In a hybrid workforce, change management and your tech defines the employee experience.
All eyes are on employee experience as companies move to hybrid workforce environments
Last year, The Great Resignation (or Reshuffle) was a huge buzzword and became a top priority for organizations across North America. Two years into the pandemic, companies are announcing new return to the office plans. Still, the number of people going in (or the number of people in the office) will look extraordinarily different than before COVID. Adding to this People team pressure is the rise of hybrid work environments.
According to LinkedIn insights, in March 2020, only 1 in 67 paid U.S. jobs on LinkedIn offered remote work. That number exploded to nearly 1 in 6 at the end of 2021. As a result, enterprise organizations are more distributed than ever before, yet employees near a workplace are once again saying hello again to offices and face to face time.
So, the big question leaders face now is how can we build and support an employee experience in a hybrid workforce environment?
These new needs, including establishing norms around communication, collaboration, connection, and more, go beyond your traditional HR tech stack. And while technology isn’t the only solution, it will play an essential role given its innate inclusivity that doesn’t rely on physical location to deliver value.
In this guide, we’ll explore three critical challenges in the hybrid workforce experience, help you identify how to remove these blockers before they become retention barriers, and share proven approaches to building a more agile and compelling employee experience.
1. Mitigating the “we’re here, you’re on Zoom” mentality (aka Proximity Bias)
In hybrid workforce environments, employees work remotely, and others work from a central location or office The challenge? Leadership is usually part of the office group.
This “we’re here, you’re on Zoom” mindset creates adverse downstream effects. One is an unintended hierarchy with co located workers on the top and remote colleagues on the bottom proximity bias is real.
According to Protocol, proximity bias essentially is unfair attention and perceived opportunities to those closest to leaders. Those in the office potentially gaining greater experience and exposure due to their close physical proximity to their team and company leaders. That bias often looks like on-site employees getting more time with the C Suite and having better benefits. In contrast, remote employees may get left out of meetings, inadvertently silenced on calls, and potentially overlooked for emerging leadership opportunities.
It may be challenging to understand the real needs of hybrid workforce environment. Remote work arrangements might be needed or preferred for remote workers close to a workplace. The proximity bias can feel even deeper for these workers when singled out for not coming into the office. Fittingly, proximity bias is now executives’ number one concern concerning flexible work, according to a January 2022 Slack survey.
To interrupt proximity bias, leaders must develop, effectively communicate, and uphold expectations for coming into the office for everyone including leadership. Consider a comparable situation, unlimited PTO. If I take a day off, but my manager talks about working all weekend, I don’t know what is right Should I work on my days off? Employees follow the behaviors of their managers, which in this case, could lead to dissatisfaction, burnout, and a sense of overwhelm. Interrupting proximity bias works the same way spell it out for employees and show it by displaying behaviors you want your organization to follow.
Foster an inclusive hybrid workplace by removing proximity bias
- Bias awareness. Understanding you have a set of beliefs, as do others, and how these show up in the organization is critical to removing them from your business and creating an inclusive employee experience. Ways you can do this include unconscious bias training, 360 feedback systems, focusing on facts first, asking people you trust to point them out, and consistently collecting and analyzing workplace data before and when people return to the office
- Equal presence in hybrid meetings for all participants should be strived for. If there is a remote participant (even one), all participants must join the meeting virtually. Like during the pandemic, this puts everyone on an equal playing field.
- Default to asynchronous communications. Remove the fear of missing out and ensure vital details aren’t discussed without everyone contributing to the conversation.
- Commit to using digital tools to help build social connections and community. Coworker relationships supply the catalyst that enables business alignment, emotional commitment, and personal accountability within a company’s workforce. Trust, respect, and empathy is cultivated through connection.
- Intentionally add employee experience to your HR tech stack. Today HR tech is moving away from just being a human capital management system that controls internal processes and procedures. Organizations are now looking for new HR tech aimed at employee experience and satisfaction. People teams recognize the need for HR applications that span the entire employee lifecycle, including onboarding and career management, to help use and mental, physical, social, and financial health. Missing one of these critical pieces means you miss the full opportunity to deliver for co located and remote employees.
2. Remote worker isolation, overwork, and burnout
Remote work anxiety has become an unforeseen side effect of hybrid work models.
In a recent survey by Breeze, almost half of remote workers said they have been dealing with anxiety as other employees have started returning to work in person at their companies. Of those, 66 percent said remote fear or FOMO had hurt their productivity or efficiency at work, and more than half of respondents feel symptoms of depression.
Although remote work has been a reality for two years, remote work in hybrid workforce environments is absent of an intentionally designed support system. The shift to transactional only conversations, a deleted 1:1 meeting, and a lack of perceived mentorship contributes to anxiety. To bring a level of control, remote employees may feel they need to exert added effort to be productive Sending one last email, staying online all hours of the day and night, and not setting boundaries are common behaviors that can lead to burnout.
