How businesses can implement the hybrid workplace of the future today

April 26, 2021, 11:00 PM UTC
Commentary-Workplaces Hybrid
Many companies will shift to hybrid workplace models as they contemplate the post-pandemic future of work, writes Kirt Walker.
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If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the future arrived faster than anticipated. In fact, the future is now.

Companies of all sizes are grappling with the implications of the pandemic lockdown as consumers rapidly adopt new habits. This acceleration is having a profound impact on the workplace, too. 

Last spring, as we transitioned more than 98% of our employees to safely work from home during the pandemic, we made a decision. Post-pandemic, 30% of our workforce will continue to work remotely on a permanent basis. We anticipate that longer term, that number will grow to 50%.

It wasn’t an easy call. One lesson we learned early on is that telecommuting doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Our leaders told us in surveys that they needed help managing employees in a virtual environment and keeping their teams engaged. 

The feedback was invaluable, leading to the creation of monthly leader forums and a team-focused intranet site to support managers in leading remotely. 

Because of the success of the changes we’ve made, we have no regrets about our decision. Going hybrid is a move that will create even more flexibility for our workforce, save employees and our company money, and ultimately create better value and reduced costs for customers. But it’s a decision that is requiring us to confront the realities of the post-pandemic workplace—and they are realities not unique to our organization.

Employers leaning into hybrid workplace models must embrace many considerations. The pros can include better work/life balance, lower expenses for employees and the company, and, in the right situations, higher job satisfaction for those who value flexibility. The cons may include diminished collaboration, fewer unplanned and productive conversations, erosion of company culture, and less direct management oversight.

As business leaders prepare for a post-pandemic world, there are three key areas on my mind: career, culture, and care.

One of the frequent concerns we’re hearing from employees is about how they can advance their careers in this new environment. They are concerned that out of sight means out of mind.

You can help employees take control of their careers by encouraging them to participate in development programs, mentorship opportunities, employee resource groups, and other company offerings.

Helping managers lead and coach from a distance is also important. One idea is to create toolkits with resources for managing team members and performance no matter where employees are located. 

We shouldn’t take for granted that all leaders are going to be able to do this intuitively. We’ll need to show them how to better communicate in a virtual environment, set job expectations, and guide development conversations.

No doubt, employers will continue to focus on identifying and investing in high-performing employees. If the opportunity to advance means moving to a different location or spending more time in the office, make those expectations clear.

Another of the complex challenges for all of us will be how we continue to cultivate a meaningful culture in the new normal. Focusing on this area will pay off in better results and better engagement.

With some in the office and some working remotely, successful communication will be critical to maintaining and even strengthening culture. Building a sense of community starts with employees feeling connected, valued, and included—even more so for associates who were recruited, hired, and onboarded during the pandemic, and therefore may not have met their coworkers in person yet.

During the past year, we dramatically increased communication at Nationwide—including frequent companywide town halls with senior leaders.

Employees can ask any question, and the audience can vote on which questions are answered first. Candid and transparent answers from top executives help our team members feel heard. And providing real-time information to everyone creates a common experience among employees.

Lastly, companies need to make sure they continue caring for their employees. Many businesses pride themselves on creating a great work experience. In the future, socially responsible companies will focus on contributing to a great life experience, too.

Working remotely can offer incredible flexibility, but it can also lead to feelings of isolation, overwork, burnout, and health risks that come with long hours spent in front of a computer. To combat this, employers should consider offering additional wellness resources, including online fitness classes, backup childcare and eldercare, support groups, and mental health assistance programs.

Healthy people make a healthy company, and we’ve found that the easier you make it to use these resources, the more people take advantage of them. Some of the most popular offerings with our employees include 10-minute Mindfulness Monday sessions with a focus on emotional well-being; 30-minute Wellness Wednesdays covering topics from nutrition to health to managing change; monthly Parenting Through a Pandemic broadcasts; and free online fitness classes during lunch and in the early evening.

No one planned for this pandemic, but out of every challenge comes opportunity. Now is the time for business leaders to plan for the future of work, because it’s already here.

Kirt Walker is CEO of Nationwide.

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