Pieter de Villiers, Clickatell Co-Founder and CEO.
The most important lesson I’ve learned over the past two years is that in order to build a resilient business, it’s crucial to embrace change. While it’s tempting to stick to the status quo, it can close you off from unexpected benefits and opportunities.
My early misgivings toward hybrid work had to shift and my belief—that an effective workplace requires in-person collaboration—morphed to recognize the value of hybrid work. We needed to accommodate a new way of working to take the company forward.
Embracing a hybrid working environment has certainly helped us navigate the disruption of the pandemic, but I’d argue the more important benefit has been to our culture. The solution allows our employees to work according to their preferences, and in turn, it fast-tracked creativity and innovation.
Whether you have a hybrid work model now or are looking to build one in the future, here are five takeaways that I learned during my company’s transformation. By adopting these lessons, you can help your workforce thrive in a hybrid model.
1. Support individual employees’ needs.
One of the first and most important requirements of leaders—especially those who are leading through change—is to ensure two-way communication. Every employee will respond to hybrid work differently, depending on their years in the workforce, personal beliefs and habits, so it’s important to ask employees how they’re doing and provide support as needed.
For example, a recent survey on tech employees shows that Gen-Z has had the hardest time adjusting to remote work. Of all the age groups, this cohort is the most likely to prefer the office because they want to form relationships, have new life experiences and fast-track career growth. Baby Boomers, meanwhile, often prefer remote work, which is likely due to their advanced work experience. Gen-X and millennials fell in the middle, having already had some in-person work experience prior to the pandemic.
Ultimately, you won’t know what individual employees are struggling with unless you ask. Encourage your people managers to foster open lines of communication with their employees and work together to find the right support.
2. Design policies that assume offices are no longer the norm.
Embracing hybrid work means ensuring your policies match work realities. Since we let employees choose whether to work hybrid, in-person or remote, we make sure the rest of our policies accommodate the differences in working locations.
For example, we’ve made an effort to hire people located close enough to our office hubs so they can easily make trips in when it’s required. We have also downsized our real estate footprint to reflect these new policies, and teams near office hubs can schedule time in advance to meet and work in person as needed.
Also, consider how interpersonal dynamics will change whether you’re working remotely or in the office. If only one person is dialing into a predominantly in-person meeting, they can miss some nuances and be at a disadvantage compared to in-person counterparts. In these instances, it’s often better to have a virtual meeting for everyone to ensure the meeting is inclusive and provides everyone with equal opportunities to participate.
3. Celebrate your people often.
The term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) gained popularity in the 1980s and ’90s following usage by scholars Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus and the U.S. Army War College. It gives context to human capital conversations in relation to external global factors.
However, the world has changed in the wake of Covid-19 and demands a new way of thinking about human capital. Futurist Jamais Cascio revised VUCA by positing the BANI framework. He suggests that today’s leaders need to deal with a brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible world.
With anxious teams worried about their relevance during a time of uncertainty, I’ve found people are at heightened risk of turnover and burnout. To combat these effects, put more focus and energy around forming great employee experiences through real-time recognition, regular performance evaluations and periodic promotions.
4. Remember that hybrid doesn’t mean 100% virtual.
“No man is an island, entire of itself.” This means no one can exist in isolation. Virtual connections are great, but they can only take you so far. As you build teams, ensuring good, consistent connections between colleagues is critical.
Even if employees are remote, it’s still important to have touchpoints where people can connect in person. Face-to-face communication can foster higher quality interactions, which fuels relationship building and strong connections. This means colleagues may be more empathetic toward one another, more collaborative about work and ultimately, less likely to leave the company.
If you’re asking employees to come into the office, it’s important to plan properly. Whether it’s one week in a quarter or one day weekly, make sure to plan ahead of time so employees can attend. Our global social committee also funds social gatherings and outings for people near office hubs, as well as for virtual staff meetings, entertainment and events. Perhaps you might do the same.
5. Listen, engage and pivot for success.
In addition to listening to employees in a one-on-one setting, it’s important to collect feedback on how your aggregated workforce is doing. Along with meetings between direct reports and managers, we also run annual employee engagement surveys to understand how our workforce experiences a hybrid work environment and opportunities for improvement.
Anonymized surveys can help you spot larger trends in your workforce. Besides, some employees feel more comfortable giving honest feedback anonymously than in a one-on-one meeting with their manager. But collecting feedback is just the first step. The follow-through is what’s most important. Based on the results from staff engagement surveys and insights from peers in your sector and analyst firms, you can adjust policies accordingly.
There’s no doubt that a hybrid work model has been an adjustment, especially for leaders who come from more traditional nine-to-five structured backgrounds. But the experience has shown me that with a more agile mindset and a willingness to respond to change, companies can create environments that help individuals flourish—and this can only benefit the organization as a whole.