There’s no doubt that the once futuristic hybrid work model is already here. Earlier this year, a Gartner analyst was quoted saying that about 60% of the workforce are choosing the hybrid option. Even as the world begins to open up, I suspect that we will never quite return to the way things were before this pandemic started.
During 2020, many business leaders including myself faced the challenge of moving hundred- or even thousand-person teams in one direction—rallying them to use the same digital collaboration tools and adopt the same process for working with remote, distributed teams. At Whatfix, we had the benefit of already running a global distributed workforce. However, suddenly shifting everyone to remote work and now formulating strategies to create a hybrid workforce brought about its own set of challenges and learnings. Throughout this journey, I’ve learned three do’s and don’ts that helped me guide my team, which I believe can serve as a blueprint for other business leaders as well.
Do: Work on Maintaining a Strong Team Culture
When our teams are not working face-to-face on a daily basis, it can be easy to let team culture fall by the wayside. With a hybrid work model, leaders need to instead work extra hard to keep organizational culture strong and ensure that people still feel they are part of a team. This starts with keeping communication channels open to maintain a culture of trust and demonstrate to employees that the leadership team is committed to being transparent and addressing the people’s needs during the transition to a new way of working. For example, at Whatfix we hold regular all-hands meetings to update all employees on the state of the company. We also take “pulse surveys” to solicit feedback and gauge employee sentiment.
Furthermore, it is critical to have formal programs in place that bring people together at a unified time in one space, even if that space is virtual. Having teams distributed certainly creates additional challenges and many leaders have had to get creative to brainstorm activities that work well in a remote setting. In our teams, we’ve implemented everything from games like “Scavenger Hunt” and “Brain Freeze” to internal toastmaster sessions to sessions with a mental health expert. The possibilities are endless. It’s less about what activities are held and more about creating an opportunity where people can simulate the experience of having in-person interactions.
Do: Focus on Upskilling and Help Employees Learn With Digital Tools
Upskilling employees has always been a challenge for many companies, especially more so now that we need to provide this training remotely. One way to make this easier is by gamifying employee learning. Gamification encourages people to stay engaged with their training and provides a fun way to learn. As an example, hosting a game related to their role and skills, such as trivia, not only makes it fun for them to learn new skills, but also gives them the opportunity to collaborate with their colleagues by creating a friendly, fun competition.
Another way to upskill is by utilizing digital tools to help employees learn new skills. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies were forced to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives to accommodate remote employees. Tools such as digital adoption platforms (DAPs) that provide step-by-step guidance is a great way to help people learn to use new digital tools and work more effectively and efficiently. DAPs essentially act as virtual guides or a “GPS” that gets layered on top of the core technology to ease the learning curve for employees.
Don’t: Let Work Life Bleed into Home Life
One thing that I would especially caution leaders against is ignoring the boundaries between work and home life. These lines can blur in a hybrid work setting. We need to resist the urge to message or email employees during off-hours. For example, managers may need to be extra mindful about respecting time zones and taking care not to ping colleagues in their off-hours or accommodating coworkers by scheduling meetings at more convenient times.
One thing that’s been especially well-received for us are pop-ups that we have enabled for when an employee drafts an email on a weekend or a holiday, asking them if this can wait. Small things like that can have an outsized impact on setting the culture and tone for having a people-first workplace, which is even more important in a hybrid work setting. Just because we’re no longer coming into one office space and perhaps we are working across time zones, doesn’t mean that we can suddenly ignore work-life balance and boundaries. Doing so may work for a brief time, but will end up causing significant problems in the long run.
Leading a hybrid workforce involves unprecedented challenges and is yet an incredibly exciting time. As we enter uncharted territories, I urge all top executives to lead with empathy, prioritize workplace wellness and continue working on building an even stronger company culture. All this will set us up for long-term success.