What are HR Leaders Asking About the Hybrid Work Change Journey?

June 1, 2021

What steps can organizations take to prioritize employee mental health in the new workplace?

Certainly the pandemic has accelerated the crisis and organizations should seek counsel and partnership from credible mental health professionals.

However, as a work experience coach for senior HR and culture leaders, I would suggest that there are both short-term and long-term solutions businesses are considering. 

For short term solutions, I see leading organizations offering everything from extended office closures and added mental health benefits. In a few organizations, I am seeing them create new executive offices like, Chief of Health and Wellbeing and Chaplaincy Director, aimed to put intentional strategy to what has so far largely been crisis management.

For the long-term, I am seeing organizations radically re-writing their career cadences. Instead of long periods of work supported by generous PTO, vacation days, and generous retirement contributions, organizations are shaping career cycles to mirror high intensity intervals. Think of these as HIIT workouts you’d preform at a gym. Intervals of high intensity projects or assignments that require significant, directed output followed by periods of rest to get refreshed or even re-tooled. These extended periods are being supported by work or non-work sabbaticals where the employer provides sustained benefits and job security. These intervals provide a dynamic work environment for talent seeking to grow, develop, and gain access to rest periods to care for their wellbeing and invest in other life passions.

What tips do you have for supporting a work/life balance when staff members aren’t in the office?

A simple answer here is challenging as it depends on where you’re starting from and what you already support.

If you are planning for a virtual-first or work-from-home only model: I encourage you to get clear executive direction on what your organization is willing to invest in as it relates to shaping a better employee experience. For example, I am seeing many organizations shifting investments in commercial real estate to things that support a better virtual experience, including technology and virtual collaboration software, personal home office interior design consulting, compensation toward mortgages or relocation costs to move to a home with better work space, and travel to work retreats, conferences, or other destination gatherings.

If you are giving people the opportunity to access an office at some point, consider how your office environment could become a cultural hub instead of simply a place for production. I would suggest 4 steps to help you develop a strategy for your cultural hub:

  1. Categorize what needs your people have to be their best (e.g. child care, healthy food, quiet spaces to think, etc.)
  2. Categorize what needs your people have in order to bring their best (e.g. connection to team mates or experts, advanced technology and resources, ability to network in person, ability to give back to a local community, ability to connect to your greater purpose, etc.)
  3. Examine what drives people to the workplace today and identify where gaps may exist in meeting people’s needs
  4. Identify how your future workplace could better support these needs

After a year of isolation, many people feel anxious about returning to in-person interactions. How can leaders help develop soft skills like empathy, listening, motivation, self-awareness in their workplaces? 

People will only aspire to what they can imagine. This simple change management principle can help you inspire managers to support your new working model.

Here are 2 best practices I see organizations following to help managers buy-in:

  1. Host listening conversations that help leaders gain empathy into other people’s successes while working virtually: Virtual work bias is just like any other bias that must be confronted. Our bias is shaped by our own experience. We must be willing to listen to others experience to broaden our perspective in order to better understand and support.
  2. Ensure managers understand how their personal performance is measured in your new work model: The fear I hear most from managers is that they are losing control of how they formally managed. They are unsure about how that will reflect on them personally overtime. To help them resolve this fear, they want to know how their performance in the new work model will be evaluated. Whether or not their performance measures have changed, I recommend a thoughtful communication effort be made on this topic

How does the manager-employee relationship change in the new workplace? What can managers do to build trust and purpose?

In a distributed workplace where people have greater degrees of autonomy and choice, consider these 2 best practices:

  1. Encourage employees to own/lead a regular (weekly, bi-weekly) 1:1 with their direct manager: Rather than the manager controlling the agenda for weekly 1:1, employees should be empowered to own the agenda of things they need to get clear on or things they want to share. Organizations may consider creating a 1:1 template for employees to follow-up as a guideline, but the template should help employees plan what to bring to their manager’s attention. Most managers fear not knowing how to manage a distributed teams, so putting responsibility on the employee to report back and ask for what they need alleviates much of the guess work for managers.
  2. Create a continual listening solution to minimize distance: Many organizations are moving further away from annual or semi-annual engagement surveys. This is exponentially more important when working at a distance, as what is out of sight can become out of mind. I am seeing organizations implementing more creative pulse surveys that make visible the mental health of teams. Many new applications are available to give leaders the insights they need to check-in with their team more regularly.

How do I create equity for employees working together in-person vs. those working remotely?

Let me challenge the usage of equity here. Equity, in the case of hybrid work, isn’t giving everyone the same experience. Equity is ensuring everyone is visible, heard, and has access to an equally valued experience relevant to their situation. 

Here are 5 best practices that promote equity in a distributed teams model:

  1. The meeting facilitator must always be virtual, so they can better control the pace of the meeting and manage side-bar conversations
  2. An in-person chat moderator is designated for every hybrid team meeting to capture virtual commentary and questions 
  3. For hybrid meetings, everyone turns their video on from a personal computer, so that body language can be easily read by virtual participants
  4. Meetings end 10-minutes early so that in-person participants have transit time to join upcoming meetings on time
  5. Virtual white boards (i.e. Mural, Miro, etc.) are used in place of physical white boards when hybrid teams are meeting

How does employee onboarding change in a hybrid or flexible workplace? What are the best ways to quickly help employees feel “at home”?

In addition to technology and learning, virtual onboarding investment is rising as a top priority of those organizations supporting hybrid work models.

One of the greatest challenges for virtual onboarding is the ability to form bonds with people – both casually and formally. To solve for this, I am seeing organizations activate community champions who help new hires identify and make important connections to people they otherwise would not meet in a virtual setting. These connections should be both casual to help people find others who share similar interests and ideas, but also may be formal to help them build trusted relationships with those who will become advocates of their work. These community champions supplement the onboarding provided by hiring managers or HR. They become a trusted guide, helping new hires understand community norms.

How do you motivate employees to seek out engagement opportunities?

First, I like that the person asking this question is using the word “motivate.” 

If you’re still using the word “drive engagement,” I would challenge you to scratch it from your script. Roles like “Talent Acquisition and Management” are outdated and signal the wrong thing. Those titles told people, “I’m going to acquire your talent and then, let’s be clear, I am going to manage it. Not you.”

To answer the question of “how do you motivate people,” we have to first define what motivation means.

According to Oxford’s dictionary, motivation is the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. It’s the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

To keep it simple, you have to give people reasons (must be plural) to act and those reasons must directly link to their desires to belong to your community and to contribute to your mission.

I would suggest that designing intentional experiences that speak to your people’s common desires will motivate them to choose to be one of you and to be with you.

About the Author:

Laura Eley is a trusted culture and employee experience advisor to organizational leaders across the globe. She is a life-long student of methods for how organization’s successfully amplify their beliefs by influencing the collective behavior of people through both formal and informal practice. In her consulting, she applies principles from organizational psychology as well as real world practical experience to guide the culture-building journey of large enterprises as well as start-up businesses.