Hybrid Work Policies that Satisfy Small Business Employees & Employers
Small business owners are caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place” when it comes to crafting workplace policies in a post-pandemic world where employees are demanding flexible work models.
“Workers whose professional and personal lives have been transformed by remote work are ready to fight to keep their newfound freedoms,” reported The New York Times (NYT) in April 2023.
On one side you have employers, many of whom relish the thought of a traditional return to office model, but coaxing workers back from remote work has proved to be a difficult task.
“We’re now finding out the damaging consequences of the mandated return to office. And it’s not a pretty picture,” wrote behavioral scientist, and so-called “Office Whisperer” by the NYT, Gleb Tsipursky in Entrepreneur in June 2023.
On the other side, you have employees, who are not only prioritizing flexible work schedules when it comes to career decisions but are testing their employer’s limits and patience on hybrid work models.
“Google plans to crack down on employees who haven’t been coming into its office consistently,” reported CNBC in June 2023. “The company updated its hybrid work policy … and it includes tracking office badge attendance, confronting workers who aren’t coming in when they’re supposed to and including the attendance in employees’ performance reviews, according to internal memos viewed by CNBC. Most employees are expected in physical offices at least three days a week.”
This is an evolving workplace issue, but it is becoming clear that employers may be disappointed if they mandate a full return to the office against employees' wishes, and employees may be disappointed if they expect to work remotely forever.
Ultimately a hybrid workplace model (combining in-office days and work-from-home days) may be the compromise that keeps both small business employees and employers satisfied.
Mandated Office Return Attrition Rates Surprises Some
Some employers may be thinking: why can’t we turn the clock back and make it pre-pandemic “business as usual” with everyone around the water cooler and 5 days a week in the office?
For starters, those who have attempted a full return to office have run into a host of problems, including high attrition rates.
“Companies knew the mandated return to the office would cause some attrition; however, they were not prepared for the serious problems that would present,” wrote Tsipursky. “A trio of compelling reports — the Greenhouse Candidate Experience Report, the Federal Reserve's Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), and Unispace's "Returning for Good" report — collectively paint a stark picture of this brewing storm.”
These three reports found that:
- Unispace Report
o 42 percent of companies that mandated office returns witnessed a higher level of employee attrition than they had anticipated.
o 29 percent of companies enforcing office returns were struggling with recruitment.
- Greenhouse Report
o 76 percent of employees were ready to leave their current employment if the plug was pulled on flexible work schedules.
o Historically underrepresented groups were 22 percent more likely to consider other options if flexibility was taken away.
- SHED Survey
o The survey equates the displeasure of shifting from a flexible work model to a traditional one to that of experiencing a 2 to 3 percent pay cut.
“In the game of talent acquisition and retention, flexible work policies have swiftly emerged as the queen on the chessboard — commanding, decisive, and game-changing. The Greenhouse, SHED, and Unispace reports — when viewed together — provide compelling evidence to back this assertion,” concluded Tsipursky.
Monday’s are the New Flexible Work Week Battleground
While mandating a full return to the office may not be prudent for some employers, many with hybrid work models are fine-tuning policies and cracking down on those that might be taking advantage of flexible schedules.
Mondays, for example, are now a battleground day in hybrid work models with some employers insisting employees make that one of their office days.
“Mondays are the new office fight,” reported The Wall Street Journal. “Bosses argue that starting the week in person – instead of remotely – creates good energy.”
The article says employers hope that mandatory in-office Mondays will kick-start the workweek and boost productivity. Research shows that:
- Companies that track security badge swipes in buildings find that Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are the three highest office attendance days with Monday attendance currently at 45 percent of pre-pandemic levels (while Tuesday’s was near 60 percent).
- A survey of 4,500 companies’ return-to-office policies conducted by a software company found that nearly 300 require employees to come into the office on specific days.
- While Mondays are a battleground, Fridays remain a day during hybrid workweeks where office hallways are mainly silent.
Many employers believe in what Google’s chief people officer, Fiona Cicconi, wrote in an email to employees: “There’s just no substitute for coming together in person.”
Her note, according to CNBC, said that Google will start including their three days per week as a part of their performance reviews and teams will start sending reminders to workers “who are consistently absent from the office.”
Best Practices for a Hybrid Work Model that Works for All
Creating a hybrid work policy that satisfies both employees and employers requires careful consideration and planning.
Here are some best practices and steps you can take as a small business owner to develop an effective and inclusive hybrid work policy:
Assess Your Business Needs and Goals: Consider the specific needs of your business and how a hybrid work model can align with your objectives. Evaluate the nature of your work, collaboration requirements, and the potential benefits and challenges of remote work.
"The people who are really suffering are the people whose jobs can be done remotely, but they're forced to be fully on site all the time," Ben Wigert, Gallup’s director of research and strategy in workplace management, told TechTarget. When companies mandate a fully on-site model, employee engagement and well-being diminish while turnover increases. "But a moderate amount [of time on site] gives them enough time in person to feel connected to their culture, and they can collaborate effectively with their team and also with other teams when needed."
Gather Employee Feedback: Involve your employees in the policy creation process by conducting surveys or hosting discussions to understand their preferences, concerns, and requirements regarding hybrid work. This ensures that their voices are heard and considered during policy development. A top-down approach to developing a hybrid work model is more apt to fail.
TechTarget suggests that when discussing flexible work policies with employees, answer these questions:
- What are our goals?
- How do you best work independently?
- How do we best work together?
Define Expectations and Guidelines: Clearly outline the expectations for both in-office and remote work. Define the number of days employees are expected to work in the office and the flexibility and accountability expected during remote work. Establish guidelines for communication, availability, and meeting attendance to ensure consistency and effective collaboration.
Provide Necessary Resources and Support: Ensure that employees have the necessary tools, technology, and infrastructure to work effectively both in the office and remotely. This includes providing remote access to company systems, communication tools, and support for remote collaboration.
Foster Collaboration and Team Building: Implement strategies to foster team collaboration and maintain a sense of camaraderie among employees, even in a hybrid work environment. This can include regular team meetings, virtual social activities, and opportunities for in-person interactions. Managers and employees will both need to spend more time on coordination and collaboration to make hybrid work models work.
TechTarget says that One of the biggest challenges in hybrid working environments is that employees don't have as many opportunities to connect with their colleagues spontaneously and informally. Wigert said because of this, companies need to work harder at encouraging employees to do things like having coffee or lunch together when they are in the same location.
Communicate Clearly and Regularly: Maintain open and transparent communication with employees regarding the hybrid work policy. Clearly articulate the guidelines, expectations, and any updates or changes to the policy. Address any concerns or questions promptly and ensure that employees feel informed and included in the decision-making process.
Evaluate and Adapt: Regularly assess the effectiveness of your hybrid work policy and adjust as needed. Seek feedback from employees, monitor productivity and collaboration levels, and make informed decisions based on the evolving needs of your business and workforce.
Remember, the key to a successful hybrid work policy is finding the right balance between flexibility and structure while considering the needs and preferences of both employees and the business.
By involving your employees in the process and fostering open communication, you can create a policy that promotes productivity, job satisfaction, and work-life balance for everyone involved.