Company Culture

This Pittsburgh HR consultant has advice on navigating hybrid work models after COVID-19

Or, why you need to embrace the new normal, revamp old practices and create a connective culture.

Next Level Benefits CEO Lauren Winans.

(Courtesy photo)

Lauren Winans is the CEO and principal HR consultant for Next Level Benefits, a Pittsburgh-based HR consulting practice.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020 and businesses began sending their employees to work from home, no one was sure if they would be home for two weeks, two months, or even two years. Despite the fear of the unknown, there was an overarching sentiment to keep business as usual and to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Some companies went through a period of trial-and-error to smooth the transition from in-office to working remotely. Now that the world is opening back up, these same companies that experimented with fresh and innovative ways of working remotely are now faced with the dilemma of returning to the office, keep working remotely, or both. Meanwhile, as Code & Supply found recently, preference for permanent remote work has more than doubled among its surveyed Pittsburgh-area tech workers.

If your company doesn’t yet have a plan to manage these changing norms, you need to make one — now. Here are ways companies are navigating remote work and hybrid work models through COVID-19.

Embrace the new normal

Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 has changed the way we conduct day-to-day business. Some people are most productive in the first two or three hours after waking. Employees enjoy the flexibility of working at home and getting right into their day instead of using that valuable time on commuting and getting settled in at the office.

Many employees are leaving companies with old-school mentalities who aren’t adopting remote work options or are pushing back against returning to offices. Because many organizations are continuing with remote and/or hybrid work, they can access the talent they couldn’t tap into before when they were centrally located. We’re seeing companies become melting pots of people from all around the globe. If an organization doesn’t adjust, they could find themselves with higher employee turnover and challenges with bringing in talented individuals.

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Employees can be productive working from home and often more productive without office distractions. Measuring productivity through KPIs and other data points are still relevant, but the key to being able to continue to rely on this data lies in how successful a company is at providing employees with effective collaboration tools (such as Slack).

Revamp old practices, processes and policies

Many existing practices, processes and policies were created under a different set of circumstances, not necessarily for remote work and hybrid models. Human resources teams should use a critical eye to revamp policies, work with cross-functional partners in IT, legal and finance to ensure the proper technology is in place, all policies and practices comply, and all employees are taxed appropriately based on location.

All documents should be updated and easily accessible for every employee. Make sure the language is comprehensive to ensure employees working remotely can also follow the processes without confusion. Focus on totality and how to keep the whole organization productive, rather than on how to keep individual employees productive.

Create a connective culture

Because many employees aren’t in the same location, casual water cooler and break room conversations aren’t happening, and employees feel less connected with each other. As the Harvard Business Review puts it: Remote workers need small talk, too.

Teams can create opportunities for employees to connect by hosting events like a virtual happy hour where coworkers can gather on Zoom and talk about anything. Leadership can organize luncheons for employees who live in the area, or they can virtually huddle their team once a week to provide a safe space to discuss non-work-related topics, how they’re feeling, or what challenges they may be facing — personally or professionally. Providing these options to engage coworkers and allowing them to decide their level of involvement can boost morale within the company and contribute to productivity.

Evolving with the times

If something good has resulted from COVID-19, it’s that organizations are now approaching their workforce models with open minds. The stigmas of working remotely have disappeared, and remote work has become more of the norm than the exception. Companies are finding ways to navigate remote work and hybrid work models after COVID-19 now that the “future of work” is finally here.

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