Making hybrid work, work!

To successfully implement a long-term hybrid working approach, companies must create and fully commit to a suitable framework.
Angela de Longchamps
By Angela de Longchamps, Founder and CEO of Inspired Leadership.
Johannesburg, 14 Feb 2024
Angela de Longchamps, founder and CEO of Inspired Leadership.
Angela de Longchamps, founder and CEO of Inspired Leadership.

The year 2023 witnessed a tug-of-war between the office and working from home, as companies grappled with the decision of whether to return to the traditional office setup or continue remote work.

This struggle was characterised by senior executives emphasising the importance of face-to-face collaboration and productivity, while employees resisted changing their established home working routines that provided comfort, work-life balance and focus.

This struggle was acutely felt by IT professionals across companies, who had adapted quickly and easily to remote work, given their role and need for deep focus.

Caught in the crossfire

Managers found themselves in a challenging position, stuck in the middle of conflicting directives.

Many organisations lacked flexibility, with top-down mandates being implemented by managers who were expected to enforce them without being part of the initial consultation process. This lack of manager discretion made their role extremely challenging.

Trust and understanding are essential in a hybrid workplace.

Data from a McKinsey Study on the Future of Work classified the activities with the highest potential for remote work, and clearly – not all roles are born equal!

The finding, at an activity level, is that those in the finance, management, professional services and information sector have the highest potential for remote work.

The term “remote-capable” was born to differentiate the roles that could be equally or more effective when remote.

Why discretion is key

In 2024, the topic of hybrid working is expected to remain hot, and I strongly advocate for managers to have discretionary decision-making power.

Granting managers the ability to determine the best fit solution is crucial, as they understand the organisation's performance and output requirements, as well as the needs, motivations and retention risks of their team members.

Research conducted by Gallup supports this approach, revealing that employees who work from their desired location tend to be more engaged at work, experience less burnout and are less likely to quit.

The study found that three in 10 hybrid workers and six in 10 fully remote workers are extremely likely to leave an organisation if they are not offered some degree of remote flexibility.

Striking the balance

Bringing everyone back to the office permanently may not be the best solution. While landlords and real estate officers may be excited about it, the people who actually do the work are less enthused.

On the other hand, working apart more often and on different schedules presents its own challenges.

To successfully implement a long-term hybrid working approach, companies must thoughtfully create and fully commit to a hybrid working framework that incorporates technology and strategies for effective communication, collaboration, relationship-building and solidifying work culture.

Providing guidelines that acknowledge employees' needs fosters a more cooperative and inclusive environment.

Meaningful office

Trust and understanding are essential in a hybrid workplace. Combining clear office expectations with individual flexibility demonstrates a commitment to collaboration and employee well-being.

The office should become a magnet for intentional face-to-face interactions, rather than a place where employees simply attend virtual meetings all day. The purpose of coming into the office should be clear and meaningful.

Intentional interactions boost morale

"Office days" should be purposeful and intentional. Utilise in-person time for tackling complex team projects, nurturing growth through coaching, mentoring, nuanced performance conversations and building strong relationships.

While digital tools can bridge gaps, certain activities are more effective in person, such as brainstorming sessions and the exchange of feedback and mentorship.

However, it is important to maintain flexibility within the hybrid working model.

Clear communication

Implementing a company-wide mandate often backfires and disengages employees who feel that the requirements do not align with their needs and their roles, or that they are not trusted by their leaders.

However, failing to communicate a clear hybrid work strategy and coordinate hybrid work schedules can erode teamwork, culture and productivity. The solution lies in a well-communicated hybrid work policy that allows managers to make adjustments according to their team's needs.

Gallup's research also supports this approach, revealing that hybrid workers are most engaged when their team collectively determines their hybrid schedules.

Involving employees in the decision-making process and consulting them on maximising work effectiveness increases buy-in and acceptance.

Three tips for success

Emphasise the PEOPLE elements of the office to bring workplace culture to life. This can include pairing new employees with experienced mentors, empowering receptionists as culture champions, creating collaborative spaces for informal gatherings and brainstorming sessions, having food and great coffee on tap and encouraging leaders to engage with employees on a personal level.

Empower managers to make decisions within the hybrid work framework. Enable them to facilitate ‘team reset’ conversations and encourage peer accountability. January and February are ideal months for a team reset, as it allows for personal needs to be considered and new ways of working to be established. This team reset framework provides guidance for managers to conduct these conversations, regardless of whether their team is hybrid, remote, or fully in-person.

Help managers create clarity of expectations in terms of desired outcomes and behaviours. Regular feedback, coaching for high performance, and fostering personal accountability are essential in managing hybrid or fully remote employees. Regular 1:1 check-ins are critical to prevent neglect and ensure employees feel seen and supported. Managers can utilise reflection and connection-promoting questions to enhance their 1:1 check-ins.