Hybrid business models are the post-pandemic model of choice for many organizations. Recent research compiled by Zippia found that 74 percent of U.S. companies are using or plan to implement a permanent blend of remote and onsite work.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for every organization, Gartner’s Hybrid Work Employee Survey found that a human-centric model that centers around flexibility, intentional collaboration and empathy-based leadership drives the best performance in a hybrid workplace.
While some employers mandate when employees must be onsite, others leave those decisions up to individual employees, managers or team leaders. Among larger corporations, three days in the office each week is the most common requirement, according to a survey of 5,500 companies by flex-work advisor Scoop Technologies.
General Motors follows that model. The Detroit-based global auto giant recently ended its pandemic-era Work Appropriately policy by mandating that corporate staff return to the office three days a week to help “retain company culture.” However, managers have been instructed to maintain some flexibility depending on the department and role.
Before the pandemic, Atlanta-based mobile app company ParkMobile had a strong in-office culture. After being forced to go fully remote during the pandemic, the company has since moved to a flexible hybrid model. While almost every employee is expected to be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they can come in more often if they want.
“The overarching goal is to increase engagement and retention,” said Keisha Franklin, senior vice president of people. “The focus is on the use of technology to make the in-office experience more enjoyable and to keep our employees engaged.”
To facilitate that process, ParkMobile redesigned the office to meet the needs of each team and set up Slack channels where remote and onsite employees can connect with each other throughout the day.
The Greater Flexibility Option
At some employers, “hybrid-at-will” is a new model that allows employees to choose when they come into the office, according to Envoy’s At Work survey. At G2, a software company based in Chicago, “the manager or team leader sets the expectation,” said Amber Pandya, director of employee experience. “If employees live near one of the main hubs (Chicago, London or Bangalore) they may want their whole team to meet for events or meetings.” Otherwise, they are permitted to work remotely.
Internal engagement surveys found that G2 employees appreciate the autonomy and flexibility of remote work but would also like more opportunities to collaborate and connect with each other in person, Pandya said.
When LLYC first introduced its hybrid model five years ago, the global communications company built its structure around the central idea of flexibility. “The impetus behind this shift was based on the recognition that people increasingly value work/life integration, and that by improving the quality of life, we can also improve productivity and are able to attract more talent,” said Tiago Vidal, chief talent and technology officer responsible for aligning HR and business practices.
Although there was initially no mandate, the approach typically meant that employees were in the office two to three days a week. As the model evolved, LLYC began mandating one “Team Day” per week when everyone on each team is in the office together. Team members can book space to train on or use technology tools or to meet face to face with other team members.
The Engagement Challenge
Research from McKinsey & Co. identified employee disengagement as one of the key drivers of lost productivity and found “organizations may need to deploy thoughtful interventions to increase [employee] motivation and commitment.”
Carolyn Dugan, head of talent acquisition at Model N, a revenue management solutions company based in San Mateo, Calif., agrees, saying that “the true challenge [of hybrid] is how to build relationships.” Dugan believes that “what’s often missing is the ability to form personal connections outside of the agenda. We found that people are connected to the work and to each other, but they don’t always feel connected to the company.”
To create a greater sense of belonging, Model N implemented voluntary Coffee Fridays to acquaint employees who don’t work directly together with others in the organization. They also bring everyone together at their annual meeting to tie individual department goals to the company’s strategy and mission.
At G2, Pandya found that the pace of relationship building in a hybrid organization may be slower, but that HR professionals can facilitate the relationship-building process by making the office experience more intentional and meaningful.
Although Pandya doesn’t live near a company hub, she was able to make a business case that convinced senior leaders to allow her to set up a small satellite office in New York City. “It was an opportunity for me to make connections and get feedback from employees in other groups,” she said.
Quizlet, a global learning platform headquartered in San Francisco, has a team that is responsible for finding innovative ways to connect the employee experience to the organizational mission and goals. The centerpiece of that initiative is a two-day event that all employees must attend either virtually or in person. It includes a daylong field trip to the University of San Francisco campus where employees take classes taught by university professors.
“We all have a passion for learning,” said Stephanie Douglass, Quizlet’s chief people officer. “The field trip is a great way to remind us how much we loved going back to school.”
The company also built community and camaraderie by creating opportunities for employees to connect with each other. During onboarding, each new employee is buddied up with a team member. They also sign up for a volunteer match with another person in the organization for a 15-minute conversation.
At Adena Health System in Columbus, Ohio, remote employees are required to be onsite for specific events and activities. The organization requires onsite attendance for all new-employee orientations, and newly hired recruiters are required to be onsite for the first month to make certain they really understand the roles and jobs they will be recruiting to fill, according to chief people officer Heather Sprague.
Adena also implemented two technology platforms that allow employees throughout the organization to communicate and recognize each other’s accomplishments and contributions. The company’s goal is to help foster a mission-critical sense of connection and engagement, Sprague said.
Remote work arrangements have transformed the way many hybrid organizations manage and assess employee performance. At Drift, a Boston-based global technology company, the HR team relied on data obtained through employee surveys to persuade leadership to change their performance management system to focus on output rather than hours worked.
“We found that giving employees the freedom of choice to decide when, where and how they work has improved performance,” said chief people officer Dena Upton.
After Drift changed its performance management system to focus on outcomes, it also changed how the company uses office space. The office is now largely designed as collaborative spaces with conversational areas, and when employees get together for scheduled events and activities, they always include a digital component so that employees who can’t be in the office aren’t excluded.
In quarterly surveys, G2 employees expressed concerns about how their performance was being perceived and evaluated. Employees “requested more visibility into career development tracking, as well as around how compensation is determined,” Pandya explained. As a result of this feedback, G2 rolled out the “PEAK Career Framework,” which provides consistent and clear career paths, job levels and competencies for G2 roles across all global offices.
At LLYC, team evaluations are based on an assessment of technical, behavioral and leadership competencies that employees need to have or develop. “The evaluation of our teams is done according to these competencies, and our development and training plans focus on the development of this skill set,” Vidal said. The compensation model also includes an incentives policy that aligns all of the senior teams with the company’s key objectives.
HR professionals are discovering that the emergence of hybrid work models offers a unique opportunity for them to become true strategic business partners.
“We believe that our HR strategy needs to be aligned and support our business strategy,” Vidal said. “When designing our processes or HR policies, we are always aiming to have a positive impact on our company goals and results.”
Arlene S. Hirsch is a career counselor and author in Chicago.