The Future of Work is the Hybrid Workplace

I recently joined the JA Worldwide Council, and as part of the group, I attended my first in-person meeting since COVID swept the world. The meeting took place in the conference room of a law firm in midtown Manhattan. It was a microcosm of the “new normal”: half of us were in person—masked, vaccinated, six feet apart—and the other half joined through Zoom.

It felt like a glimpse into the foreseeable future. It also reminded me of the great new opportunity we now have for inclusion. How amazing is it that people who couldn’t join us in New York City were still able to participate? In the past, I suppose those who don’t or can’t travel simply missed out.

The hybrid workplace model is not going anywhere. Whether your organization has already returned to the office full-time, has announced a telecommuting policy or – like most companies – is stuck somewhere in the middle, the reality is that work will now take place in a hybrid fashion. Even if you’re in the office, a colleague may be working remotely or vice versa.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind to thrive in this new way of working.

Alignment across a common purpose

Keep your focus on the big picture. At the meeting of the World Council, although many of us were separated physically, we were all united by a common goal. The CEO kept pointing out how our conversation serves the larger purpose of JA to inspire and prepare young people for success in the global economy, and this gave the meeting an energy that replaced the site.

Leaders in the mixed workplace must be facilitators and thinkers of the big picture, Not Detailed managers. Keep the work focused on a common goal while giving everyone an equal opportunity to participate. This enables employees to stay motivated wherever and however they work.

Give employees flexibility – with limits

We have seen that without limits, employees are not sure how to interpret policies. Take the year of paid parental leave for Netflix, for example, or any company that offers unlimited leave. Employees can take a lot or, more likely, too small Because they do not know what is acceptable to them.

The mixed workplace should be flexible, but you shouldn’t let your team guess what you expect of them.

Don’t make assumptions about your employees, especially about who wants to work remotely and who prefers to come back to the office. There is a tendency to assume, for example, that millennials and Generation Zs all want to work from home because they are comfortable communicating virtually. This is simply not true. While some early-career professionals want to work from home permanently, many young people want to go to the office to increase opportunities for networking, learning and socializing. As always, it’s important to ask employees for their opinion, and not make assumptions based on age (or gender, race, family status, or any other characteristic).

Use personal time strategically

In any mixed business model, employees will spend a portion of their time face-to-face. When employees are asked to come into the office, don’t repeat meetings that could have happened over a Zoom call. Getting everyone together may not happen in person often, so you need to use this shared time strategically.

If you ask people to come into the office in person, use the benefits of personal interactions. Define innovation or brainstorming days. Plan a group volunteer event. Or just plan a social time and lunch at a popular restaurant.

Remember that the time you spend bonding over a meal or other non-work related activity is not wasted. Quite the opposite – employees thrive on socializing and learning more about each other. This supports a happier, more engaged, and more productive workforce, regardless of how the workplace itself develops.

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