One of the most difficult questions for organizational leaders everywhere is how to best support hybrid work.
Although how best to approach and support hybrid work is a truly cross-functional issue, HR has a critical role to play, as companies revamp their work strategies to support a workforce that combines in-office and remote employees.
Before COVID-19, only 30% of employees were working remotely, according to Gartner's recent report "A Business Case for the Hybrid Workforce." Business leaders expected that figure to rise to 50% after the pandemic. In contrast, 78% of employees hope to work remotely, at least part-time, even after pandemic safety measures are over.
Here's how HR can best support a hybrid workforce.
1. Get strategic
Creating a solid strategy that attempts to anticipate all eventualities is key for a successful hybrid workplace.
HR leaders need to develop and write their hybrid workforce policies from both a human resources standpoint and a legal standpoint, said Juli Smith, president of The Smith Consulting Group LLC, an executive search firm located in Jackson, Mich. They must also keep executive leadership's wishes in mind.
Policies to consider developing include those for onboarding and time-tracking.
One important consideration is whether new hybrid workforce policies will affect partners outside the company.
In addition to working closely with leadership to roll out flex policies for its hybrid workforce, North America's Capgemini HR leaders had to consider new ways to communicate with clients, said Tecla Palli-Sandler, chief HR officer for North America at Capgemini, an IT services and consulting company located in Paris.
"Some clients are so used to having people there in person, so the business leads have had to negotiate with clients to say, 'These roles will be here X days; these roles will not,'" Palli-Sandler said. "And the last year and a half has taught us that with virtual collaboration tools, we can be successful doing that."
Tecla Palli-SandlerChief HR officer for North America, Capgemini
Capgemini's hybrid teams work throughout North America, so its HR leaders wanted to make online collaboration easy. Employees also sometimes meet in-person outside the office, if possible.
"[We wanted] to still have that engagement and collaboration and some face-to-face time," she said. "If you don't live near an office, you can have a [physical] anchor point where you can meet with other team members or a manager."
Remote work makes it all too easy for employees to work longer hours or stay glued to their email because they aren't physically leaving an office. So, Palli-Sandler and her team established clear rules about when remote workers should log off in an effort to prevent employee burnout.
"We also want you to have time to have a hobby, to have a life, to stop so you can make dinner, pick up the kids or your elderly parents or train for that marathon," she said.
A hybrid workforce arrangement should influence a company's overall goals as well.
For Auth0's HR leaders, the key was to think about which company objectives and key results (OKRs) were truly best and most realistic for hybrid workers, said Carolyn Moore, senior vice president of people at Auth0, an identity management company located in Bellevue, Wash., that was acquired by Okta in May. As the pandemic continued, Moore's team realized that implementing fewer, yet more meaningful, OKRs led to better employee work-life balance.
2. Be specific
Creating strategies for supporting the new policies and making those strategies as detailed as possible is crucial for success.
When Moore and her team trained managers on assessing employee performance, one focus was whether managers were evaluating remote and in-person employees' work the same way.
"Oftentimes, people got a little bit more of a leg up when they were in-person versus remote," Moore said. "And, now, we really have to be mindful of eliminating that tendency."
Auth0 HR also works with the company's communications team to ensure every employee gets the right information at the right time. Sending a group email at 9 a.m. EST may not be a good idea if West Coast employees will receive it at 6 a.m. and think they need to act on it.
"We've been practicing for 18 months as a society, but I think there's a lot more work that needs to be done to ensure that communication is happening asynchronously, as well as in real time," she said. "And, in addition to that, being very mindful of the time zone differences that people have."
Seemingly small efforts, as well as major virtual events, can all make a big difference.
Thoughtworks Inc.'s HR function, which the organization calls the people team, works closely with company leadership to support the hybrid workforce, said Chris Murphy, CEO for North America at the technology consulting company, located in Chicago. Efforts to keep employees connected have included virtual events such as the company's "Thrilldom" virtual New Year's kickoff to the year, which included virtual group cooking classes, wine tasting (with wine sent to employees' houses) and magic shows, among other offerings.
Other efforts have included sending employees snack boxes and "reConnect" events, or Thoughtworks-funded small, in-person employee get-togethers.
Most important when managing a hybrid workforce is remembering this paradigm shift was caused by a worldwide crisis.
HR leaders should keep in mind what employees are going through and demonstrate empathy as they make plans and manage employees, Moore said.
3. Capitalize on tech
HR tech can make it easier for employees to connect virtually. Employee isolation can easily become a problem in a hybrid workplace.
Auth0 has implemented Donut, a Slack app that pairs random people across the company for informal Zoom get-togethers.
"It's a lot of fun and people just talk for about a half an hour, have coffee, what have you," Moore said. "Most groups will take a group shot on Zoom and post it onto our Auth0 channel, and we get to learn about other people that way."
Some HR tech can give company leaders insight into online employee interactions, if leaders are interested in that information.
"One of the things that we're seeing is developing not just technologies that enable people to access each other instantaneously, but helping leaders see how the work is happening in their groups and what these networks look like," said Rob Cross, founder of the Connected Commons, a research consortium that focuses on the idea that networks are the organizing principle of people's social and work lives.
Some companies in Cross' research consortium are also deploying human capital management tools such as Workday to help them better manage employees in a hybrid environment, he said.
Because so much hybrid employee communication occurs online, HR tech must offer more than one way for workers to collaborate.
Thoughtworks' employees live all over the world and work flexible hours, so technology plays a critical role in supporting the company's hybrid work environment, Murphy said. Interactions that once would have taken place face-to-face increasingly occur remotely, and hybrid employees expect or, in some cases, require multiple communication methods -- for example, Slack for messaging and Zoom for face-to-face chat. Systems must support more than a one-process-for-all model.
HR tech should also include learning and development tools that employees can successfully use remotely.
Thoughtworks employees use the organization's internally built digital "growth canvas" tool, Pathways, as part of learning and development efforts, Murphy said. Through Pathways, in-person and remote employees can reflect on their strengths, make plans to reach their career goals and share those development goals with HR.