Leaders need to understand how remote workers perceive their actions and behaviors. For example, there is a fine line between thanking someone publicly for going beyond to help in a situation and making it feel like the only way to be rewarded at work is to prioritize business over life.
Four ways to support remote workers in an inclusive hybrid workforce environment
- Prioritize where to focus energy. Ways to reduce isolation are plentiful but start small. Use employee surveys to help you figure out a path forward and launch. Getting focused efforts launched will help show your commitment and move from words to action. It could be as simple as normalizing a virtual morning standup with remote and on-site employees. During these standups, peers can celebrate efforts, make work visible, ask questions, and leaders can quickly remove barriers and re prioritize efforts to align to an average amount of work hours.
- Rest ethic is as important as your work ethic. At Virgin Pulse, we have unlimited PTO. Leaders commit to taking one week off a quarter, proving the importance of unplugging. They support this commitment by engaging employees in dialogue before leaving and sharing how they completely removed laptop and work projects during this time. Similarly, walking meetings (remote and on site) are encouraged to step away from screens and drop the need to share something for more organic conversations
- Positive affirmations. Gallup’s study on companies with the highest engagement levels found that employees who receive praise regularly increase their productivity, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers, and are more likely to stay with their organization. A little thanks goes a long way!
- Give everyone tools to integrate work and life. Think of your wellbeing program as part of your HR tech stack. You wouldn’t operate your business without payroll or time & attendance, so why not wellbeing? Give your entire workforce the tools to empower employees to prioritize themselves, create social connections, and celebrate wins within and outside the workplace. As part of your overall People and HR strategy, wellbeing platforms can also help you build your culture, bring all your benefits into one place for maximum use, and help support your growth with new benefits or partners without adding the stress of procurement or vendor management.
3. Owning organizational change before it owns you
If you are not reevaluating and restructuring for organizational success in the new hybrid work environment, you are swimming against the current.
Change is rarely easy. The bigger the company, the more complex and challenging implementation of change becomes. When the need for change becomes clear, teams turn to the guidance of the published change management systems (such as Lewin’s, Prosci or McKinsey). These systems supply methodologies that emphasize the importance of centering your employees on how you plan and implement a change through clear, effective communication and empathy.
Right now, this might feel like a good step forward; it might also feel highly overwhelming. We understand. We encourage organizations to think about change as healing vs. hard. By reframing the story, Teams can make intentional choices to help transition people, processes, and resources to thrive.
It’s time to activate change.
To build a diverse and inclusive workplace, companies need to develop fair, fair processes and realize women leaders’ contributions each day. More significant investment in DEI data collection, formal mentorship, employee recognition, mental and emotional health, and clarity on advancement processes will better equip companies to achieve the change they say they’re seeking.
Three ways to own change and foster an inclusive hybrid workforce environment
- Get buy-in from senior leadership by connecting employee experience to business goals. Thinking about organizational change through the lens of your employee experience may feel new to senior leaders. A straightforward way to secure buy-in from leadership is to show problems in the business and explain how your employee experience will address them.
For example, perhaps your company is experiencing high turnover. Engaging employees for feedback on critical milestones in their employee journey can help you overcome areas of impact you can see in your HR analytics but don’t know why.
Other ways to integrate change and experience may include ensuring all new hires within the quarter are included in a social healthy habit challenge to build relationships or have a different member of leadership send a personalized message each month. Minor changes in your employee experience that connect to business problems to solve can help you get senior leadership buy in.
- Power of transparency. Reflect on your transparency and communication practices from early in the pandemic. What was successful? What could have been better Use this as a basis for organizational communications in the future.
One crucial lesson learned during the pandemic was that leaders don’t need all the answers, but employees want to know that leadership is aware and working on it. Employees expect to be included in decisions that affect them and given the ability to supply feedback. When things are opaque, it feeds rumors, assumptions are made, and trust is affected. The power of transparency helps to create clear direction forward for your organization
- Use employee wellbeing as your organizational superpower. The wellbeing of your employees isn’t a checklist, nor is change management. Both are business strategies to increase productivity, engagement, and overall health.
When it comes to enacting change in a hybrid workforce environment, a full stack health and wellbeing platform can help you emphasize the employees, not just the work environment. Your employees are your most valuable asset, and they help you build your thriving community. Choose a wellbeing program that treats employees as individual human beings, helping them to navigate all the different pieces and parts of their work life integration, supporting them at a personal level.
Leaning in on this superpower can help you continue to support all aspects of change while providing all the pieces and parts employees need to build resilience, understanding and social connections during times of uncertainty.
Each individual within your hybrid workforce all have different benefits needs. With the flexibility of HSA Easy Pay, plan members will be more likely to meet their and their families’ needs. With a plan that makes things easier for both you and your employees, contact us today! The HSA Easy Pay Prepaid Mastercard solution makes using your HSA benefits straightforward and simple, taking away the stress associated with healthcare spending. Want to know more? Contact HSA Easy Pay today and book a demo.
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