One of the concepts that organizations will want to define in 2021 is what the hybrid workforce means for them. I’ve seen it referred to as when the workforce is more equally balanced between onsite and remote employees. I’ve also seen it defined as when employees have the option to work where it makes the most sense for what they do. And of course, there’s a lot of room in between to create your own version.
I know that some organizations are concerned about a hybrid workforce because they feel that it will take something away from their culture. Frankly, I’m torn on this topic. On one hand, I see the point about remote employees needing to be a part of company culture. That’s critical! But on the other, I don’t know that it’s impossible to do. It does take some planning.
During last year’s virtual HR Technology Conference, I listened to a session with Sarah Cousin, head of internal communications with Chalhoub Group, that was focused on how their organization – a luxury retailer with over 12,000 employees was handling the pandemic. I thought her talk took a very practical approach to the current situation.
It also made me realize a few employee strategies that could be helpful not only in the months to come but when it comes to the future of remote work. The first is in what we call it. Maybe “remote” isn’t the right word. Maybe “remote” implies a disconnect between the people who are working in the office and the ones who aren’t. Cousin used the term “non-desk workforce” and I kinda liked it. Everyone is an employee. Some employees have workplace desks. Others don’t. A desk doesn’t define culture. Or at least, it shouldn’t. Here are a few more takeaways from her talk that might be worth considering:
- Recruiting. It’s time to consider non-desk work when creating jobs. Organizations should include in job descriptions whether a job can be a non-desk job. Let candidates know when they’re applying for work whether the job is a non-desk position. It’s possible that it could be helpful to individuals when they’re reading the job posting. I believe in the past, the conversations about remote work have been focused on the job but not at this same level. Instead of designing the job then asking if it can be a non-desk role, let’s design the job with non-desk in mind.
- Technology and Equipment. In addition to job design, organizations need to think about what tools, both in terms of technology and home office equipment, non-desk employees will need to be successful. Start budgeting for those items the same way that the company budgets for in-office technology and tools. Don’t make the assumption that non-desk employees won’t need a few things to make themselves productive. Consult with finance and legal about how purchasing equipment for non-desk employees will be handled.
- Relationships. This ties into the previous point about technology and equipment. Employees need to be able to communicate with each other, regardless of their location. Organizations build communications infrastructures so all in-office employees are able to connect. Now, the same communication structure must be adapted to accommodate non-desk employees. I’m intentionally not focusing on the employee – manager relationship because I think everyone is already focused on it. But employees have more working relationships than the one they have with their manager. Take care of those relationships too.
- Training. With this new way of working, employees at every level will need training. Some of it could be technology related. It’s also possible that everyone in the organization could benefit from some training on how to better communicate. In addition to thinking about what topics the organization might need training on, consider the format. I could see internal webinars becoming a very popular way to pass along knowledge. I believe that organizations weren’t very focused on training in 2020 and that’s going to have to change. Especially if the organization wants to make up for financial and non-financial losses that they incurred because of COVID-19.
- Well-being. In her session, Cousins placed an emphasis on providing employees with well-being support and resources. I was really pleased to hear it. This wasn’t presented as a desk versus non-desk issue. It also wasn’t a pandemic issue. Organizations need to realize that employee well-being is important and creates a better workplace. Cousins talked about employees coming up with challenges to help each other and developing their own buddy systems for support.
- Customer Service. Everything we’ve discussed has an impact on customers. That’s really what this article is about. The way we manage a hybrid workforce has an impact on customers and the business. Non-desk employees need to have the tools to take care of customers. They need the technology to take care of customers. They should be trained to handle customer issues and know what to do if they need a manager’s guidance.
In the foreseeable future, organizations will be managing a hybrid workforce. It’s possible that what’s taken place in 2020 could usher in more non-desk work than we anticipated. But if we want employees to be engaged and stay with us, we need to have clear guidelines about the work and how it will get done. In 2020, organizations made a lot of decisions with very little information … and that’s okay. It’s what needed to be done. We have more information now. It’s time to use it to create better employee strategies.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference in Washington, DC