As the threat of the pandemic begins to wane, more people are leaving remote work behind and heading back to the office. According to research from CNBC, as many as 50 per cent of major companies are bringing their employees back to the office in September.
Bringing employees back to the office isn’t straightforward: there are many questions about COVID-19 that we still don’t have answers to. Businesses are doing their best to adhere to current government regulations by enforcing social distancing and offering plenty of hand sanitizer.
In order to balance the risks of the pandemic with the needs of business, many employers are trialing a hybrid approach: where part of the team works remotely, and the other part works in the office, staggering the days and times in which employees are expected to physically report to work.
The Hybrid Team: Staggering Days in the Office
Staggering days in the office promotes social distancing, keeps employees safe and productivity high. However, there is no one-size fits all approach to staggering times and days in the office, and it’s important that businesses assess all available options.
All employees could be cycling into the office at different times during the week (one group comes in during the first part of the week, while the other commutes later in the week), businesses could establish a fully-remote workforce and a fully-in-office workforce to accommodate social distancing guidelines, or a mixture of the two. What you choose will depend on many variables, such as:
- The amount of available office space
- The cleaning and safety requirements of your state
- The type of work that needs doing, and the efficacy of some employees in remote roles
Employees’ personal situations should also play a factor in this decision. While some employees have home offices and other convenient setups, other employees have been working on sofas whilst dodging their children for months. Some people may be keener to go back to the office than others, and it’s crucial to bear that in mind when creating your hybrid team.
Once you’ve established who is doing what and where, it’s time to make sure that everyone in the team feels connected and appreciated. The best ways to do that include:
- Keep Video On
Actually seeing another person goes a long way in humanizing the remote work experience. In a recent Forbes article, Arry Yu of the Washington Technology Industry Association discusses the importance of staying connected. Yu says: “Do at least one weekly video call with the team (if not one-on-ones). Have photo sharing days where remote workers post photos of their work area… The objective is to do whatever it takes to keep the remote workers emotionally engaged with the company, the culture, and the mission.”
Feeling connected is crucial when it comes to dealing with remote teams, so don’t hesitate to keep the camera on.
- Hone in on Communication
When employees are in different places, good communication is essential. What are the best ways to keep your in-house and remote team members engaged and on the same page? The Next Web recently shared an article where experts weighed in with their best remote work communication tips:
- Pick up the phone. Calling people breaks up the silence, and a lot of the time, it’s faster than an endless stream of emails.
- Send regular updates. Let the entire team know what’s been done, what needs to be done, and what you’re working on at least once per week.
- Be empathetic. Your team is experiencing work in a different context right now. The best managers will be empathetic to their employees’ needs and situations, and that might mean adjusting a communication style. Double and triple-check the emails you send to your team, and if you’ve got negative feedback, consider picking up the phone instead. When in doubt, simply ask the employee what they prefer.
- Keep Employees a Priority
The good news? Most employees are feeling like a priority already. Seventy two per cent of employees feel that their employers’ response to the pandemic is ‘exactly as it should be’, and 74 per cent of employees feel that their employers are taking care of employees as best they can according to a recent study from Harvard Business Review.
Letting your employees know that they are your number one priority is crucial to balancing a hybrid team. In today’s situation, showing your employees you care is very tangible: limit employee contact (recent research from SERVPRO suggests that up to 92 per cent of businesses are limiting group meetings), continue remote work where possible, and invest in cleaning and disinfecting the workspace (83 per cent of businesses have invested more in deep cleaning according to the same research).
Talk to your team about why you’ve made certain decisions, and be flexible if anyone has any worries about coming back to work. Meet your employees where they are, and they’ll be more than willing to work with you as they make this transition.
We’ve entered a new era in the workforce, one that’s full of challenges but full of opportunities. Flexibility is the first step to achieving success.