The Secret To Successfully Managing A Hybrid/Remote Workforce
By Patty Crabtree
Let’s look back on some recent history. In August of 2021, 4.3 million workers quit their jobs because they were looking for something better or they did not want to return to working back in the office again. The media dubbed it The Great Resignation and the trend has continued.
Why the exodus? Because the remote work environment created by the pandemic is a double-edged sword: employers can recruit employees from far, and your employees can seek or be lured away by employers who offer greater flexibility.
The Conference Board released the results of its 2022 survey of CEOs called “Reset and Reimagine: Surviving and Thriving in a Uniquely Challenging Business Environment.” The report contains interesting perspectives about what CEOs think are important business challenges. Topping the list were inflation, Covid-19 disruptions and attracting and retaining top talent in this new hybrid/remote workforce.
Let’s go farther back in time to those disruptive days of March 2020 when the pandemic pushed the work world into a new era. Some companies successfully transformed into a remote work environment almost overnight. But others reasoned this was just going to be a few weeks so they would wait and see. Then it became a few months. Soon reality set in and almost every business had to create a hybrid work environment that embraced remote workers.
Now for many, a remote workforce has become a way of life. There is no going back. Soon we’re going to have three years of this journey in our rear-view mirror. What are the lessons to be learned? Those who are embracing this change will be ahead of the game. But those who are fighting it are going to see challenges with retaining employees and recruiting the best staff for their team.
The Secret Is Manage By Outcome, Not Hours
Before the pandemic, more and more companies were already starting to develop remote work environments and were empowering certain employees to work from home on a regular basis. They saw the benefits and increased performance. Then the pandemic pushed us into fully embracing this flexibility out of a need versus a want. This also moved us into a new understanding of how to create a high-performance work force.
Managing for high performance is hard regardless of thw work location. There is an old business joke about a man who asked a CEO, “How many people work at your company?”
“About half,” replies the CEO.
The humor illustrated how much unproductive time employees typically spend in an office. The management challenge is to maximize productivity for the hours the employees work. Or is it?
Here is the real question: do you measure hours versus outcomes? If you define the outcomes for a position, do you care, aside from labor laws, when they work and how they work? Granted there are some positions that may not have this level of flexibility, but many jobs do. As long as they’re getting the outcomes accomplished in a timely basis, an employer has the opportunity to leverage the higher productivity a hybrid work force can deliver.
During the pandemic, the work environment evolved and employees experienced the opportunity of a better balance based on more flexibility. The challenge now is to embrace this remote work revolution that had been gaining speed well before the pandemic and was accelerated by the work-from-home mandates.
Naturally, many employers want their employees back in the office. These employers miss the good old days of easier access and camaraderie.
But do you really want to fight progress? One reason so many companies are embracing the hybrid revolution is the advantages of attracting the best talent. There are no longer geographic restrictions on where you can draw the best talent to join your team.
Not Every Company Was This Fortunate
At the end of 2019, one mortgage company decided to eliminate its home office and go 100% virtual. The company already had some remote staff, but it developed a game plan to close down the office to get everybody working from home. The company came up with the systems, purchased the necessary, and created a plan to ensure its culture stayed strong. Events like five-minute mid-morning group stretch breaks leading the team through some simple exercises to keep the body moving. Virtual meetings would start with a quick round robin of how everyone’s week was going before they would jump into the business part of the agenda. The company was creative and did multiple team building exercises like virtual scavenger hunts and escape rooms.
Did it pay off? When the world went into lockdown, its business thrived. By being ahead of the curve, the company was able to outperform its competition. Were they just lucky? As the famous scientist Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
The Great Opportunity
Managing a hybrid or fully remote workforce takes a different focus. I use the word intentional when describing this management style. A more intentional focus on the nuances of a diverse work environment is critical to continue a healthy, successful workforce. Over time, this intentional focus will become second nature but in the beginning it is an intentional effort.
Wise employers are not hanging on to the comfort zone of the old structure they had pre-pandemic. The path of wisdom is to choose a structure that will stay ahead of the curve.
Were employees really producing to the level they could, or are they producing better in a remote environment away from the distractions of an office? Many studies indicate remote workers actually have a greater productivity than those in the office. There’s less water cooler talk, less hanging out in the hallways, and more focus on getting the work done and moving on to the next action item.
