Hybrid work is your company’s biggest challenge—and greatest opportunity
If there was ever a time to focus on organizational change, it is now.
I am an organizational change management consultant passionate about the people side of change. Hybrid work is upon us, and companies need to effectively manage employees’ transition to new ways of working.
Unwittingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has given organizations the greatest opportunity they may ever be given. We have been forced into new working models. We proved that remote working works. We experienced the ups and downs. We were compelled to overcome the challenges.
Now is the time to embrace flexible work as our new reality. Some organizations have demanded that everyone return to the workplace on a full-time basis. But the majority have realized that work is going to be very different from how it was in the past. The future is a hybrid work model and there are many versions of that model that will continue to emerge. Whichever one your company chooses, it will be one of the biggest changes (if not the biggest change) it will undertake.
We are already seeing a lot about “The Great Resignation”—a term coined by Anthony Klotz to refer to the large number of people who will leave their jobs post-pandemic. Employees are now in the driving seat. They have proven they can work remotely and many are not constrained by geographical location when seeking an employer. If workplace leaders don’t manage this transition well and provide the flexibility employees want, they will seek work somewhere else.
Applying the change management lens
While many resources exist to help your organization choose the right model of work, there is a fundamental part of the puzzle often overlooked. Articles, blogs, videos, newspapers, and magazines will discuss the policies, security, technology, recruitment, onboarding, real estate, compliance, employee health, and legal implications. What is not being discussed is organizational change management.
Organizational change management (OCM) ensures that employees adopt the changes that will impact them. It is all about the people! Whatever hybrid work model you select will not have the desired outcomes unless you address the people side of the change. Let’s cast an OCM lens across the move to hybrid work.
It’s all about communication
As soon as I say the word “communication” I can see eyes rolling conveying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know we should do that.”
The point is most do not know how to communicate effectively.
Before we look at what you should communicate from this point on, let’s look back at how you have been performing up until now. A McKinsey article revealed the stress and anxiety employees experienced due to their employers’ lack of communication about their post-pandemic working arrangements.
It is imperative that as you plan to adopt a new model of work, your organization communicates to every employee:
- The current stage of the plan
- How it’s being formulated
- Who’s involved in creating it
- How it is starting to take shape
Remember, communication is a conversation. An email out to your entire organization is not communication—it is a broadcast. Communication should be a two-way dialogue that gives employees an opportunity to ask questions, seek clarification, and raise any concerns, all the time knowing they will be answered.
Be prepared to communicate transparently. Say what you know and what you don’t know. Do not create a vacuum that will rapidly be filled with rumors and conjecture.
As your planning for hybrid work progresses, increase the frequency of communication with employees and make it consistent. If you think you have nothing new to say, think hard about what has been taking place since the last communication and communicate that. If you do not think there’s been the progress you expected, say so and explain why.
Transparent communication develops employee trust, builds a sense of inclusion, and increases engagement.
Don’t underestimate the power of why
In our rush to convey our plans for the future workplace, we share “what” it is we are going to do and “how” we are going to do it. We often forget to share the “why.”
For example, you might communicate something like, “Based on our discovery and findings, we are going to adopt a hybrid working model and will introduce it on an incremental basis starting with the marketing department on August 30.” Employees won’t buy into that decision. You have not told them the “why,” only the “what’ and “how.”
Your employees want answers. How was the decision formed and who was involved? Why is this the best solution for my workplace and me?
Make change happen with your people
I am a firm believer that people generally do not resist change when it is done with them. They resist change when it is done to them. Involve your employees in finding the most effective hybrid model for your organization. The biggest mistake you can make is to do this in isolation.
When you involve employees in decisions around change, they feel like they matter and are valued. Without involvement, employees will likely resist change.
Find out what your employees’ work preferences are now that they have experienced both being on-site and remote. Every organization is unique so you need to find out what will work best for your organization.
Find unique and innovative ways to engage with employees. For example, think “bottom-up,” and not “top-down.” Conduct surveys that encourage employees to comment on what really matters to them. Share the results across the workforce and form focus groups on the common issues and concerns. You must act on the outcomes and communicate what you have done in response to what employees have said.
It is important to manage employee expectations. During every engagement and conversation, be sure to convey that this is a journey and there will be bumps in the road. This is uncharted territory that the entire organization is going to traverse together—through collaboration and cooperation. View setbacks as learning opportunities as you continue to experiment toward a hybrid work model that works best for your organization and employees.
The move to the best hybrid work model for you and your organization is a process, not a project. There is no finish line to cross when everything is complete.
As your company changes, so does everything else around it. That means that yesterday’s plans may not be tomorrow’s. I dislike cliches but this one sums this up—this is a journey, not a destination. Everyone must be on that journey together. Make sure you cast an OCM lens over all that you do and make the people side of change your priority.