It’s not all sunshine and rainbows: tackling the issues of hybrid work
By Jo Deal, Chief Human Resources Officer, LogMeIn
August 19 2021 - Prior to the pandemic, only 5% of the workforce were mostly remote. Fast forward to just over a year later and 40% of employers say they expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic has ended. Widespread remote work has now become the norm and companies have had to quickly adapt to employees’ needs.
Hybrid work means some employees are back in the office full-time, while others may not return at all. It is important that leaders and managers create an equitable and consistent experience for all employees to succeed. Companies must reimagine the benefits they offer for the new hybrid world. Flexibility from remote work is a huge benefit for staff, but many may feel left out if they choose to not return to the office. It is up to the leaders and managers of the business to ensure that all employees are getting the most out of their working lives, and culture is still at the heart of the company.
Don’t cut costs
Reducing your office footprint does bring about appealing cost savings, and when you are running a business, cost savings matter. However, rather than banking all the savings, it is worth reinvesting some portion to set things up for success. Employees need benefits and accommodations that complement their new working style - this includes functional, fit for purpose equipment (an ergonomic chair, a headset, a second monitor), sizeable desk space, reliable internet, and more. By redirecting a portion of any real estate savings, you can fund a stipend that will help offset some of these costs. Not everyone has the space or the funds to re-create the exact in-office experience, but measures like this can ensure that the workspace is comfortable, physically safe, and productive.
Mental health takes precedence
It’s no surprise that the ongoing impact of continued lockdowns has affected mental health. Depression rates have more than doubled since the pandemic began. Without the social interaction of the office, and no clean end to the workday, things can feel more isolating and draining than before. The stats on burnout and wellbeing need to serve as an alarm for executives to prioritise employees’ mental wellness.
There are many ways that companies can work with employees to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Offer employees a mental health day every month, or once a quarter. It’s a simple practice but having everyone shut off their computers on the same day allows them to focus on activities that make them happy without worrying about falling behind with work. Taking that extra day off will give people the much-needed opportunity to refresh and recharge. Celebrate it, encourage it, and ask leadership to share stories of their time off; role modeling the behaviour from the top will go a long way. Losing a small amount of productivity is not a concern, the returns you get from a refreshed and reenergised team will more than compensate in future output.
Along with carving out specific time to focus on mental health, it is worth evaluating your benefits offerings and other services to ensure they are effective in a remote work world, and to check they are still relevant. Tax free commuter benefits may become less important, while new investments in counseling services or hosting speakers to discuss stress and anxiety may be more valuable to a workforce that is experiencing pandemic fatigue. Providing workers with tools to help them thrive emotionally and mentally, as well as be safe physically and ergonomically will reduce burnout and foster a higher retention rate. Openly promoting these benefits and speaking proactively about the validity of mental health issues will help employees will feel empowered to make their emotional health a priority, rather than sweeping it under the rug and struggling through it.
Reimagine company culture
One common concern shared amongst employees who work in a remote environment is that companies have failed to keep any sort of company culture going. A survey conducted by Gartner found that nearly 30% of respondents noted having concerns about their place of work maintaining company culture. Just because your employees remain remote doesn’t mean that companies should stop in-person meetings or hosting social events or happy hours. Keeping some of the old rituals and practices your company used to implement is important, and many can be adapted to work for a remote audience. If your company used to have Friday half-days, implement that in the work from home world, too. If employees used to go on company excursions, or come together to volunteer as a team, there are still opportunities to hold those when it’s safe or they can be reimagined for the virtual world. Providing opportunities for employee connections is arguably more important than ever in helping engagement flourish.
Meeting the social needs is one of the harder challenges of the hybrid set up. With some people together in person in an office and others occasionally, or always remote, this is the toughest hurdle to overcome in ensuring an equitable experience. There are some great new options that focus on virtual team building, companies have reimagined their in-person services to work in a remote world and the best place to start is by trying some different things and seeing what works for your company and your team. I would add that there is really no substitute for asking your employees what they want. They can tell you if you ask, and will probably be part of the solution, bringing their own ideas to trial or sharing feedback on practices already in play. Give your teams a voice and ownership in the process of defining what your company will be about in this new era and how you will all adapt your culture and social norms.
Benefit programmes that were once fit the office life need to be rewritten, with hybrid work top of mind. HR and Executive teams that are pushing to create a thriving hybrid workplace will pave the way for others to follow suit. Flexibility, culture, and avoiding burnout are what employees now strive for. Businesses need to be at the forefront in collaborating with their staff to achieve this. Businesses that understand their employees engagement is a top priority, no matter where they work, will reap the rewards of a happier, more productive workforce that know they are cared for.