4 tips to prepare for the transition
As the number of COVID cases has started to decline in several developed economies, such as the United States or the United Kingdom, many offices are partially reopening. Such a reopening will lead to what many have called a hybrid office: a form of hybrid working where some employees return to the office a few days a week, at least, while, in the meantime, some continue to work fully from home. .
Many organizations that I have interacted with are grappling with a series of issues. First, there is a central challenge around planning: who do they send back to the office? For how many days a week? In what format and what constraints? Second, once this plan is designed, there is a question of fairness: who should be allowed to stay at bay? Will teleworkers be assessed in the same way? Third, how to approach internal communication? How are we going to ensure that office and remote workers can communicate effectively? Is there a risk of having two divergent cultures? (a “remote” and “office” culture)
Tip 1: Think about WHY you need your office
However, the mother of all questions is: Why do you need the office in the first place? Organizations will need to answer this question first to prepare effectively. The need to return to the office may be driven by the difficulty for teams to think creatively when they are far apart. Or organizations may fear that organizational culture, a critical intangible asset, is eroding. On the other hand, organizations might fear that their workers have been deprived of face-to-face social relationships.
Based on this diagnosis, organizations can begin to think about how, when, and in what format they ask their employees to return to the office. If it is creativity, creative teams must come to work simultaneously in the office. In case of fear of cultural erosion, the organization must think about the teams who animate and disseminate the culture.
Tip 2: Plan your transition to a hybrid office
As many organizations rush to hybrid offices, they miss some essential steps. First, their desks need to be tech-ready, to enable meetings that reach office and remote workers seamlessly. Technology is likely to change rapidly, and therefore organizations will need to regularly invest in updating their hybrid desktop technology.
It’s important to note that organizations also need to assess who will return to the office, under what social distancing constraints, and what support staff will be needed in the field. And support staff might not be too keen on having to be brought back to the office. Incentives will be paramount for those who do not have the choice to stay away.
Tip 3: Make sure your remote workers are assessed fairly and have access to the same opportunities as office workers
Ideally, all workers who want to should be able to come back to the office. But in many cases, employees can find themselves in situations that prevent them from doing so – if they have to care for dependents, for example, or if they are protected.
There is ample evidence to show that remote workers tend to suffer from their distance from the office and face-to-face interactions. We know that “showing your face“At work matters. Remote workers can also end up being excluded from critical decision making and social aspects.
Thus, it is crucial to highlight the potential bias against remote workers, which managers face, when evaluating employees. A substantial and explicit effort will be needed to include remote workers in all decisions.
Tip 4: Communicate and share information consistently
Another significant and related risk with hybrid offices is that remote and office workers may have different access to information. Crucial information (such as an internal job posting) can flow more easily informally in the office than through remote means. But similarly, tasks and projects need to be communicated explicitly, using channels that put office and remote workers on an equal footing.
Therefore, managers should be careful to use the communication channels available on both sides (email, Teams groups, intranet, hybrid meetings) and make information explicit and unambiguous.
After a year of working remotely, the temptation is to see the hybrid desktop as a holy grail. Many see hybrid work as a win-win situation for employees and their organizations. In fact, without a careful transition strategy, this could create new forms of organizational inequalities between office workers and remote workers. Integrating remote workers into the social fabric of the organization, offering them fair opportunities and preserving their voice, will require a conscious effort from both a managerial and technological point of view.