The rising tide of remote workers shows no sign of ebbing. Employees have had a taste of the flexibility of working remotely. Many are unwilling to return to the previous status quo.
Some companies have answered this by allowing employees to work remotely a few days a week. Others are giving their teams free rein to 'work from wherever' permanently. More still are finding self-determination to be the best option and leave it to individuals to decide when and where they want to work.
Companies embracing remote work policies are seeing huge benefits from their newfound flexibility. Hybrid teams are emerging, along with more laid-back atmospheres that see unassigned seating and hot-desking as an integrated part of the new normal.
The flipside of this is the danger of creating a 'class' system within a company. Remote employees may feel excluded or at a disadvantage due to their physical absence.
Democratizing the hybrid experience
There are inherent problems created by having a team of remote workers coupled with a team of onsite workers. The greatest of these is that very perception: that they are two separate entities. Variances in how and where people work can unintentionally form divisions between your remote workers and your in-house staff.
You hold a meeting in the office, and remote workers aren't in attendance. You speak one-to-one with staff working remotely, while the team in the office only gets face-time with you during meetings where everyone is present.
Look at how your team functions on a practical level. Create new processes and implement new systems that allow all staff to work in the same way, regardless of their location.
- Ensure everyone is present for meetings, either in person or on a monitor via video conference
- Use collaborative tools like Google Docs and Notion that allow everyone to work on the same live documents in real-time
Hot desking is another effective way to create an inclusive workplace for employees who come to work some of the time.
Hot desking creates a flexible office space. Depending on the needs of your employees on any given day, you may have more workstations, scrum spaces, or conference rooms. Employees have a say in what their experience at the workplace is like, and you make the most of your space based on actual needs.
Revisiting your company culture
Creating a level playing field for your employees must begin with your company culture.
Employees who feel engaged and inspired are 125% more productive (1). 55% of businesses cite strong engagement as a critical factor in retaining and recruiting top talent (2).
And yet, there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what, exactly, constitutes a company's culture. Gone are the days when a foosball table in the breakroom and letting people dress down on Fridays were the foundations of your culture. The workplace can influence culture — but culture isn't defined by the artifacts found within four walls.
The rise of awareness and passion for climate change and social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter demonstrates the need for businesses to align themselves with the social conscience.
The emergence of a flexible workforce allows you to examine your company's culture from a new perspective. How reliant are you on office artifacts to define who you are? These gorgeous cafeterias and stunning conference rooms may wow onsite employees. But they have little impact on your remote workers.
Gorgeous cafeterias and stunning conference rooms may wow onsite employees. But they have little impact on your remote workers.
Modern companies must determine how best to serve the needs of both the business and its employees — no matter where those employees work.
Achieving this isn't always easy. Be discerning. Throw away elements of your company culture that no longer serve you or this new workforce. Invite your employees to contribute their ideas.
If you're like most modern companies, you have three types of employees: fully in-office, fully remote, and those who come to the office some of the time. Each type of employee has unique perspectives on what makes them excited, proud, and inspired to work on your team.
The I in team
You've heard there is no 'I' in team. And yet, in a post-COVID world, there very much is a sense of individual isolation. Remote workers often feel as I's on a team. And those working onsite have to adjust to collaborating with colleagues through Zoom calls and Slack.
There's no value in forcing your team to operate with a pre-COVID team dynamic. Rather, there needs to be an acknowledgment of the 'I' (and likely multiple 'Is') on your team. The new hybrid workforce compels you to form a new collective that is both physical and virtual.
- Michael Mankins & Eric Gardton (2017) Time, Talent, Energy, Harvard Business Review, https://www.bain.com/contentassets/10d5950ab2be459e8956c73e1efe536e/time-talent-energy-first-chapter.pdf.
- CBI (2018) 'Workplace pensions engagement isn't a 'nice-to-have', but a fundamental to helping employees plan for later life', https://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/articles/workplace-pensions-engagement-isnt-a-nice-to-have-but-a-fundamental-to-helping-employees-plan-for-later-life/.