In life, one can take many paths, but the path towards progress demands only one direction: forward. Before COVID, we knew one way of working as a standard that left virtual workflows and remote options as strictly alternatives and never truly the primary option. That was life before 2020, at which point a dire world event proved to be a catalyst for evolution. We found our way to maintain business continuity from remote locations away from what we then considered the norm. Along the way, we found the future of how we work.
Remote and hybrid workflows are now pillars of our shared work experience. Every day, we reevaluate the possibilities of what duties can be performed where. More and more employees are opting for positions and careers that allow them to engage their work lives anywhere. But like any frontier, the first voyagers have come across challenges. While remote and hybrid work may look different from the traditional in-person model, there are various benefits both to employees and companies that cannot be ignored. The challenges of this work setup do have solutions that can close the gap for those who pine for the community and connection that in-person work provides. So today, let’s explore the benefits, challenges, and the future of this new frontier.
To start with the obvious: the prevalence of remote and hybrid work came from an immediate need for safety. In 2020, organizations quickly pivoted to work from home so employees could avoid unnecessary exposure to a novel virus. As we have seen over the last year, even with vaccinations and boosters, infection rates and hospitalizations may still spike at times. Working from home provides an additional measure of safety unparalleled during those spikes.
While the switch to remote and hybrid work happened out of necessity during our initial quarantine, we discovered additional benefits of this work structure along the way. Employees who were once hampered by their daily commute and other external factors reached new productivity levels within their positions. The focus and drive that employees achieved during this moment showed that a workplace free of distraction could yield excellent results. As time went on, employers began testing the waters with a staggered hybrid workflow, and staff members grew to enjoy the flexibility of having options like working from home or in the traditional office space. Today, those discoveries are now proven benefits. Members of the workforce now have an experience with more choice, less distraction, greater comfort, and better productivity. These benefits will now be at the forefront of every discussion between candidates and their potential employers.
As mentioned before, every new path will have its fair share of bumps in the road. Remote and hybrid work are undoubtedly not perfect models, and some challenges have arisen while these models have been enacted. There are elements of a traditional, in-person work environment that are championed and valued by certain workforce members. Something as small as office banter can be cherished as a way to connect with colleagues and build soft skills. That element is part of a more significant conversation regarding a company’s culture. For so long, a company’s culture was comprised of these intangible elements, including the office environment and the establishment of relationships. The removal of the in-person experience created an immediate blow to that aspect of our work life. While it is perhaps not a universally needed aspect of work, we cannot deny that for some, it is one of the most important. To progress the workforce, we must build a future where all of our needs can be respected and met.
Tools, Strategies, and Solutions for Mitigating Challenges
One of the significant challenges of hybrid and remote work is building community and culture with employees. However, we’ve also had the opportunity to develop new ways to mitigate those challenges by connecting and maintaining valuable relationships within our work and personal lives using technology; these tools must be leveraged effectively and with intent. Rather than focusing on the precise tool at hand, companies must instead focus on how they are using the tools at their disposal to create virtual work environments that feel welcoming and accessible to all employees. In putting these practices in place, managers can consider some of the following strategies:
a. Structured, regular check-ins with all staff
b. Opportunities for structured virtual social networking
c. Open virtual door for communication between staff and management based on specific set hours (similar to office hours at college)
d. Drop-in work hours: a time when anyone can drop into a virtual hang out space to co-work
e. Setting up forwarding preferences for remote employees to ensure they continue to receive mail
f. Give employees the option to receive digital mail
For the hybrid workforce, managers should consider providing a mix of virtual and traditional opportunities for staff to build connections and community. In-person work, events, and interactions do not have to be forgone; they are just one of the many available work options. To help support a hybrid workforce, managers can consider the following strategies:
a. Create touch-free delivery or pick-up (for mail, packages, office equipment, files/documents, etc.) points for all employees to reduce in-person interactions
b. Implement a desk reservation system (hot desking), so employees can reserve a desk and so you know who sits where and when
c. Utilize an online portal to allow employees to make office task requests
All of these strategies must be used in a way that is bespoke to each employee. Specific options may not work for everyone, and thus that is why providing a range of optional work models and connection points must be in your toolkit moving forward. The future of work is open, collaborative, and full of options for every worker, whether those be entirely in-person, fully remote, or a hybrid of the two.
How have you managed the benefits and challenges of an entirely virtual or hybrid workforce? Let us know. Email us at [email protected].