• Steven Johnson

9 Tips to Overcome Challenges in a Hybrid Workplace

As vaccines continue to roll out, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel to return to the workplace fully. Still, it's unclear when that will be and what additional hurdles employers will have to jump trying to get there.


The question is, will workspaces ever be back to the capacity that they once enjoyed? Many industries have seen an increase in worker productivity since the pandemic struck. Also, saving money on unneeded office space is almost too attractive to pass up for operations managers.


Companies in the service, manufacturing, retail, and many others face unique challenges that others don't when it comes to allowing for a full WFH business model. However, management now has to find an approach to a hybrid model of workers who must work onsite and work remotely.


It's a sensitive area for all industries. Ethical concerns arise when workers processing, cooking, assembling, and packaging products must go to work, putting their well-being on the line while the white-collar management gets to work from home.


On top of that, management must take many other things into account when deciding how to handle these new challenges.


Things like…

  • Costs of maintaining real estate and office space.

  • Productivity of onsite and offsite workers.

  • Ability to onboard and retain new talent.

  • Riffs in company culture and perceived favoritism.

  • Empathizing with isolated, disenfranchised, and unhappy remote workers.

  • Measuring employee activity and output.

  • Decline of collaboration and creative solutions between departments.

It's important to remember that the hybrid virtual workplace is here to stay. It might be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of companies. But the "stick it out until things get back to normal" isn’t a proactive plan.


Changing a company's work dynamic and culture is tough, to say the least, and will involve a learning curve. But, implementing these changes now will leave your company more agile and able to take on future challenges.


Below are nine areas your service industry company can focus on to make the transition to a hybrid workplace easier


Transparency and Teamwork


It's time for your company to be the open book it has always claimed to be, except for real this time. The need for employees to know why things are happening in a company is more significant than ever.


Positions are getting slashed, and those picking up the slack are expected to perform at the same levels.

Not to mention, no one is getting a raise pretty much ever at this point.


Employees should indeed feel fortunate that they still have a job, but the least management can do provide some transparency on their plans.


No one says, "Happy New Year" in March. So how long can "the impact of COVID" explain why companies take specific actions?


Companies are perpetuating uncertainty within their employees by not giving them the whole story. By doing this, employees feel like management is not empathetic to their situation. Also, it makes management feel unapproachable and that there's no safe space for them to voice their concerns. All of which I'll talk more about later.


Management doesn't need to show all employees outright the financial statement, but they need to make the employees feel like they have some stake in the company they are working so hard to keep alive. Meaning management needs to be highly involved, set realistic expectations for employees (not make demands), and get down in the trenches every once in a while.


For your company to switch its culture to a hybrid WFH facility, upper-level executives will have to show visible support for both sides of the aisle.


A mix of a few days onsite and a couple of days remote work shows both groups of employees that managers understand the new challenges they're facing. Those working onsite are never going to go back to the same office. Those working from home have a lot of adjusting to do.


Also, by utilizing a mixed WFH and onsite work schedule, managers can facilitate communication between displaced departments.


Communication


A company cannot be transparent without communication. In my experience, this has always been the #1 issue for every company or client I've worked with.


With companies having employees all over the place, communication is not going to get easier, especially with increased employee workloads.


The struggle is real, but maintaining a constant AND OPEN line of communication is critical for a WFH hybrid workplace. But how do you achieve that?


Daily Video-Conference Kick-Offs


Daily kick-off video-conference calls between departments are a great way to get on the same page each day and trains everyone to be on the same schedule as they were in the before times.


A bit of understanding is required here because when people work from home, problems of the home sometimes get in the way. The biggest one being children.


The beauty of the WFH life is the flexibility, so don't hold it against someone if their three-year-old becomes the Tasmanian devil after they have their morning yogurt. At the same time, it's not fair for the rest of the team that logs on at 9 am.


It's crucial to find common ground that works for everyone involved in daily kick-offs, not just the manager. These meetings establish a daily work direction, but flexibility is key.


Encourage Phones


If you're old enough, you'll remember how businesses operated in the pre-email era. With phones!


Phone usage is the second crucial communication element that management needs to press for departments to be in the loop. The days of faceless and voiceless communications must be behind us now, sorry, introverts.


A company-wide, three-ring policy is a good idea to enact. If someone calls you three times, know it's important enough that you should pick up.


Internal Email Automation Software


While pushing phone usage should improve direct communication, emails will also be necessary in a remote work era. But, emails going unanswered has always been a problem.


I always advocate for email automation when marketing your company's product or service. As the hybrid virtual workplace becomes the norm, companies can see huge benefits from internal email automation.


If your company doesn't already produce an internal newsletter, now is the time that it should start. If it does have one, it should start sending it out more frequently.


Internal newsletters are an excellent way to get valuable info to your employees regularly. They're also an effective way to engage those working from home, remind them of company goals, and prevent them from becoming disenfranchised. Company-wide newsletters should be engaging, informative and provide an opportunity for feedback on an array of topics.


If your company uses the right email software, managers can use it to track who is opening and engaging with your emails. Important emails that require responses can be sent through this software as well. Internal email automation is a vital tool that allows department heads to communicate more effectively to their teams and other departments.


It's way more effective than the follow-up reminder function on Outlook. Especially when management makes it clear to employees that email open rates and engagements will be monitored and enforced.


