In the first of a three-part series on establishing a hybrid office, we look at four questions leaders need to ask to develop a successful working environment.

For some associations, the transition to fully remote operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been relatively smooth. But now that employees are beginning to tiptoe back into offices in some parts of the country, the solution gets more complicated. Many workers enjoy a completely remote routine, but others face new challenges because of it. And in some industries, certain roles cannot be filled from home.

Is there a happy medium? Can organizations tap into the safety and efficiency of a remote working environment while also enjoying the performance-boosting effects of face-to-face interactions?

A hybrid office model, where the workforce splits time between working at home and in a shared workplace, may benefit associations. Studies have shown that many people want to return to the office while maintaining the ability to work from home for part of the week.

Here are four questions leaders should ask themselves before implementing a hybrid work model.

WHAT WILL HYBRID TEAMS NEED TO COLLABORATE EFFECTIVELY?

Remote and in-office workers must be able to work together seamlessly on projects. When they go hybrid, organizations need to continue to provide employees with collaborative tools such as Zoom, Slack, and Google’s G Suite.

Communication is a key element, as gaps can easily form between remote and in-office team members.

Communication is a key element, as gaps can easily form between remote and in-office team members. For example, information shared during impromptu meetings will be lost on a remote worker. Leaders would have to adapt by instilling a culture of transparency and frequent communication among team members—this could mean a more hands-on approach where daily status meetings over Zoom with the whole team are required. These meetings would also provide remote workers with the opportunity to build relationships with each other and imitate the social etiquette of the office—think casual chats around the water cooler.

CAN I MAKE THE OFFICE SAFE?

Employee health and safety should be an association’s top priority as they prepare to reopen their offices. In a recent Salesforce survey, office workers cited enhanced cleaning and employee health monitoring as the top actions employers can take to comfort returning staffers. During the pandemic, ensuring employee safety includes:

  • Adopting rigorous cleaning tactics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine cleaning of surfaces and high-touch areas with disinfectants registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Establishing social-distancing guidelines. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlined practices such as staggering breaks, rearranging seating in common areas, and marking 6-foot distances with floor tape and signage.
  • Implementing touchless solutions. Automatic soap and paper towel dispensers, along with hands-free waste receptacles and door handles, help limit contact with surfaces.
  • Asking employees to wear face coverings. The CDC and OSHA recommend that workers wear face coverings except when doing so presents a hazard in and of itself. Workplaces should also evaluate accessible communication policies for people who need to lip-read.

WHO GOES BACK TO THE OFFICE?

Everyone works differently: Certain employees might thrive at home, while others feel isolated and eager to get back to a physical workspace. Leaders can ensure productivity by asking employees about their preferences and then placing them in their ideal environments. In 2021, HubSpot will do just that by letting employees choose from three different work scenarios—at the office, flex, or at home.

It’s also important to consider the effects of separating teams, as working relationships may take a hit. “If you develop a good working relationship with someone in person first—so you’ve got the trust and the understanding about how to do the work and communicate—then switching to remote work has some challenges,” said Alec R. Levenson, senior research scientist at the University of Southern California Marshall Center for Effective Organizations.

If it works for everyone involved, associations might benefit from putting an entire team in office or keeping an entire department remote for continuity.

HOW CAN I ENSURE THAT COMPANY CULTURE REMAINS INTACT?

A 2017 report from Harvard Business Review demonstrated that remote workers often feel left out, worrying that coworkers say bad things behind their backs or don’t fight for their priorities. Additionally, Buffer reported that 20 percent of remote workers cited loneliness as their biggest challenge—even before the pandemic.

Organizations must be ready to energize their work-from-home group just as often as their office workers. Luckily, virtual engagement opportunities abound: Happy hours, show-and-tell sessions over Zoom, and scavenger hunts are among the many possibilities. Leaders can bridge the social gap between remote and office workers by involving both groups in these team-building activities.

In part 2 of the series, we’ll examine which organizational roles most benefit from a shared environment. In part 3, we’ll share how to develop policies that account for the varying needs of different types of workers.