5 strategies for CEOs to build a successful hybrid workplace 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on businesses all around the world, with many being forced to close their doors, and others having to find new ways to operate safely. Hybrid workplaces are organisational setups in which both remote and on-site teams can function as one cohesive unit. Many businesses were beginning to trend in this direction even before the pandemic struck, but there is no doubt that COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the shift.

Hybrid workplaces can cause many logistical issues for businesses such as making sure that all team members feel valued and checking that productivity levels remain high no matter where employees are based.

To help businesses function effectively in the post-pandemic world, here are 5 strategies for building a successful hybrid workplace.

1. Manage digital overload to reduce fatigue

One of the biggest challenges of the hybrid work model is tackling the “always-on” mindset which has become a feature for many employees working from home. 93% of HR leaders have reported being increasingly concerned about employee burnout since the start of the pandemic.

While many organisations are implementing strategies to increase productivity, these are in fact having the opposite effect – killing productivity and driving higher fatigue levels.

Three key areas of remote work stress that needs to be addressed are:

Digital distractions

From Zoom meetings to Slack messages, emails and social media, digital distractions were cited by employees as the biggest factor which impacted their ability to concentrate. According to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distractions at the University of California, it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus once a person has been distracted.

Virtual overload

High levels of virtualisation – whether continuous meetings or catch-ups intended to recreate ‘watercooler moments’ – are cognitively draining to employees.

Always-on mindset

Employees in a hybrid environment are more likely to struggle switching off at the end of the day compare to on-site employees. Monitoring systems, although implemented to ensure productivity, may exacerbate this problem.

Instead of “virtualising” office-centric work practices (like above), business leaders must adopt a human-centric work environment where employee experience is placed at the top of the agenda for greater performance, job satisfaction and overall well-being.

2. Define the office’s primary function

Office environments have changed very little since the 1970s. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a paradigm shift in how companies perceive physical office space.

  • What do employees need most from an office?
  • Which tasks are best performed at home?

Forward-thinking companies are realising that the future workplace will be a collaborative, community-like space for employees to gather: a space for cooperation, personal development, and culture. Whereas individual tasks that require more focus will be done remotely.

More than that, the future office will need to cater to “activity-based working”, a working style that allows employees to choose from a variety of settings (e.g. quiet spaces, meeting rooms, social areas) depending on what they are doing. According to an employee survey conducted by Nike, this was by far the preferred the most important aspect of a future workplace environment.

Tied to this reimagining of the office and space utilisation is how technology can facilitate effective collaboration, but also in the short-term how it can create a COVID-safe environment for everyone.

3. Collaboration is essential

Research by Gartner found that 71% of HR leaders are more concerned about employee collaboration than they were before the pandemic. Why? Because collaboration is one of the key drivers of innovation. White-boarding and brainstorming have suffered significantly in Zoom environments and must be reconsidered to avoid a drop-off in performance or competitive advantage.

The best way to foster innovation in this context is via intentional collaboration. Leaders must not only think about where (on-site or remote) but how (working together or alone) employees work.

By offering more varied and inclusive models of work, it allows employees to flow between sites and thrive in their desired workspace, be it working offline from home, or brainstorming together in the office, or working alone while in the office. Once again, according to Garner’s research, teams who collaborate intentionally are three times more likely to achieve high team innovation than teams that do not use this approach.

Catering to these various working modes and needs, and ensuring employees have equitable access to each mode, will therefore be an essential feature of the hybrid work model.

4. ‘Water cooler’ chats matter

Spontaneous interactions in the office between co-workers have been shown to play an important role in performance and well-being.

According to a study by Chargifi, over 70% of employees felt happier and more motivated after these encounters. What’s more, over 55% said that these spontaneous conversations were the best thing about the office experience.

New hybrid work models should therefore aim to achieve the right balance between home and office work, where the benefits of in-person connections can be maintained for greater employee wellbeing and productivity.

The danger as mentioned above is attempting to recreate these moments virtually. We’re relational creatures, wired for connection. Therefore, it’s important to ensure these physical workspaces exist for employees to interact.

5. Don’t forget about Gen Z

While many of us for different reasons have been suffering throughout the pandemic, the one overlooked demographic that may be suffering most is Generation Z. According to Microsoft, 60% of this generation – those between the ages of 18 – 25 – say they are surviving or flat-out struggling.

The reasons for this are clear: being early in their careers, they will have had fewer opportunities to network and build meaningful connections with their team, making them feel the impact of isolation harder than others. They are more likely to be single given their age, and lacking the financial means to create proper workplaces at home. Gen Z is also more likely to overwork to prove to their line managers they are doing enough – exacerbating the “always-on” feeling as discussed earlier, leading to exhaustion and fatigue.

New generations are essential to the future of work. Being the first to operate in a hybrid environment, it is essential to set expectations for Gen Z employees so they feel not only a sense of connection and purpose to their company and the people in it, but an overall sense of well-being in themselves.

Technology will be key to facilitate new ways of working

Covid-19 poses an existential threat to businesses in every industry and only those that can adapt will survive in the new post-pandemic world. However you choose to approach this workplace transformation, technology lies at the heart of the future of work. This will include:

  • Organising logistics for a more dispersed workforce
  • Optimising workspaces
  • Increasing task automation
  • Increasing adoption of AI-powered technologies
  • Greater investment in privacy and security
  • Greater tech integration for a seamless workplace experience
  • Improving internal communication

If you would like to hear about how one of our “fractional” (i.e. part-time) CIOs or CTOs can help transform your business, then please get in touch. We’re always happy to have a free-of-charge conversation about which IT strategies will give you a competitive advantage and accelerate your company’s growth. You can schedule a call with our Managing Director, Tim Felix, here. To find out more about our services, click here.