On August 2022, FlexOS organized a webinar about the challenges of hybrid work and how to tackle them.
My team and I were surprised by some of the thoughtful questions and concerns raised by HR specialists and practitioners that attended the session, so I thought I'd share about some of them in this week’s article.
Building on our Hybrid Work Starter Kit, which captures best practices for Managing Remote Teams, we asked the audience which one of these challenges is the biggest pain point for them.
From our attendees poll we found out that 3 of the biggest concerns of HR practitioners are hybrid office design, building connection and community at work in a hybrid workplace, and the employee well-being strategy.
The design of the hybrid offices
Companies can benefit significantly from hybrid work since fewer employees in the office means less need for costly office space. Research shows thats savings can be up to 50%.
This of course means that the best hybrid offices are designed differently, with less space for individual-focused work and more meeting and collaboration spaces. This is why 33% of organisations in Asia-Pacific already plan to refit or redesign their office space in the next 12 months.
We shared three tips on hybrid office design:
- Update your office for hybrid work. Exceptions aside, most offices were designed for heads-down solo work before the pandemic. Not in the age of hybrid. Redesign your office for community, collaboration, learning, wellbeing, and company culture.
- Set Clear Rules and Let Employees Book Within Them. If you’ve downsized the office or forgone on a (planned) expansion based on increased headcount, there aren’t enough desks and meeting rooms for everyone. Set clear rules and then use a desk booking software to let employees flexibly book desks, meeting rooms, and any other workspaces or amenities you’d like to make available.
- Collect Data to Improve the Office. The office of the future needs to be agile and continuously adapt. Using employee survey tools to help collect more data. This data can help you improve your employee experience – for example, the balance between focus and collaboration spaces – over time as the way we work evolves.
Running your own hybrid office? Check out our comparison of the Top 35 Hot Desk Booking Software. Need meeting room booking instead? Check out our Top 10 Meeting Room Booking Software.
But moving far away may have downsides as well.
Building Connection and Work Community in a Hybrid Workplace
One of the most important things that suffer from hybrid work is relationships. Microsoft research for example shows that only half of remote employees maintain thriving relationships with their direct teams. When asked why employers in Singapore do not want to push for remote or hybrid work, 49% of leaders cited relationship-building as their greatest challenge.
When people don't connect and bond simply by being in the office simultaneously, connections between coworkers must be created and sustained more purposefully and programmatically. We shared three tips on how to do this well:
- Find Your Communities. The first step to facilitating the right people getting together is finding smaller subsets of like-minded employees. These "communities" could be teams, departments, project groups, or people with similar interests or life stages. Finding these groups is essential because people are likelier to build genuine connections in small circles.
- Create Community-Specific Content like events and activities. Now that you've found your communities, you can activate them. Ensure to tailor events & virtual team building games to individual employees' needs. A few smaller weekly events around creativity, wellbeing, and other more niche topics will be more successful in connecting people than one big happy hour every month.
- Celebrate work anniversary, birthdays and other milestones. It's easy to create a sense of connection through milestones, happy work anniversary, and birthday celebrations. Do so in a meaningful way, like a gratitude board.
Well-being of employees in hybrid work
Well-being greatly suffers when work is always-on in the shift towards hybrid and remote work. Lack of work-life balance is among hybrid workers' most frequently mentioned struggles. Companies need more explicit ways to drive employee well-being.
As a result 52% of employees in Singapore felt their workload had increased while 36% experienced a decline in mental health. But, the opposite is possible too. The best companies to work in Singapore score 12% higher on "People are encouraged to balance their work and personal lives."
We shared 3 tips to make it work:
- Set clear expectations. It's easy to misread situations when we focus on performance and outputs, not attendance. Clearly define and communicate every team member's KPIs and OKRs, so that everyone transparently knows what to expect and when. This also reduces anxiety and "Toxic Productivity."
