The pandemic has changed our world in many ways we cannot describe, from our personal lives to the workplace and the economy. There have been many significant changes. Today, there are strong pointers to the fact that working flexibilities, whether hybrid or remote work, have come to stay and will even be part of our new normal after the pandemic. Over the past few months, I have followed the various conversations on hybrid work with much interest.
In all, one thing is clear, most organisations have adopted some flexible working, in one shape or form. However, how can business leaders and employees ensure the continuity of production and add value to their shareholders? With many unanswered questions still bothering the minds of many employees, especially in our part of the world, I share some insights in this article as discussed in a recent CarvinClay webinar themed “Leading a Hybrid Workforce”.
Why should I consider a hybrid workforce?
There are enormous benefits of hybrid work both to the employer and employees. While recent studies suggest that many employees are more productive when they work from home or a remote location, managers are divided on this. Some say they have witnessed tremendous growth, whereas other managers have confessed their struggle. Many are unable to have productive virtual meetings, as a result of power interruptions, internet connectivity, child care among other challenges. Job satisfaction has also increased in the hybrid workforce, especially among employees who were worried about their children or parental care in their absence.
It is interesting to note that several organisations are reporting low operational costs during this time in view of the fact that some costs like utility and others have been saved as opposed to being in the office every day. Likewise, with regard to talent acquisition, hybrid working has provided a wider pool of talents for organisations as recruiters no longer restrict themselves to a specific geographical location. Challenges that come with work permits have been reduced by these working flexibilities as people can work for the company anywhere across the world.
What kind of performance management system is effective for hybrid work?
Companies have adopted different approaches to performance management in the hybrid settings. The old annual appraisal system does not work well in the hybrid system. The approach that works best is where performance goals are set in shorter terms – like monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly and employees are appraised on that basis. Key to success is the regularity of the manager and the employee engagement on these performance goals. The objectives must be SMART and there must be regular conversations on these objectives.
What can HR do to convince management to practice hybrid work when the organisation is not interested?
Most organisations are not comfortable practicing hybrid work because employers and managers can’t be sure that productivity will be maintained. The truth is that not every work can be performed from a remote location so it is important to review your business and identify which part of the organisation can benefit from remote working. Then put a business case together and present to management highlighting the benefits, cost and risks mitigation. Hybrid work setup requires an initial capital cost – employees must have laptop, data, among other essential offsite working tools. Where these are not available in the organisation, the business case must highlight these costs and the benefits the organisation and employees stand to gain with the hybrid model. It is important to have sponsors at the leadership table aside from HR to champion this – develop allies in the organisational leadership team and work with them.
How do you drive employee engagement in a hybrid workplace?
Be clear and authentic with your messaging and be empathetic in all your communications. Chances are that you may not know what an employee may be going through emotionally in a hybrid work. Always maintain consistent messaging and connection with your employees. Explore which communication and engagement platforms are the best for you and make good use of them – MS Team, Zoom etc. You should encourage employees to turn on their videos during virtual meetings as much as data bandwidth will permit. Create psychological safety for people to be vulnerable and yet confident that they would receive support always. Promote work-life balance through physical and mental wellbeing initiatives. Practicing these will ensure employees are well connected to the business in a hybrid work setting.
Is it advisable for an organisation to ask its employees to work from home with their own working tool?
I would not encourage any business to do this on many fronts. Asking your employees to use their personal equipment to deliver your company’s work means you are exposing your organisation to cyber security risk and breach of confidentiality. However, I have seen some organisations that have allowed employees to use their own equipment to perform work and tasked their IT team, with the consent of their employees, to put in place measures to protect their data and privacy while they work on their personal equipment. Not recommended as the risk is high for organisations.
What are some of the technological and logistical tools that enable hybrid work?
Connectivity and communication tools: Computer/laptop, modem/router, phone and data. Instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook Messenger Etc.
Video conferencing tools : Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Skype Etc.
Collaboration and Project Management tools: Microsoft Teams, Trello, Monday.com, Teamwork, BaseCamp, Slack, Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox Etc.
How do employers check in on employees in a way that does not appear that they are spying on them?
Managers need to check regularly on how their employees are doing – personally and on the job, but not every hour. That would be more like spying. Managers need to focus on productivity instead of virtual presenteeism. Managers can schedule periodic formal check-ins as well as ad hoc informal check-ins. However, it is important to establish ways of working that ensure regular updates and feedback. Additionally you can use platforms such as Kanban Boards and other collaboration tools mentioned above to ensure more visibility of each other’s work.
What are the unique challenges to implementing a hybrid work model in an African context?
The challenges associated with hybrid work differ across geographies and industries. The three major challenges in our part of the continent include internet connectivity, home office logistics and frequent power outages. The rest include distraction from home, work design, competency gaps, support from HR, lack of trust from both management and employees, among others.
What are the key HR challenges with Hybrid Work?
One key challenge is that when you adopt a hybrid work model, you risk having two organisational cultures emerging in the organisation, especially in a situation where you have some employees working from the office, and others from remote locations. Cohesion and trust among employees and their managers are high when there are face-to-face interactions and tend to be low when employees work remotely. It is HR’s responsibility to ensure that these cultures are managed in a way so as not to impact productivity. HR must also implement initiatives to deal with the challenges of employee wellbeing (burnout, anxiety among others), communication, employee engagement, performance management and talent development. Not all employees have the requisite skills needed to function effectively in a hybrid environment so there must be upskilling of employees and managers.
How can HR manage employees who have lost their family or loved ones from the COVD – 19 pandemic?
Whenever an employee loses a relative, they are hard-hit and HR must do everything possible to ensure that they feel that there is support for them, whether they are working virtually or in office. If there is an employee assistance programme, support them to sign up or get on. Assess their work load temporarily and determine how it may be managed to lessen the emotional stress on the employee. I have so far not come across any company in Africa offering special support for employees who have lost relatives through Covid-19.
Work is gradually moving beyond brick and mortar to a boundaryless setting. The Covid-19 pandemic has proven that this is doable. Work will therefore not be defined by a confined geographic location anymore. Before the COVID 19 pandemic, there were some companies that were already practicing hybrid work and therefore transitioned easily to the new normal. Others did not and have therefore been hit hard. I hope these insights can provide some assistance if you are looking at how best to adopt a hybrid work model for your organisation.
Written by Nixon Amoah-Awuah
Nixon is a seasoned HR expert and the Managing Director of CarvinClay People Development.