How to Develop a Hybrid Work Culture for Employee Engagement
Disruptive events present opportunities for resilient leaders to break through the status quo and write new narratives for the world of work. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic presented such an opportunity.
Pre-Covid, 25 percent of employees worked some or all of the time from home. In stark contrast, only 20 percent of the workforce was on-site full-time as of June 2022. Future-focused leaders recognize that work is no longer static, and workplaces shouldn’t be either.
For many, that means turning permanently to a hybrid work model. If you are such a leader, read on to learn how to design a hybrid work culture centered on employee engagement, a vital key to competitive advantage for companies worldwide.
Why Hybrid Work?
In its simplest form, a hybrid work environment combines physical and virtual workplace elements and arrangements. This allows workers to move seamlessly between remote and in-person settings while increasing productivity levels.
Remote work has several proven benefits: higher commitment levels, increased morale, and greater job satisfaction, to name a few.
On the flip side, extensive remote work also has negative consequences. Less teamwork, more isolation, loneliness, work/life blurring, and decreased life satisfaction all emerged as the dark side of remote work after the initial novelty of working from home during the COVID lockdown wore off. A hybrid approach balances the cons and maximizes the pros of both onsite and remote work.
Engaged employees are the crux of a company’s competitive advantage. They are committed, motivated, productive and consistently contribute more than what is required of them.
Unfortunately, according to the latest stats from Gallup, only 32% of workers were engaged in 2022, and 17% of employees were actively disengaged, up one percent from the prior year. This data is significant, considering late 2021 showed the first decline following decades of consistently rising engagement. Remote and hybrid workplaces demonstrate much better engagement (37% engaged) than onsite-only employers (29% engaged).
The value of hybrid work cultures and employee engagement can not be understated. Taking the time to consider employees’ workplace needs and well-being will go a long way in developing an effective hybrid culture that fosters positive morale among staff.
Employers must focus on well-being, survey employees, make the hybrid workplace inclusive, and anticipate tech and workspace needs. Doing so will help create an environment where staff feels physically and emotionally supported, resulting in greater productivity and job satisfaction. This holistic approach to hybrid work encompasses all elements necessary to ensure employees’ success while driving desired organizational outcomes.
How to Develop a Hybrid Work Culture (Step by Step)
Step 1: Focus on well-being.
Employee engagement and well-being go hand-in-hand. Engagement involves communication, collaboration, and caring — all of which support well-being. Meanwhile, healthy employees are better equipped to engage actively at work.
It’s problematic, then, that employees are more stressed today than in 2020 and ever before. Recent Gallup research shows a nosedive in the percentage of workers who believe their employers care about their well-being. Consequently, an increased focus on employee well-being is not just good practice; it’s an organizational imperative.
The issue is that most attempts to increase well-being fixate on individual behaviors (e.g., movement, mindfulness, etc.). These approaches often manifest in corporate “wellness” programs, which miss the mark.
Typical corporate wellness initiatives exist on the premise that stress is self-imposed and managing stress is the employee’s responsibility. They don’t address the systemic issues and underlying role of the work environment on workers’ health and well-being.
To address the issue, a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests an approach based on updating the “job strain model” introduced in the 1970s.
The three key dimensions of the job strain model are job demands, control, and social support:
Increasing job control. The traditional job strain model defines job control as having decision-making power over how to perform and organize tasks. Enhanced job control for the 21st century would expand the definition to include control over where one completes work and when.
Taming job demands. In addition to considering workload and pace of work, the authors suggest that employers streamline activities and add targeted staffing and resources to reduce demands on the worker.
Enhancing workplace social relations. Finally, the researchers assert that managers and supervisors must go beyond providing work support and view employees as whole people, considering their family and personal lives.
Employers who view and address employee well-being from this more fundamental viewpoint have greater odds of creating elemental, long-lasting, positive changes in the health of their workforce.
Step 2: Survey employees.