- Allow for downtime. Forward-thinking companies have rest built into their hybrid policies. For example, DBS has "Focus Friday Afternoons." Manpower introduced a "Right to Disconnect." While some of this may be 'assumed,' stating this clearly as a policy means employees know what to expect for themselves and each other.
- Help create "Work-Life Harmony." The New York Times recently reported that a new kind of work day, "from 9-2 and then again after dinner," has risen. Let employees plan their non-office days for 'work-life harmony', for example, by creating blocks for solo and collaborative work.
But you can explore more with our 20 Must-Dos for Managing Remote Teams in 2024 [Expert Leaders Sharing]
And don't forget that wellbeing can be very lighthearted, too. We recently took people out of their typical workday for a fun Mandala Drawing workshop – and excellent way to refresh our minds and destress.
Beyond the scope of the starter kit, the questions posed by the attendees during the Q&A session were captivating and interesting, so I’ll recap some of them here:
Q: My office has enough available desks, but employees still cannot break the habit of sitting with their own teams and are not willing to sit at other empty desks. What is the best course of action for this scenario?
A: The key point is to set clear expectations about employee requirements. Talk to them about what they need to help them do their jobs in the best way possible. If the nature of their work requires them to work closely with their teammates, you can follow ByteDance Singapore's example and establish zones where only certain teams are allowed to sit. Otherwise, you can implement a system where desks are randomly assigned.
Q: What about staff who insist on their own workstations or desks? How can we ensure fairness in hybrid work models?
A: It’s an either-or situation. Since hybrid work is a spectrum, it’s up to the employees to choose where they want to be on that spectrum. They can EITHER choose more flexibility in terms of working from home but without their own desk OR choose to be at the office more and have their own workstation. A great example is GoTo where there are three different 'hybrid profiles' that employees can choose from. Whichever one they choose, delivers them the relevant benefits and expectations.
Fairness is the key principle of good management, so talk to your employees and listen to their needs, while at the same time helping them to acknowledge the roles of their jobs. Some jobs, such as receptionists or office managers, require employees to be on site most of the time. However, even for those jobs, we can still incorporate some form of hybrid work and allow them to work from home for certain tasks.
Q: How to deal with underperforming employees? How to improve the discipline of people working from home?
A: It’s essential to define what “underperforming” means. Again, setting clear expectations is the foundation here, as employees need to know very clearly what to be expected of them in terms of work results or team communication. Goal-oriented leadership is something we have conducted workshops on, which can help managers identify such goals for their employees. However, I can’t stress enough the importance of real-time data that can be collected and analyzed in situations like this, such as when people are coming into the office. Knowing such data can be very helpful in identifying and improving underperformance.
Q: How to draw the line between flexibility and setting rules and regulations in hybrid work?
A: From the managers’ perspectives, the best-case scenario when it comes to hybrid work is to make it organized chaos. The key point here, again, is setting clear expectations about when and where to work, as employees need to know what to expect. Once that communication is clear, I believe we can anticipate hybrid work to adapt efficiently to our requirements.
Q: Can small companies use the guidelines in your starter kit?
A: Definitely. We took months to complete the starter kit because we wanted to get everyone’s opinions, from HR specialists to thought leaders and business owners, on the issues that hybrid work companies may run into, regardless of size. Some of our clients, who are businesses with 20 to 25 employees, have applied these guidelines successfully. The key point is to collect data continuously and work with them to ensure that the hybrid work model you choose can be the most beneficial for all parties.
If you're interested, you can watch the full session here:
Let's keep the discussion going
These are just some of the topics and questions raised by participants in the webinar. What I hope to get across is that everyone, from the founder of a small startup to the Chief HR Officer at a huge conglomerate, deals with the challenges of hybrid work.
No one has figured it out, and no one should feel bad about still trying to find the answers. Let's use this forum to keep the discussion going, and together get to a great resource that we can all use to manage our hybrid teams, offices, and companies better.
Don't be a stranger - ask and discuss. Until next week,