Winning with Hybrid Work: Navigating the Messy Middle to the Next Normal

October 19, 2021

Author: Staples Professional Inc.


When the pandemic plunged us all into chaos, businesses had to quickly adapt on numerous fronts. In spite of the challenges, businesses not only survived, but adjusted to the new work normal. Now, 18 months later, companies and employees find themselves in, what I like to call, the “messy middle.” The essential question now is: How can we navigate this transition period to the ‘next normal’ and win while doing it?

In the post-pandemic workplace, the hybrid work model has gained prominence as a competitive necessity for many organizations. Data clearly shows the majority of workers prefer hybrid work models and more companies are embracing them.

But, even before COVID, there wasn’t a “one size fits all way” of working. The pandemic simply revealed that people could work effectively without being in the office daily. Now, organizations need to figure out how to best blend the old with the new. There are countless possibilities when it comes to successful hybrid work models. Situations will vary and companies need to determine which models work for them. Once a path is chosen, the important thing is to maximize the chances of success. Here, I outline how companies can maximize the benefits of hybrid work, as well as the pitfalls they need to avoid.

Design Flexible Structures. The current situation is fluid and will continue evolving for some time. With uncertainty comes the need for guidance, but also the need to adapt. Figure out a couple of basic configurations that work for your organization. This will provide employees structure and a framework to work within. At the same time, maintain flexibility within your hybrid work models. This set-up allows predictability but still provides options to meet different working preferences, styles, and changing circumstances.

Emphasize autonomy. Once the different options are determined, let employees choose from among these. Make sure employees have some say in deciding their hybrid work modes. Decades of research shows that autonomy is a key driver of employee satisfaction, well-being, and performance. Leverage this to meet both the needs of staff and the company.

Strengthen Culture and Connections. Be intentional in keeping employees connected, collaborative and creative. Don’t assume connections will just happen on their own. Focus on and reinforce company values with employees. Design and set up office work spaces to keep people safe but also maximize the benefits of being in person. Additionally, open channels of communication by having regular team check-ins whether online or in-office. Just be sure not to overdo it! Too many long meetings are inefficient. It’s the quality of time that matters not the quantity.

Measure Key Outcomes and Adjust Based on Data. Figure out key indicators of success and the appropriate time frames to capture them. Utilize pre- and post- repeated measurements to really understand if your hybrid models work. Use the data to modify your models and repeat the process. This might seem like common sense, but even in the age of limitless data, it amazes me how many companies don’t properly do this.

Play the Long Game. Too often, companies abandon ideas before actually knowing if they might work. The feasibility of hybrid work is now at the forefront because the pandemic forced employees to work remotely for an extended time. Moving forward, hybrid models will need time to demonstrate effectiveness. This requires patience from organizations to let the noise play out.

Focus on Employee Well-Being. While already an issue prior to COVID, employees have experienced substantial decreases in mental and physical well-being during the pandemic. Take concrete steps to reduce burnout and improve employee wellness. These can include:

  • Setting clear and firm boundaries between work and personal time.
  • Allowing employees to keep cameras off during some online meetings. Recent research shows this reduces daily fatigue.
  • Providing work breaks. During the work day, employees should take two or three short 10 to 15-minute breaks as well as take time for lunch. Further, consider giving people a few floating wellness days per year to get away when needed, and encourage everyone to take their allocated vacation time.
  • Facilitating access to mental health counselling, health education sessions, and seminars on managing burnout, are excellent examples of supporting well-being. There are many options out there that can help. Use them.
  • Providing proper ergonomic work equipment such as desks, chairs, and other necessities for work and home offices will keep employees physically healthy and much more productive.

Leadership matters. Leaders should seek to be transformational, relational, and practical. Be transformational by positively influencing employees, intellectually stimulating them, inspiring and motivating them, and being considerate of their individual needs. Be relational by being supportive of followers and building social bonds. Be practical by helping employees achieve their goals by seeking to remove obstacles that might impede performance. Also, and very importantly, leaders should be an example. Work productively but also demonstrate healthy balance and don’t get burned out. Remember, leaders are people too!

John Trougakos is a member of the Staples Work from Anywhere Advisory Council, a collective of industry experts and thought leaders across the fields of tech, productivity, design, ergonomics, and more. The Council supports our community in the new world of work with expert insight, thought leadership and informative content to work smarter, learn more and grow every day. Find out more about the Staples Work from Anywhere Advisory Council and its members here.

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