Empowering a workforce as we navigate hybrid working
Hybrid working is the new norm and brings advantages to both businesses and their employees. However, it also creates a new set of challenges and requires a shift in activities to support employee empowerment.
Around 76% of employers now offer some form of combined home and office work pattern. The biggest catalyst for this pre-pandemic was the connectivity provided by rapidly advancing technology. There was also a hunger for more cost-effective ways to do business, such as by reducing office floor space or putting sales professionals close to important marketplaces.
However, the pandemic massively accelerated remote working. Many companies have chosen not to bring everyone back for all of the working week. Many employees now also demand hybrid or flexible work patterns to allow for a better work-life balance.
How do companies play catch-up with this shift in work dynamics, and reinforce employee empowerment? Here are twelve important steps to take.
1. Provide a work-life balance
According to the Office for National Statistics, work-life balance is described as the biggest positive to working partially or entirely from home. This means there's no doubt why 85% of employees in the ONS survey were keen to have a hybrid work pattern.
Employers must be conscious of that, and ensure hours of work remain clear and respected.
2. Ensure clarity on roles and responsibilities
Having hybrid office/home working arrangements can fragment teams and lead to confusion over employer targets and expectations.
Organisations must be purposeful in the way they communicate individual roles, responsibilities and performance goals. The latter should be broken down into a series of achievable targets that employees feel compelled to work towards and achieve.
3. Communicate corporate performance and vision
Hybrid working can make employees feel isolated. To counterbalance this, employers should communicate not just facts and figures that chart corporate performance, but also the context for this and overall business plans. A shared vision can empower and inspire employees.
If it’s bad news you need to share, deliver it in a way that shows solutions and steps forward. However, do share it, as honesty can unlock important employee commitment and productivity.
4. Focus on team achievements
Uniting teams working from home and the office requires purposeful activities. This should include weekly briefings that not only set tasks for the days ahead but which also recognise team achievements to build more cohesion and productivity. Championing teamwork also boosts morale within the company as employees feel that they are united as a collective.
5. Create an inclusive and nurturing corporate culture
Investing in creating a strong corporate culture has never been more essential. However, that must be regularly communicated to all employees and must be tangibly delivered to office, home and hybrid teams. This could be via literature, videos or online promotion of good practice examples in your company.
6. Make room for fun!
As home and hybrid working reduces the social element of a working day, it can support employee empowerment if you purposefully replace it. Encouraging social interaction and even introducing a ‘game’ element to reaching achievable targets, can improve engagement and productivity too. Another great way to empower employees by introducing entertaining elements could be scheduling in a work break where employees can chat to each other using a digital break room or similar.
7. Recognise and reward
This should be a natural outcome of other employee empowerment steps listed above. To make hybrid working a success, individuals need to know their achievements are being recognised. Lack of appreciation is the reason 79% of people change job roles, according to a Gallop poll.
Incentivising your home-office based staff can be as simple as delegating more efficiently, and giving them increased responsibilities as an indication of trust.
8. Provide formal and informal team communications platforms
To replace the spontaneous ways staff interact in your offices, corridors and coffee stations, you should create a variety of regular online meetings and discussion forums. These enable teams to take ownership of projects, but also provide ‘places’ to openly discuss issues, ideas and obstacles.
Consider the famous quote from Steve Jobs “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea.” Make sure you provide ways to replicate that online.
9. Check in regularly
This is one of the most vital employee empowerment activities for hybrid working. Alongside work to communicate team goals, cohesion and recognition, you must also be conscious of individual feelings and needs. Regularly check in with staff working in hybrid situations, and ask if they have everything they need. It can be a great way to identify and deal with issues at an early stage.
10. Encourage two-way communication
In fact, structured and consistent communication with remote or hybrid employees should never be a ‘one-way street’. It’s vital to provide open channels that encourage constant feedback and requests for help. This needs to be within the context of your corporate culture mentioned above, which should promote a ‘no blame, no shame’ attitude to issue management.
Constructive 360 degree assessments can help this process.
When you get feedback – whether it's ideas for improvements or red flags for issues – tangibly act on that information. Report back either individually or to the whole team (whichever is appropriate). Showing you listen and act on feedback makes hybrid working employees far more willing to ‘speak up'.
11. Employee empowerment from career development
Sharing your corporate vision can unite employees in hybrid work patterns. However, individual development opportunities you provide will underpin this immeasurably. Do your staff know what their next career step is, and how to achieve that?
Also, focus not just on job-related skills and attributes. There is now a big emphasis on empowerment skills (often still referred to as ‘soft’ skills). These include ways to improve confidence, communication, leadership abilities, change management and creativity, for example.
12. Mental health and emotional intelligence
Finally, this is something employers need to focus on within their management, as well as hybrid workers! Emotional intelligence is the ultimate employee empowerment tool. It’s about understanding what motivates, challenges and enriches you, but also how to get the best out of the people you work with.
Employers can support this by recognising that mental health is their responsibility, particularly in times of great change or pressure. Be aware of stress levels and signs of anxiety, and provide hybrid employees with positive outlets and activities.