It’s Time to Rewrite the Handbook for Employee Engagement in Hybrid Work Environments
Since the start of the pandemic, companies across industries rapidly transitioned to remote work. Around the world, millions of workers have found themselves thrust into a new working reality. Temporary though the current health crisis might be, the way we work has fundamentally — and permanently — changed.
Nearly half of Americans are working remotely in some capacity, according to HP’s recent Workforce Evolution Survey. And if there is one thing we’ve learned from this forced experiment, it’s that working from home can be remarkably productive. Most remote employees feel that they have accomplished the same amount as or more than they did in an office, according to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey.
That said, a majority of workers (54 percent) still say that, in the future, they want to spend at least some of their working hours in an office, according to HP’s study. And for digital-native Generation Z and digital-migrant Millennials, even greater flexibility is required as they decide where and when to work. The convergence of these trends indicates that the hybrid model is becoming the new normal — and that it’s taking a central role in attracting and retaining top talent.
Throughout my career at HP, I’ve learned to be intentional about engaging with my team. I’ve always believed that giving back and investing in your people is the secret to success, and that has never been more important.
The future of work is hybridized and heterogeneous. It’s not going to look the same for any one person. So which companies will thrive best in this new environment? I believe it comes down to keeping employees fully and deeply engaged. That’s no easy task. The good news, though, is we already know how to encourage employee engagement. What’s shifting is the way we execute those strategies. That’s why it’s time to rewrite the employee handbook to address our new reality.
Encourage Small Talk in the Digital Era
In an office setting, getting to know your colleagues happens organically. You may stop by a co-worker’s cubicle and strike up a conversation about the photos you see or bump into a colleague in the cafeteria and discuss vacation plans. Call it small talk, but these conversations have a big impact. Employees who feel connected to their co-workers are two to three times more likely to collaborate productively than those who feel less connected, according to BCG.
HP’s survey shows that employees are clamoring for connection and collaboration, with two in five workers admitting that not being in the same space makes it more difficult to learn from their colleagues, and one in four saying they seek more collaborative sessions in order to produce their best work.
With distributed workforces, we have to be creative in bringing people together to facilitate the same level of connection. At HP, our managers make it a point to check on individuals every week to talk about what their hobbies are or how they spent their weekend. Competitions and games — from trivia contests to sharing photos — can also build camaraderie and strengthen employees’ sense of belonging, which is particularly important for younger generations who are proactively seeking meaning, purpose and connection in their careers.
Create a Culture of Trust and Inclusivity
It’s paramount to let your employees know that they come first. This is our culture at HP, and it is driven from the CEO down to managers. For example, if you’re a manager and notice an employee’s camera is off during team meetings, don’t let your mind wonder why — simply check.
Take the time to catch up with the employee one-on-one to ask how they are doing. It could turn out that the employee was in a small house with young kids or had a mess in the background (we’ve all been there) and preferred not to be on camera. In remote environments, it can be easy to jump to conclusions that an employee is disengaged or uninspired. But what’s even easier is assuming positive intent. For these conversations — and the trust that grows from them — to happen, we have to be intentional about checking in on people, letting them know they are valued and finding ways to include them.
As workforces are increasingly split between in-office and at-home employees, making sure to include all participants during meetings is critical. Doing so requires not only the right tech, but a good meeting facilitator who sets a clear agenda and establishes protocols so that remote participants and those in the room have a voice.
Establish Clear Guidelines to Avoid Burnout
Having well-defined meeting agendas also helps to avoid burnout, which is one of the biggest concerns I’ve been hearing about from our employees. Setting an agenda with clear objectives helps identify the people who really need to attend a given meeting, makes the best use of everyone’s time and leads to each participant feeling valued and productive.
We also need to help employees set boundaries, particularly when they are working from home, where work has a habit of never stopping. One way to do that is to encourage them to turn off email and work notifications after hours and to support their efforts to take breaks during the day. Managers should lead by example and do so themselves.
Recognize and Reward Your Team
It’s also more important than ever to acknowledge and reward employees for the hard work they’re doing. In a hybrid environment where face time is minimal, it can be easy for employees to feel as if their contributions go unnoticed. Calling out people’s work and celebrating achievements, no matter how small, goes a long way to keeping a team motivated.
For most office workers, the shift to remote work months ago was uniform: It was something that everyone was forced to make. Now we are entering a new era that demands much more flexibility from employers. No “future of work” is the same. The most successful organizations and leaders know that meeting this moment means meeting the needs of each individual and creating a more empathetic and equitable handbook to engage with our employees.