Leadership Lessons: Managing the New Hybrid Workplace

Is remote working here to stay? After the drastic shift to no travel or in-person meetings, old views of working from home were redefined. Companies have realized that in-person has benefits, but working from home also created new opportunities – and 97% of employees actually report that they desire the flexibility to choose their work environments. 

Moving into 2022, companies are making decisions to lay the groundwork for the future of their workforce. A hybrid approach will bridge the best of both worlds to take digital initiatives, operations and human connections to the next level of efficiency and productivity. Let’s look at some tips for IT and leadership to consider as they welcome back employees into the office.

1.Lead by Example

We know that employees look to their companies’ leadership teams to offer guidance and set an example, not only in the day-to-day running of the business but especially during times of immense change. This return to work, no matter what form it takes, should be shepherded by management. Businesses will need CEOs — chief empathy officers — and leaders who understand that not everyone will want or be able to return to a normal work environment.

Should company leaders be the first to go back? Leading by example doesn’t necessarily mean that all leaders head into the office every day. Rather, it’s the way we treat people and the way we talk about this situation that will set the tone and the example that others will follow. It’s paramount that we operate in a way that is trusting and inclusive of everyone, especially those who still need to be remote when others are choosing to return to the office.

2. Be Flexible

For some people, working from home has many benefits. Cutting commutes and having flexible hours improved the quality of life for many, with 72% of surveyed employees reporting better work-life balance in 2020. However, others are ready to get back; not everyone has the space or capacity for a productive work-from-home environment. Leaders need to be sensitive to both sides of the spectrum.

Keep in mind the sheer length of this COVID-19 cloud: a full year of remote work has led people to establish completely new routines. It’s important to consider how employees are affected by outside factors, including living situations, kids in virtual school, health concerns, deaths of loved ones, etc. This is a transitional period, and we need to be sensitive and empathetic, especially for those who are still concerned about the virus.

Giving employees choices for their “return to work” instead of issuing an edict that everyone needs to come into the office is important and will make a significant difference in employee loyalty.

3. Inspire Connection

What’s missing in a remote environment? Chats around the water cooler, birthday cakes, even a quick “good morning” in the hall. Employee connections make work enjoyable. A long-term study showed good company culture increases revenue 4x. How can we keep human connections between people both in the office and at home? It’s critical that managers maintain one-on-one meetings with their employees, even if they are over a video conference, to check in personally, as well as professionally.

Group meetings should be facilitated to include some socialization or less formal topics on the agenda to allow people to get to know their co-workers. This is especially important for new employees or newly formed teams who have not had the benefit of ever meeting in person. In meetings involving hybrid groups, now more than ever, it is important to ensure that both in-person and remote employees have a positive experience. Inspiring connection has to be a purposeful priority.

4. Maintain Productivity

Despite the stressors of facing a global pandemic, a survey by Mercer reported that 94% of employers had seen the same or higher productivity levels from employees as they saw pre-pandemic. We must structure the hybrid work approach to maintain that productivity, formulating new processes and optimizing technology infrastructure so that employees can plug in quickly and work securely no matter where they are.

Research has shown that 92% of employees expect to continue work from home at least one day a week, and 80% would like to work from home three days a week. When evaluating needs for physical workplaces, employers should think about reconfiguring space in the office so that employees don’t lose productivity if they need to come in. Tools like conference room/workspace schedulers and VOIP phone options for forwarding calls can offer flexibility for this hybrid approach and minimize the overhead inherent in switching between work locations.

5. Manage Security and Safety

One of the biggest pain points of supporting a hybrid workforce is managing privacy, security and safety for all employees. First, leadership should evaluate company policies and update them to accommodate the unique privacy requirements of hybrid workplaces. Many U.S. states require consent before employees are videotaped in various situations, like on a Zoom call. There are also certain workplace safety guidelines for employees who work from home, both from OSHA and some states and localities that need to be considered.

When it comes to security, companies should double down on endpoint protection. Since the pandemic began, the FBI has reported a 300% increase in reported cybercrimes. This can be especially challenging in a hybrid model where endpoint locations and network characteristics change. For example, many companies alarm employee logins from unknown locations to help detect and prevent unauthorized access. In an environment where working from various locations becomes the new normal, information security teams need to rethink sorting out threat activity.

It also becomes harder to optimize variable resources such as VPN or firewall capacity. For companies with the majority of applications already migrated to the cloud, it makes sense to look at cloud-based firewalls and other security applications as well.

Companies have gained confidence that they can achieve high productivity and lower workplace costs by allowing employees in many roles to work remotely. COVID-19 jump-started this opportunity, but the many confirmed benefits will sustain it. As some employees begin to return to the office, the focus should now be on optimizing the security, infrastructure and employee experience to reflect the changing needs of a hybrid workforce.


The original post appeared in Toolbox Tech

Linda Kahangi is Chief Information and Operations Officer and oversees operations, technology infrastructure, information security, NOC and customer service management. An accomplished Internet Service Provider executive, Kahangi previously served as Executive Vice President of Operations for EarthLink, where she oversaw the network infrastructure supporting over 5 million subscribers. She also integrated and optimized the consolidated technical assets resulting from multiple acquisitions. She was a key driver in helping EarthLink to earn JD Powers Customer Satisfaction Awards and Computerworld’s “Top 100 Places to Work in IT.”