Employers are currently exploring how hybrid teams can collaborate across geographies and time zones—synchronously and asynchronously—connected via expanding technology that enables virtual interactions and fosters interpersonal relationships.
This approach responds to employees’ psychological, social and physical needs and can create a more inclusive and equitable way of working by breaking down traditional office hierarchies.
But implementing this new hybrid work environment will not come without challenges.
The office has historically served as the nexus of organizational culture and identity. So, how will people who aren’t always in the physical workplace stay connected to the organization and their colleagues who use the office more frequently? Moreover, how can we make the office more accommodating and productive for people when they are on site? What new behaviours will the physical environment need to support and encourage? When the default no longer requires in-office attendance five days a week, what will motivate workers to show up?
Organizations are now encouraged to develop a change management process based on a new understanding of the post-COVID needs of their people.
The new change management process
An agile change management process engages with, and is responsive to, the individual at all levels of the organization, no matter the sector. It is both structured in its approach to providing clarity and flexible enough to accommodate the needs of a diverse population. It begins with an assessment: understanding the current and pre-pandemic workplace experience, then determining how the future experience will differ. Preparations involve defining the metrics to measure effectiveness, assembling a cross-functional team to support the change and aligning key stakeholders, leaders and sponsors.
The approach is deployed through leaders, managers and champions, and supported by tools and technology to deliver a targeted and personalized change experience. Managers are encouraged to foster open communication and hold regularly scheduled one-on-ones with their teams. For their part, employees are expected to play an active role. They will be trained in utilizing new tools, maintaining productivity and fostering a culture of inclusivity.
A change effort might include a multi-modal approach to communication and engagement, recognizing that certain methods of communication are more appropriate for certain messages. High-level directive, concise ideas, big-picture thinking is the perfect level of detail for a town hall; but this type of communication may not generate dialogue.
To understand specific concerns, personal experiences or to address critics, a one-on-one conversation is the right approach. But it will take more effort and deliver information that may not be applied in a general way. Deeper dive conversations that require multiple opinions to reach a consensus might be best achieved through a focus group.
Whatever the engagement, a consistent and accessible message is key. Communications should reinforce intent and be inclusive. This is achievable by understanding the audience and communicating in a way that resonates.
Leadership-led change is critical to adoption, so whatever the approach is to hybrid, it must be followed through by example, at the highest levels of the organization. To empower employees to be mobile, demonstrating that through behaviour is important.
Engaging to understand employee needs
The process recognizes that everyone experienced the pandemic differently, which will inform their perspectives on returning to the office or working elsewhere. To support how people could interact within the new work environment, take the time to understand employees’ needs from the perspective of a hybrid future and recognize that opinions may shift as we progress towards the new normal.
Through listening and dialogue, all organizations can glean how their work operations, office design and technology will need to respond to suit the needs of different team members. Beyond this, a truly engaging effort includes employees in the overall narrative; it sends the message that your employees are valued and they do have “skin in the game”.
For some organizations, the process of asking questions and deep listening may reveal an opportunity to downsize the physical office while adding more ways for employees to collaborate virtually. For others, the size of the office might not be an issue. What’s missing is a choice of work environments within that workspace.
Whatever the solution, it’s only by understanding the individual needs of the post-COVID employee that organizations can make informed decisions about how the new work environment will best suit the needs of their people.
Kevin Katigbak is a senior strategist at Gensler