The COVID-19 pandemic upended the way people work by forcing many to work from home. Now, hybrid work is again changing workplaces by introducing a complex mix of remote and in-person employment models.
"Disruption came to us in ways that no one could have foreseen," said Sonia Aranza, CEO and principal consultant at Aranza Communications in Washington, D.C., speaking June 13 at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 in New Orleans.
"Employers now need to be intentional about shaping the new culture at work," with some workers back at their worksites, some remaining remote and many working in different kinds of hybrid situations, she said during her concurrent session, "Do's and Don'ts of an Inclusive Hybrid Workplace Culture."
Who Gets to Choose?
Aranza invited audience members to share current work arrangements at their organizations. Among the responses:
- At a mortgage business with 400 employees, back-office workers were told the CEO likes to see them in the workplace. So, they're coming in for the three days a week that the CEO is in the office.
- An energy business has empowered department heads, not HR or the CEO, to decide whether team members must come back to the office. Because department leaders know their people and their job functions, they are best situated to make decisions about working onsite, hybrid or remotely. But another audience member whose business lets managers make these decisions said it had created hard feelings among employees whose managers told them they had to be back in the office when others, working for different managers, were allowed to stay remote.
- A nonprofit media company with 20 people asked workers what they wanted, and a majority preferred to be back in the office two to three days a week. Most of the staff, however, are younger workers, and their more-senior colleagues said they would be happy to keep working remotely.
Others shared that their companies decided to be fully remote, fully onsite or adopt a hybrid approach, based on needs of the specific business and factors such as size, workforce demographics and industry.
Advantages to Remote Work
During the pandemic, "many companies switched to remote work on the fly and hoped for the best," Aranza said. Research now shows that implementing a hybrid work model thoughtfully and with attention to detail yields better results in employee morale, productivity and retention.
Nearly half (48 percent) of about 1,700 surveyed workers in the U.S. said they will "definitely" seek a remote position for their next job, newly released data by SHRM Research shows.
Among the advantages of remote work, Aranza noted, are "no commute and no office drama." Remote workers are productive and can often work with fewer disruptions.
Remote work also eliminates geographic constraints and allows companies to tap into talent across the globe. "Businesses can reduce facility costs and even lease unused office space," she said.
Issues to Address
Under a hybrid work model, "decide if you will require workers to put in a percentage of hours in the office, such as 25 percent of hours onsite, or if you'll require a percentage of the workforce to be in person at any time, such as 50 percent of workers onsite," Aranza said.
"How does working at the office versus remote affect employee promotions? That's an important question," she said.
HR should be aware that remote workers may be less visible to those with power and influence (bosses, other managers and leaders). Organizations may need to create ways to ensure everyone has visibility by sharing the accomplishments of remote employees.
Hybrid and remote work will affect different workers in different ways, Aranza said. For example, not all employees have a spare bedroom that can be turned into a home office, and some are working in the kitchen, where their spouse or partner may also be working.
Employees working onsite at the office have faster access to technology, infrastructure and peer social support services. They also have greater access to information, including informal hallway chats.
Extroverts, in particular, may miss in-person social interactions that energize them.
Some of these issues can be remedied through interactive technology, or perks such as reimbursements for setting up at-home workspaces, Aranza said.
Other tips include the following:
- Select a hybrid workplace model that works for your particular company and your employees' needs. Invite diversity of thought and approaches when making these decisions.
- Be intentional and creative to make access to resources and social support available to remote workers.
- Educate everyone on the skills needed to thrive in a hybrid environment.
"Disruption happened," Aranza said, and "the remote/hybrid genie is not going back in the bottle. Determine the approach that makes sense for your company and for your employees' morale, productivity and overall well-being."
Related SHRM Article: Make the Hybrid Connection
, All Things Work
, April 2022