There’s no doubt that hybrid work has upended the way we operate as companies and individuals, but it’s transformed from what we thought was going to be a temporary state of working to the new normal. Hybrid work impacts everything from hiring and onboarding to career development to building and maintaining a strong organizational culture, all of which can pose challenges — and opportunities — for managers.
In many ways, technology has enabled us to digitally collaborate and interact with people whom we’d normally never have been able to. During the past couple of years, video calls allowed colleagues to stay in touch despite physical distance, whether it’s within the same city or across continents. Although a Zoom chat is a decent alternative to a meeting or check-in when necessary, it in no way replaces in-person connection or serendipitous conversations that happen when coworkers run into each other in the hallway. But the longer people remain remote or hybrid, the more they adapt to — and even prefer — a more flexible way of working.
A recent Gallup survey highlights the shift toward employee preferences and expectations around hybrid work, with 53% of remote-capable employees expecting a hybrid arrangement and 24% expecting to work exclusively remotely, based on the plans communicated to them by their employers. This expectation is held so strongly that when asked if they would look for a new job if remote work options were not offered, 38% of hybrid workers and 54% of exclusively remote workers said they would
The Gallup survey also found that when employees who prefer to work hybrid or fully-remote but are required to work fully onsite, they experience lower engagement and well-being, and higher levels of burnout and intent to leave. If companies aren't open-minded to remote work options, they risk pushing their employees to join the Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle.
As more companies adopt a hybrid work model, managers are faced with an increasingly complicated situation. Microsoft's 2022 Work Trend Index showed that managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations: As more and more employees are considering going hybrid or remote, business leaders are pushing for a return to the office. A majority of managers (54%) say leadership is out of touch with employees, and an even higher number (74%) say they don’t have the influence or resources to make changes for their teams. Managers are stuck in the middle, and have the difficult task of trying to find a happy medium between leadership and employee expectations and desires.
The good news is that every challenge opens up an opportunity. At the core, it’s important to focus on a human-first approach, no matter how much technology is driving the workplace. Lattice Advisory Services has identified some key opportunities to help managers successfully navigate hybrid work with the right mindset and tools. Here’s what they recommend.
4 Ways Managers Can Successfully Navigate the Shift to Hybrid and Remote Work
1. Use updates for more than just status reports.
These days, we have plenty of platforms — from task management systems like Asana or Monday.com, to email or shared Google Docs, to an Update tool like the one in Lattice — to share work updates. This often takes the form of an employee providing a quick overview of tasks and projects they’ve accomplished, what they’re working on next, and any blocks or challenges they may be facing. While this is efficient and effective, it can often feel impersonal, too, as employees become just a collection of tasks already achieved or yet to be accomplished.
Instead, managers could take some time to ask their employees not just what they’re doing but how they’re doing. Sample questions that managers could ask their direct reports to get a sense of how they’re doing could include:
- How are you feeling this week?
- What might be helpful for me to know about your life outside of work?
- What’s one thing outside of work that is taking up mindspace for you right now (that you’re open to sharing)?
- What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now (in or outside of work)?
Asking questions that go beyond a simple status update can help build rapport and trust with employees, and also gives managers a more holistic view of someone as a whole person versus just what they do at work. After all, regardless of title, behind every job is a human being, and we are all more than just a list of our job responsibilities.
2. Make one-on-ones consistent and meaningful.
Most companies have a platform or tool (and sometimes several) for everything; Slack, Jira, Asana, Google Drive, and more all help us collaborate asynchronously. When you can log into any of these tools at any time of day and see what’s happening, it may be tempting to skip a one-on-one. You shouldn’t.
One-on-ones give employees the dedicated time and space to ask questions, identify roadblocks, plan out career development, and generally share their feelings. Without all this information, managers can’t manage their teams effectively. So it’s important that even if managers feel like they have a strong grasp of what a direct report is working on, they continue to schedule and keep their one-on-ones. To encourage this behavior, you could use a planning tool, like Lattice 1:1s, a shared calendar, and/or an engagement survey that asks specific questions around one-on-ones.
Having a one-on-one is only half of the equation; you also have to make sure that the meeting is valuable to both the manager and the employee, because we all have limited time in our days. Reminding managers to actively engage in the conversation and check in on their employees is essential so that it becomes a habit. Some options include creating a consistent and predictable cadence of reminders to discuss certain topics (for example, project updates at the beginning of the week and performance feedback at the end of every month) and including them as agenda items or templates, or establishing a team or company norm where every one-on-one starts with a personal check-in.
3. Build a culture of feedback.
Feedback is a gift — good feedback is always welcome, but critical or constructive feedback can sometimes be more useful in driving impactful change. A feedback culture, or a company culture where feedback is given and received freely, honestly, and frequently, should be the goal to strive for. Giving and receiving feedback is hard in-person, and it’s even harder virtually, where you don’t have the same opportunities to witness behavior directly, read nonverbal cues, or comment or respond in real time. But it’s worth the effort, because when done right, employee feedback can increase engagement and motivation.
Building a culture of feedback needs to be done one step at a time. First, you need to make sure that feedback is happening — and not just during review cycles, but continuously. Technology can help here, whether you’re setting reminders or using tools like Lattice Feedback or Lattice Praise, which integrate organically into other workflows like Slack. You also have to make sure you’re delivering feedback effectively. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but the good news is that giving feedback is a skill, and skills can be developed and improved. One way to do this is by publicly rewarding effective feedback, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.
Once feedback is given or received, you need to take action accordingly. If good behavior isn’t being rewarded, and bad behavior isn’t being held to account, then there’s no point having feedback in the first place.
4. Encourage career conversations.
Career development is a top concern for employees, but it’s also important to organizations for retaining talent. Career development is a continual process, so conversations around it aren't a one-and-done endeavor, but rather an ongoing discussion between a manager and employee. Because these conversations will evolve over time, it’s crucial to have a tool or document like an individual development plan to track, update, and measure progress.
Similarly to one-on-ones and feedback, encouraging managers to have career conversations with their employees has to be built into the culture. Having a standardized approach or templates throughout the company for talking about employee careers can help set expectations and create consistency across teams and departments, and ensure career development is a priority.
The prevalence of hybrid work has evolved out of necessity; in a world where we are all working together, but from our homes or across the globe, technology has helped compensate for physical separation. But the more employees expect hybrid work to be the norm, and the more we rely on technology — tools, video calls, and asynchronous communication — convenience can come at the expense of connection. Now, more than ever, managers need to invest in human-first approaches, through updates, one-on-ones, and/or feedback, to lead to long-term employee development and success.
Lattice Advisory Services (LAS) provides strategic consultations to deliver recommendations and best practices for People programs. Sign up here to receive updates from LAS on the latest trends and best practices in People strategy.