With 43% of employees saying they won’t return to a 9-5 office schedule, leaders who learn to build a new hybrid environment combining flexibility and structure will meet the challenges of the future.
With COVID-19 vaccinations underway around the world, countries are lifting restrictions and companies are developing roadmaps for what the return to work looks like. As 43% of employees say there is no going back to a traditional 9-5 model, many business leaders are evaluating a new hybrid model that includes both remote and in-office work.
Ideally, hybrid work involves the best of both worlds, combining sociability and structure with flexibility and autonomy. Kissflow, a provider of digital workplace services with offices in the U.S. and India, held organization-wide feedback sessions which led to a hybrid model consisting of three weeks of working from anywhere and one week of office-based work. The UK offices of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers took a slightly different approach with its 22,000 staffers, splitting the week between their home and office with the expectation that employees spend 40-60% of their time with colleagues. Time will tell whether these trial configurations will be successful. But leaders are fully aware that they need to work harder than ever to ensure that expectations are clear and opportunities for collaboration and community building are abundant.
Here are four steps your organization can take to develop a playbook for remote work success.
Identify roles suitable for remote work
As the pandemic continues, one thing is clear: most employees value the flexibility, productivity and work-life balance they’ve experienced with remote work– and don’t want to lose it. But not every role is a good fit for work-from-home. For example, many workers in healthcare and educational organizations as well as those within the retail and hospitality industries need to be present onsite. Organizational roles fall into a framework of suitability for remote work  from manufacturing and technician positions that require physical presence to customer service and marketing, which can easily adapt to remote.
Leaders need to carefully examine each role to decide which ones are best suited to continue off-site and only move ahead with a hybrid work environment if an optimal number of roles can work remotely.
Define clear expectations and benefits
The conventional work schedule – 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., five days a week – may be shifting for now, but what, exactly, is the new norm? As businesses scramble to figure out whether they want to incorporate a 3-2-2 model (i.e., three days in the office, two days working remotely and two rest days) or another form, leaders need to set expectations around performance outcomes, team milestones and deliverables that consider team members’ flexible schedules and time zones.
Remote work has also escalated the need for employee development, as greater distance and fewer face-to-face interactions heighten the need for stronger communications and morale-building. Employers and workers would benefit greatly from on-demand virtual coaching that creates a culture of resilience and helps build community.
Prepare for potential pitfalls
The challenges inherent in transitioning to a hybrid model are on full display at Apple, where employees are currently battling with leadership about remote work policies and timing for the return to the office. Common hybrid work issues that organizations like Apple are dealing with include employee engagement, sustaining culture, ensuring well-being, IT security challenges as well as team building and recruiting.
Prudential Financial is also working with its 42,000 employees to manage remote work expectations, including ensuring that all staffers opt for Mondays and Fridays as their work-from-home days. The company has been redesigning its offices to repurpose conference and collaboration spaces to further encourage employee engagement. Rob Falzon, Prudential’s Vice Chair, also insists that video capabilities should be extended throughout the offices so remote team members don’t feel left out.
Another pitfall to consider is the gender divide that a hybrid work environment has the potential to create. If businesses set up a schedule to allow remote work, but do not cap the number of days employees come into the office, they could create a system that hurts women and impacts diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. This is mainly because, statistically, women are more likely to prefer remote work [CH2] to help them balance childcare responsibilities. Remote work will contribute positively towards leveling the workforce playing field for men and women – but only if every voice is heard – whether it’s in the office or via a video call, according to Annette Polaszewski, CEO of Interprefy, a fully remote software company where women make up a slight majority.
Provide support structures
Aside from the many benefits of remote work, employees cite the top challenges as managing distractions, loneliness, collaboration and communication. That’s why organizations need to make sure they evaluate and update HR and IT processes carefully and frequently for long-term success. HR leaders should lead the development of innovative strategies, including video chat software, phone systems, messaging channels like Slack or an intranet channel. The key is finding that delicate balance between radio silence and constantly reaching out to employees with texts and emails. Hybrid work environments will not be sustainable without investments in collaboration software, such as document sharing portals and more information security controls.
All the state-of-the-art tools won’t help if organizations don’t provide leadership training opportunities that help managers empower employees to continue skill-building and career development, no matter where their office is located.
Learn more about how ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions can help your organization deploy a global talent strategy and a future-ready hybrid work environment.
 Work, Reimagined: ManpowerGroup Research Reveals What Workers Want Post COVID-19, August 2020
 Everest Group – Future of Work Series – Where will work be done, 2021