A brief guide to operating hybrid workplaces

From the C-Suite newsletter: Dan Barham, who has run workplaces at Telus and Lemay, shares tangible tips for managers.
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By Daniel Barham

My firm belief in mobile work pre-dates the pandemic. I have eagerly welcomed conversations with skeptical colleagues, instructors, and C-Suites for many years. While recent global events may have forcibly pulled non-believers headfirst into the world of mobile work, I am hopeful that this unforeseen disruption will serve an opportunity for the workforce to embrace a more hybrid model to foster collective trust and flexibility.

With normalcy on the horizon, we are now being confronted with the challenge of adapting to a hybrid workplace: an environment that will include both onsite and offsite employees. I have compiled a “looking forward” guide rooted in my experience operating hybrid workplaces at companies like Telus and, now, Lemay. Here are a few tips on how organizations can curate their individual hybrid work programs for better collaboration and ease their teams back into the office.

Take a beat. Creating a successful hybrid work program is an iterative journey.

  • One size does not fit all – While there are many commonalities between programs, there is no universal solution. Just like your culture, your organization is unique, and your program should be reflective of that. Seek out a partner that will help you create and adopt the best practices for your organization.
  • Be agile – Many organizations appear to be trying to create a singular approach. This is particularly risky as you are working with an ever-evolving spectrum of needs. For example, I previously deployed a program that allowed employees to forego their workstations and in place of their desks, they were assigned a locker. Five years into the program, we found that we were able to reduce the number of lockers required to support the workforce as they were being underutilized. The locker approach has since evolved into a backpack program.
  • Be empathetic – understand that this can be a very emotional process for members of your organization. A personal office space may be very symbolic for some, who associate it directly with their tangible impact and worth within an organization. Leaders need to be equipped and prepared to have real conversations with their teams to support them through this change.

The good news is that an iterative process allows you to spread your investment out over time, align your deployment with lease renewal and termination dates and refine your program as you go. Companies that take the time to iterate are more likely to end up with robust programs and spend less on interventions that seemed like a good idea at the time, but no one uses.

Hybrid work is a cross disciplinary program.

  • Ensure organization-wide support – Effective programs are embedded across an organization. The primary stakeholders are Real Estate, Human Resources, and Technology, and support from these teams and their senior leadership is critical to a program’s success.
  • The new collaboration hub – Invest in creating workplaces that recognize the primary reason for coming into the office has changed for many employees. It’s less about sitting at the same desk every day and more about connecting with your organizational culture, and colleagues professionally and socially.
  • Invest in your leaders – Great programs provide ongoing training for their leadership team on how to lead in this new paradigm. They focus on deliverables-based performance, fostering trust and employee choice. They empower their teams to work wherever they will be most effective for the task at hand.

Ensure your program is reflective of external reputation and brand.

  • Walk your talk – Your workplace program should reflect your holistic brand. For instance, if you are a cutting edge, leading technology company, your program in principle should be just as forward-thinking and edgy as your external reputation. If your entire brand, reputation and mission statement is centered around being forward thinking and empowering consumers through technology, your team at large should feel the same way. Be vigilant and aware of how your internal plan reflects your external brand and that the two are not at odds.

To close, the pandemic has only just begun to scratch the surface on what works and what doesn’t in the case of mobile work. However, while it’s easy to observe, judge and fixate on what hasn’t worked over the last 18 months, it is also problematic to contribute to a failing mobile or hybrid work model.

The truth is that most organizations have not yet experienced what mobile work. Leadership teams were not given adequate time to create and evolve programs. We have been mandated to stay home as opposed to actively choosing our working environment.

Great programs are not a binary choice, and the magic is in the middle of being both in and out of the office. Striking a balance between empowering employees and curating a strong team culture where team members are granted the ability to build relationships and strengthen their connection to the organization will reap engagement, productivity and your balance sheet.

Dan Barham is the workplace strategy director at Lemay and previously managed Telus’ WorkStyles mobile program.

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