Employee engagement surveys are excellent tools to take stock of the current situation and make plans to improve. By measuring employee engagement with a survey, you’ll join the ranks of companies worldwide. You’ll exceed many by following up on the data you collect and implementing changes.
There are several options out there for employee engagement surveys. Gallup’s Q12 Survey is available online for free, and SHRM offers a vendor directory.
You may also opt to develop your employee engagement survey for targeted intel. A custom assessment should include baseline questions to ask annually and compare employee engagement year-over-year. They should also meet the following criteria:
- Brevity. The survey should be brief. When surveys are shorter, employees are less likely to click answers without reflecting, compromising the data quality.
- Behavior-focused. Questions should be tailored to the employee’s day-to-day behavior, reflecting engagement.
- Value-oriented. Carefully craft the survey content to reflect the company’s values because employees will conclude what their employer cares about based on the questions they ask.
In between annual surveys, you may choose to conduct pulse surveys—short, frequent questionnaires designed for different issues and company units.
Keep in mind that conducting a survey is just the first step. Managers must properly utilize survey data and technology to make a positive change in the workplace.
To ensure you build on survey results and increase employee engagement, host feedback meetings, and share results post-survey. Sharing, rather than withholding, information creates a culture of collaboration and trust, ultimately translating to engagement, according to a 2019 study published in Yale’s Research Practitioner.
Finally, follow through and implement changes based on the data you collect and share with employees. A survey with no action is a waste of time and a signal to employees that their experiences and opinions don’t hold value.
Step 3: Anticipate needs for remote work and optimize the onsite workspace.
Proper materials and equipment are critical elements in the remote work experience of engaged employees. Employers embracing a hybrid model must anticipate the needs of remote workers in every job and provide them with the necessary resources, such as video conferencing equipment, printers and copiers, ergonomic desks and chairs, and all other job-specific supplies and materials.
Productive hybrid work arrangements also require special attention to physical workspaces. At a minimum, hybrid offices should have well-equipped communal rooms with video conferencing systems for in-person and remote connections, laptops, dry-erase boards, and all other applicable materials.
On the other hand, employers should also consider offering private offices for onsite, non-collaborative work. Incubation is a cognitive phase where employees engage in problem-solving, and many people like being alone during this phase. The best practice is to give people access to private offices with the option to convene in communal areas.
Step 4: Make hybrid work inclusive and “normal.”
More is needed to create an effective hybrid work arrangement; organizations must facilitate inclusive cultures of hybrid work to support an engaged workforce. Research indicates that employees will only participate in hybrid work arrangements if they don’t fear doing so will risk their job security or hurt their chances for promotions and other rewards. Furthermore, inconsistency in making hybrid work arrangements available to staff can create resentment for leadership and within teams.
If a company chooses to offer a hybrid work arrangement, it must fully commit to making it work. Everyone must receive equal access to the opportunity to work remotely some or all of the time (where possible), and leadership must demonstrate that both onsite and remote work is acceptable and equally encouraged. Further, leaders should confirm acceptance of partial or all remote work by engaging in it themselves.
Finally, leaders must implement systems for performance appraisals, incentives, job assignments, and promotions that reduce the risk of implicit bias so that onsite, remote, and combination workers receive fair treatment and access to incentives and opportunities.
As we’ve seen, the advantages of a hybrid work culture are undeniable. With more engagement from employers and employees, it’s possible to create a workspace that caters to productivity, satisfaction, and well-being.
Taking steps like focusing on employee well-being, surveying employees, and utilizing resources to optimize the onsite workspace ensures that companies take all the necessary steps for an effective hybrid work culture that encourages employee engagement.
With these strategies in mind and proper implementation, businesses can take strides towards giving their workforce the best environment for growth in productivity and morale. Hybrid work cultures allow companies to bridge the physical gap between employees, so they feel part of a team regardless of where they work. Creating strong connections with your team leads to greater dedication and motivation, which translates into better performance overall.
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