Speaking of Outlook, Contact Monkey is a great email software provider for internal emails that integrates with Outlook seamlessly.


With the task-to-time ratio for scaled-back companies, it may seem impossible to manage an in-house newsletter. And that may be true.


But that’s why freelancers exist!


The intrinsic value of a well-written internal newsletter is high. Paying the right freelance content writer to manage your newsletter could increase company morale, help maintain company culture during the transition to a hybrid remote workplace, and save you time.


If that sounds like something your company may want to look into, I know of a great content strategist. You can contact him here.


Measure Output Not Activity


The adverse effects of trying to micromanage employees while they work remotely increases dramatically. No matter what chat-based or idle-time monitoring your company may use, the results will always be the same; a less productive employee.


This survey shows since the WFH shift began only a 1% decrease in productivity, and more than 40% of workers would prefer to work from home full time in the future. Wouldn't it seem like a waste of resources to try and monitor employee activity with these numbers? It seems like trust is the better option.


It may be an uncomfortable notion for some managers to trust that their employees are doing what they're supposed to while at home. However, they aren't teenagers, and if your company actively employs teenagers, that's a whole other mess of problems.


Measuring all workers' outcomes and output, not just remote ones, will increase autonomy, confidence, and overall productivity.


It's the manager's job to communicate the expected level of their employees' results and hold them accountable they aren't meeting those levels.


Empathy and Providing Safe Spaces


A trait of a great leader is empathizing with their teams' struggles and encouraging open lines of communication to solve their problems—both personally and professionally.


The problems companies face now and will likely face in the future are no longer confined to the office. There is an array of fears, anxieties, grief, worry, and depressive emotions resulting from our rapidly changing and unstable times.


Companies may no longer offer the premium health insurance options (or perhaps ANY option) that provide mental health coverage.


Some may say it's not a company's place to solve someone's personal problems. However, when people must work from home, the home becomes part of the office, thus part of the company's problem.


If a company can't provide its employees with professional help, it must provide safe spaces that all employees (management included) can come together to try and talk through these problems. It can be either virtually or in person.


Employees should also be encouraged to come forward to give feedback on their work situation, even if meeting their needs is unrealistic. The ability to be heard is the first step to preventing a decline in morale and emotional well-being.


Virtual and In-Person Team Building


The daily video-conference kick-off mentioned before is an essential component of virtual team building.

However, businesses need to take more steps to remind the remote worker that they are part of the team. Except for your company introverts, most people miss the daily interactions around the coffee machine.

Some ideas to try and fill this void are as follows.

  • Set up a public Zoom account where employees can pop into or invite others for coffee/lunch breaks.

  • Replace the rec area with online gaming. Jackbox has a wide variety of group party games that one can host through Zoom. For more advanced console gaming, Twitch.tv is a good option. Just ask your IT people; they'll get you set up.

  • Bring the actual coffee lounge to everyone through Facebook Portal. It's a great way to keep the virtual and onsite workers connected without much work.

These virtual team-building methods are proper steps to keep up employee morale and promote discussion. But there's no replacement for the real thing.


There's no getting around the fact that your company will have to hold at least semi-annually, if not quarterly, in-person gatherings so that all employees can stay abreast of what's happening with the company.


People need to meet new hires in person, be addressed in person by executives as to the company's direction, and participate in live team-building exercises.


The logistics of gathering everyone in one place while maintaining social distancing and health monitoring protocols will be complicated. However, providing an enjoyable event where people can mingle and feel like part of a team is crucial for company health. So give your planning teams ample time to get it right.


Flexibility


It all boils down to flexibility. The moniker "uncertain times" is already a cliche, but everyone knows it's true.


To achieve any level of success in uncontrollable environments, we must maintain flexibility. With everything the pandemic has affected, leadership needs to be understanding.


At the same time, management obviously can't bend to everyone. By utilizing all the above tools and above all, everyone being transparent, management and employees should be able to compromise to find common ground.


Managers Need the Same Support, if Not More.


The work of a manager, anywhere from mid to C-level, is often thankless and highly scrutinized. The challenging part about our current situation is that the board of directors doesn't likely consider the effects of our current state-of-affairs on their upper-level management.


Managers are looked upon to be stoic, unwavering leaders in the face of any adversity. They have to figure out a way to make everyone happy, including shareholders.


Nonetheless, managers are humans too. They are affected by the stresses of everything mentioned previously, then add on the pressure of being relied upon to keep a company afloat. Managers are not immune to anxiety, depression, or other negative emotions.


The shifting of the workforce dynamic is an opportunity for the traditional corporate outlook to change as well. By humanizing management, it transfers the company's burdens to everyone's shoulders. It will create a two-way understanding between manager and employee and create more of a team dynamic.


Obviously, management can't simply complain to their employees and other managers about their job. But, they should be able to receive the same support and be heard just like regular employees. It all goes back to the company's safe spaces.


Giving ALL the employees a reliable channel to communicate their problems, both work and personal, the company environment will feel more like home.


And that, more than anything right now, is what companies need in these times of the evolving workplace.


Assistance


If your company needs help coming up with the right communication strategy to bridge the WFH gap with its employees, please reach out to me. I'll build that bridge for you if need be or give you the tools to do so.

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