Launching a Hybrid Workplace ? Consider These Four Lessons from Hybrid Schools
If you’re a business leader thinking about shifting to a hybrid workplace, it may be a great time to go back to school.
Schools across the country spent the past year experimenting with remote/on-site models of delivery. For educational leaders, the experience was an exhausting marathon of trial and error. Now is the time for business leaders to take a lesson from the nation’s educational leaders.
Four Lessons to Consider Before Launching a Hybrid Workplace
Anticipate Increased Complexity
If hybrid schools delivered one thing, it was increased complexity. Pre-pandemic, the best educational leaders focused on curricular innovation, recruitment, and fundraising. As schools went hybrid, leaders’ attention quickly shifted to managing the hybrid model itself (e.g., scheduling who could be on-site and balancing the quality of on-site versus remote delivery, etc.).
As workplaces re-open on a hybrid model, similar challenges are likely to arise. Who will come in on which days? If there are elevator-capacity restrictions, will employees working on-site need to clock in at a specific time? How might a hybrid model impact collaborations with other employees, including those working off-site in different time zones?
Many people complain about management-heavy organizations (i.e., organizations that invest more time in managing operations than delivering goods and services). One potential risk of a hybrid workplace is that it may shift business leaders’ focus to operations. Prudent leaders need to consider this potential risk upfront.
Prepare for Inconsistency
Like it or not, people thrive when they work in structured environments. Structure can take many forms, but boiled down to its basic elements, structure is about consistency (e.g., doing the same thing at the same time each day).
When schools adopted a hybrid model, inconsistency immediately arose as a problem. Students and teachers alike struggled to toggle between different models (onsite and remote). They also struggled to deal with increased unstructured time, especially while working remotely. Not surprisingly, as structure collapsed, performance gaps appeared.
The lesson is clear: Over-indexing on flexibility comes at a cost. For this reason, organizations need to recognize that with increased flexibility (e.g., employees choosing when and where to work), consistency can be put at risk.
Manage Cliques and Pods
In theory, schools that chose to adopt a hybrid model were doing so to meet the unique needs of every child and family. But for some kids, being at home while their friends returned to the classroom left them feeling overlooked. After all, teachers were more likely to pay attention to kids in the classroom than those working remotely. Naturally, kids working remotely also were more likely to feel disconnected from the culture of the classroom.
As workplaces adopt a hybrid model, cliques, pods, and preferential treatment may also arise as problems. Over time, remote workers may begin to feel detached from their team members and their workplace culture. After all, even if you don’t love small talk around the water cooler or awkward elevator conversations, these conversations matter. In fact, it’s in this context that we often get to know team members on a more familiar level.
Like schools, workplaces are driven by metrics (e.g., performance reviews). As any teacher who spent the past year assessing students working remotely and on-site will tell you, how one assesses individuals in these contexts differs.
Managers and leaders considering a hybrid model of work should expect to face similar challenges. How will one assess onsite versus remote work performance? Can the same criteria be applied to employees on and off-site? If not, how can and will managers and leaders compare their team members moving forward? And how might this impact promotional decisions down the line?
I’ve always been a huge advocate of remote and hybrid work, and both models can work well. But as the past year has shown, hybrid models are complex and come with several known risks. As leaders contemplate how to build safe and supportive post-pandemic workplaces, lessons already learned by educational leaders can help them mitigate future challenges.