The future of work – of hybrid and fully-remote workers – will require upskilling of employees for organizations that wish to succeed in the post-COVID world. Leaders who want to seize a competitive advantage in that future will need to benchmark their training initiatives to best practices on managing hybrid and remote workers. In this piece, I relate the best practices on doing so based both on external research, and interviews I conducted with 61 leaders at 12 organizations I helped guide in developing and implementing their strategy for returning to the office and their post-pandemic mode of collaboration.
Upskilling Employees for the Hybrid-First Model Through Virtual Training
Hybrid work is a distinct third way, neither in-office nor fully remote work. You’ll want to train your hybrid workers on how to work effectively in a hybrid-first model. For those who remain remote, you’ll want to train them on how to collaborate successfully with their colleagues, upskilling both those working hybrid and fully-remote schedules.
Upskilling in Organizing Hybrid Work
Your hybrid workers must learn to divide their work activities. Previously, they spent their time either fully remotely or fully in-office. Now, they must learn to do different things at home and in the office.
The office will, primarily, serve as a place to work on tasks requiring collaboration with fellow team members. At home, they’ll work on their individual tasks. They’ll also prepare for and communicate about collaborative tasks before coming to the office.
You should provide company-wide guidance on best practices for hybrid work and train your employees accordingly. This will help upskill them and set them up for success for your new permanent set-up.
Upskilling in Virtual Communication and Virtual Collaboration
Too few companies provided training in effective virtual communication and virtual collaboration during the pandemic. Given that you’ll be shifting to hybrid and remote work permanently, it’s time to start upskilling your workers in this field.
More communication shifting to text through collaboration apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams has resulted in the loss of much of the nonverbal communication. Nonverbals are quite important for communicating our emotions. However, transitioning to virtual work has sorely endangered our emotional connection and mutual understanding.
The same applies to virtual collaboration. In the office, face-to-face interactions help employees notice problems and nip them in the bud. Body language and voice tone are easily missed in virtual contexts: challenges in virtual communication thus contribute to virtual collaboration problems.
Effective training helps address these problems. For instance, training in emotional and social intelligence as adapted to virtual settings will help employees communicate and collaborate much more effectively.
A case in point: they need to ask intentionally how other people feel, not just how they think, about their proposed ideas. Previously, in the office, people’s feelings were easily expressed through body language and tone of voice. Of course, that doesn’t happen in virtual work environments. It’s important to teach people to “read the virtual room” deliberately in order to improve virtual collaboration. Many other techniques exist for effective virtual communication and collaboration.
Upskilling in Work/Life Balance
Provide guidelines for and training in work/life balance, customized for hybrid and fully-remote employees. As surveys indicate (1, 2), many staff feel:
- Burned out
- Unable to disconnect
- Obliged to respond to work messages outside of work hours
Unfortunately, some team leaders encourage such behaviors. It falls to senior executives, then, to reinforce the boundaries. That includes regular public reminders to employees to stick to preset hours for communication. It also includes communicating to mid- and lower-level managers that you won’t tolerate them encouraging burnout to meet their goals.
Ask them to speak privately with and discourage any employees who regularly work substantially more than full-time hours. Establish a wellness team empowered to contact employees who regularly log-on or send emails more than a couple of hours after the workday ends or begins. The only exception should be an unexpected emergency that shouldn’t happen more often than once per month, or a pre-arranged agreement with an employee (i.e, they work less during the day due to taking care of kids and more in the later evening after their kids are asleep).
Note: if employees are underperforming, it doesn’t mean they should simply work more. It might mean they need more professional development in how to work effectively or that their workload isn’t manageable. What you don’t want is someone burning out and resigning, and then have no one left to handle their mountain of tasks.
The pandemic pushed leaders to revamp pre-established management practices and shift to remote and hybrid work. To ensure success in the post-pandemic hybrid workplace, leaders must focus on upskilling all their hybrid and remote workers to survive and thrive in the future of work.
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