Many companies have successful track records with remote work. When a company I worked with created a remote work environment back in 2006, we achieved more and more productivity from our remote staff. From reduced distractions to better systems, staff performed higher each year and were happier and more engaged. A win-win for everyone.
Commuting to and from work can be a huge productivity drain and a distraction to one’s day. Think about the staff who were walking into the office frustrated, unwinding with a cup of coffee and venting about the person who cut them off or volume of the day’s traffic. Instead of the driving hassles, remote staff can take a short walk from the kitchen to the home office. They can feel more energized at the start of the day, have a better focus and achieve more success. They also experience a better life-work balance which brings more engagement.
Developing strong systems not only helps monitor productivity but also communicates expectations to staff. Workflow tracking systems ensure that effective assignments are happening and timelines are being met. People know exactly what’s expected of them, and your leaders are able to monitor employee progress helping it along the way.
Higher productivity leads to greater client satisfaction and profitability.
Productivity Tips From Harvard Business Review
Rebecca Knight, writing in the Harvard Business Review on “How to Manage a Hybrid Team,” offered these (excerpted) tips:
Offer support. Your primary role as a manager is to support your employees, including the hybrid/remote one. And do they ever need it. You may have done a lot of this when the pandemic first started but continue to check in, as circumstances have likely changed.
Create and set expectations. Talk with your hybrid/remote team about creating new practices and protocols. Come to an agreement on norms for communicating.
Prioritize with flexibility in mind. The only certainty is that the future is unpredictable. The best way to prepare is to set clear priorities so that everyone on your team knows what’s most important. Consider holding a regular huddle, where you prioritize the most important work that needs to get done that week.
Emphasize inclusion. Building a fair and equitable workplace is more complicated when you’re running a hybrid team. There’s a proximity bias that leads to the incorrect assumption that the people in the office are more productive than those who are not.
Strive for equity. Another risk in a hybrid environment is that it will exacerbate your biases about particular employees, good and bad.
Watch for signs of burnout. Pay close attention to your team members’ stress levels. Many people are stressed, irritable, and exhausted and that can be a sign of burnout.
Make it fun. It’s also worth thinking about “how to bring some playfulness into the workday.” Many of us miss the laughter and levity from our pre-pandemic lives.
Take heart. Don’t expect any of this hybrid/remote managing to be easy. There will be bumps along the way. Be humble. And be patient.
Other Tools Are Key
Have you also built recognition into your systems so that it’s visible? Empower people to share their successes with others through their day-to-day interactions without an extra effort. It’s there in front of you displayed in the system. Who is leading the charge? Just check the system. It is a great motivator to keep things on track or even ahead of schedule along with celebrating success.
Team building is critical in any type of work environment, and that is especially true with a distributed workforce. So, how do you encourage connection among your groups? One option is to consider is to have an element of team building built into your team meeting agendas. Set aside a few minutes in the beginning to have everybody share what’s going on or their successes for the week, or even something personal such as what is their favorite vacation spot, or what dish do they like to bring to a potluck? Get creative with the team building questions.
Now Is The Time To Hire Differently
There are some other important questions to consider.
Have you included a work-style assessment as part of your hiring process? Do you have a tool to help you understand how someone fits in with the team? Do you have a library of interview questions designed to help understand how somebody will thrive in your hybrid work environment?
Once you find that right candidate, does your onboarding process facilitate connection along with specific job training for a new hire? Are there team building events included in your onboarding process? Have you formalized the onboarding into a schedule of events, meetings, and trainings that guides that new employee through the process and ensures communicates the company’s culture and values along with making those connections that are so critical across the organization?
Here is the bottom line: Developing a successful and lasting remote/hybrid workforce takes some effort. From enhancing your culture to implementing better systems, this intentional focus will bring positive results and keep you as an employer of choice.
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Patty Crabtree is a Senior Consultant at Lighthouse Consulting Services with 25 years of operations and finance leadership experience. Her phone number is 310-453-6556, ext. 410 and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style & personality assessments for new hires & staff development. LCS can test in 19 different languages, provide domestic and international interpersonal coaching and offer a variety of workshops – team building, interpersonal communication, stress & time management, sales & customer service training and negotiation skills as well as our full-service Business Consulting Division. To order the books, “Cracking the Personality Code”, “Cracking the Business Code” and “Cracking the High-Performance Team Code”, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.
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