Leadership & Future of Work

5 tips for a successful return to the office for your hybrid team.

Post by
Diyanah Afendy
5 tips for a successful return to the office for your hybrid team.

The introduction (or a blind leap, for many) to #WFH may perhaps be one of the greatest lessons for organisations throughout this pandemic. However, as a post-COVID vaccine world emerges, flexible work is making itself into a widely accepted, or even encouraged, policy for a safe return to the office.

It is not enough for organisations to merely suggest that “all employees can start coming into the office as needed”. If the rollout process is taken too lightly, it creates a wide gap in workplace accessibility and employee expectations. If your organisation’s ability and preparedness for flexible work is miscalculated, it may lead to discrimination between remote workers and in-office workers. This undoubtedly leads to miscommunication, poor workplace productivity, and low employee engagement levels.

So, if you are planning on integrating flexible work into your return to office plan, you’ll want to plan properly to optimise the success of your hybrid team’s #ReturnToOffice. Here are five tips to help ensure a smooth transition to hybrid team success: 

Tip #1: Optimise the current experience.

We are all familiar with the concept of flexible work by now, and understand that sometimes work can’t be dependent on a location or time. Most teams would have had more than enough practice to be flexible enough to account for conflicting meeting schedules, timezone gaps, or household interruptions.

As we embrace asynchronous communication channels like email, Slack, and Google Doc comments, it converts hybrid team dynamics into a transparent, continuous flow of information sharing. In addition to boosting engagement in the near term, capitalising on your team’s strength to stay well connected whether they are in the office or in another country, will continue to benefit your organisation in any future workplace scenario.

Tip #2: Define and manage expectations.

It is almost impossible to fulfil expectations that haven’t been set. As the future of work leans towards a virtual-first model, it is critical for leaders to effectively communicate with their hybrid teams to ensure a successful and effective return to the office.

While the concept of flexible work is a perk to everyone, it is important to keep everyone on the same page. Take the time to discuss any adaptive changes that may take place – how meetings will be conducted, methods of communication, and how you can ensure that everyone receives the same information (whether they are in-office or working remotely). Additionally, it’s important to establish how individual employees plan to structure or rework their hours, for the benefit of everyone. It’s important to have clear discussions on these expectations, making compromises where necessary.

It is about defining and clearly communicating a new “normal”, as organisations work closely with employees to manage expectations. This brings us to the next tip.

Tip #3: Involve employees in the planning process.

If our previous blog posts weren’t clear enough, the strength and efficiency of a team emerge from what a team does together and how they do it.

It wouldn’t make sense for you to map out an isolated HR strategy and expect each and every employee to be aligned with your suggestions. Instead, establish a clear line between employees and the bigger picture. Whether they work from home, in-office, or both, involve them in the process and create platforms for their voices to be heard. Don’t wait for employees to speak up – be proactive and engage in a people-first leadership approach. This can be done through surveys, virtual team brainstorming sessions, or even through your one-on-one sessions to gather feedback and input.

Whatever the strategy or plan you go ahead with, ensure that there is transparency throughout the process - keep your team updated whenever possible. Engage early and over-communicate.

Remember: your employees are directly impacted by this transition too, so ensure that they have an active role in shaping and defining it.

Tip #4: Account for factors outside your control.

Undoubtedly, your team and your organisation will continue to be impacted by factors that are outside your control. For one, we don’t know for sure what a COVID-free world looks like and what other challenges may arise as we navigate through to the other end of this pandemic. Many of us were, fortunately (or unfortunately), thrown in a sink-or-swim scenario back in 2020 with lockdowns and the constant change in government regulations, so we would already have a plan in place (sort of) and a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

Other factors could include transportation infrastructure or restrictions that limit the availability of childcare, either of which may prevent your team members from returning to the office in a typical way. It is within your remit as a leader, to incorporate these realities into a return to the office plan, and manage expectations of all employees who are impacted. This brings us back to Tip #1 and #3 – to leverage and double down on the current methods of communication that have already been established and involving your employees every step of the way.

Tip #5: Leverage long-term #flexiblework.

Use this opportunity to evolve your workplace strategy. For employees returning to the office, they will be well-equipped with new perspectives on the workplace and tools to work efficiently within a distributed team.

Leaders will have to be mindful of reverting to pre-COVID habits of monitoring productivity based on presence, suggesting physical-based activities, or giving preferences to employees according to physical presence and visibility. Such leadership will undoubtedly land you in a quicksand of discrimination, poor employee engagement, and team culture.

Instead, commit to thoughtful, ongoing evaluation of the team’s distributed work practices. Take the Remote Social team for example. Half of the team are now coming into the office a few days a week, and the others half are #WFH. For our virtual team meetings, we make it a standard practice to log on individually, to decrease feelings of isolation for those working remotely. Imagine being on a virtual team meeting with only 2 screens – you on one, and your team of 7 on another – it’s awkward.

This also means constant improvements in communication, management, and technology to ensure that it is successfully beneficial to every team member – whether they work remotely or not. The cherry on top out of all this? A company that supports flexible work with a hybrid team is also in a better position to take advantage of talents across different time zones.

In conclusion, COVID-19 may not be the nail in the coffin for the 9 to 5. However, it provides a moment of enlightenment for employers and employees alike in the creation of a more agile, flexible workforce. It will no doubt take a great deal of effort to create a work environment that meets and marries the two – a changing post-pandemic world, and a workforce that expects more flexibility – but if past experience is to go by, it is certainly achievable.