­py employees.

7. Offer Customized Lifestyle Benefits to Meet the Diverse Needs

In a hybrid work­place, employ­ees will often face dif­fer­ent chal­lenges and needs. For exam­ple, a remote employ­ee might need child­care to keep pace with the in-house team. In com­par­i­son, an in-per­son employ­ee might need trans­porta­tion to make it to the office.

The more diverse a team is, the more diverse their needs. To ensure all employ­ees have their needs met, com­pa­nies have to con­sid­er robust and diverse ben­e­fits solu­tions. One size can­not fit all. The need for diverse ben­e­fits is evi­dent in every work­ing envi­ron­ment, but it can become mag­ni­fied in a hybrid workplace.

A solu­tion like Fringe’s cus­tomiz­able lifestyle ben­e­fits plat­form is an excel­lent way for dynam­ic com­pa­nies to accom­mo­date the diverse needs of hybrid teams. With over 100 dif­fer­ent ben­e­fits to choose from, employ­ees can choose the ben­e­fits that fit their unique needs.

It’s a ter­rif­ic way to make sure all employ­ees feel appre­ci­at­ed, no mat­ter where they’re working.

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