As the world comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are shifting to hybrid offices to promote work-life balance and productivity. A hybrid office is a workplace model that allows employees to work from home and in the office. While this model has many benefits, such as increased flexibility and reduced commuting time, it requires organizations to adapt to new working methods.
Organizations must embrace change management strategies to reduce employee resistance to transition to a hybrid office. Change management is the process of planning, implementing, and managing change in an organization. Ensuring employees are on board with the transition and adapt to the new work environment is critical.
Understanding Resistance to Change
Employees may resist the change even with the benefits of a hybrid office. Resistance to change can manifest in many ways, such as decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and decreased morale. To effectively manage change in a hybrid office, it is important to understand the reasons behind employee resistance.
Some common reasons employees resist change in the workplace include fear of the unknown, lack of trust in leadership, fear of job loss, and lack of understanding of the need for change. In a hybrid office setting, employees may also resist the change due to concerns about losing face-to-face communication, difficulty with remote collaboration, and the need to learn new technology and tools.
Employees may resist the transition because they have an individual office and do not wish to give up the office for a shared office or workstation. Employees need to understand the gains of working in a hybrid office. Before the pandemic, employees had to demonstrate that they could work independently to build the trust of management before working remotely. The pandemic pushed organizations to allow everyone to work remotely without a track record of building trust.
With many organizations wanting employees to return to work, employees are now resistant to coming into the office regularly. Those companies that are forcing the employees to do so are spurring the “great resignation.” Today, the workforce is very much employee-driven, and organizations are offering enticing hybrid office space, free food and drinks, and happy hours to attract employees back to the office. Despite these efforts, many organizations have high office vacancy rates.
Address employee resistance by communicating the benefits of the hybrid office model and involve employees in the planning process. Training and support for new technology and tools can also help employees feel more comfortable with the change.
It is also important to address concerns and create a culture of openness and transparency, where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns and feedback is taken seriously. Organizations can better manage the transition to a hybrid office by addressing employee resistance through change management strategies.
Change Management Strategies for Hybrid Offices
Organizations must implement effective change management strategies to manage change in a hybrid office successfully. Transitioning to a hybrid office is a change that impacts an organization far beyond just the office space. Here are some strategies to consider:
Communicate the Benefits of the Hybrid Office Model
Employees may only accept change if they understand the benefits of the hybrid office model. Therefore, it is important to communicate the benefits of:
Long-term commitment to teleworking and work-life balance, including time savings without the commute and cost savings for transportation, business clothes, eating out, etc. This commitment places the employee first and focuses on employee wellbeing.
Increased flexibility in the office by selecting a workstation located in a place that matches the task and mood of the employee. An employee may give up an individual office but gain the ability to work throughout the whole office.
New technologies will help employees work more effectively, collaborate, and take advantage of flexible work arrangements.
Involve Employees in the Planning Process
Employees are more likely to embrace change if they feel their opinions and concerns are valued. Below are suggestions to involve employees in the planning process:
- Implement a communications plan to engage employees and keep them informed about the progress of the transition (see below for communication tips). The communications plan should also promote openness and transparency throughout the transition project.
- Solicit employee feedback and ideas through surveys, focus groups, town hall meetings, and project meetings.
- Consider charrettes or space workshops to gain employee feedback on design ideas.
- Send employees in small groups or a representative sample to visit other hybrid offices. Having employees see the spaces in operation can change their perception. Set aside time for employees to ask questions to a panel of people that work in the space.
- Share hybrid office working products like the program of requirements, concept designs, office layouts, etc., to solicit feedback. Don’t forget to celebrate key milestones with employees to build excitement about the transition.
Provide Training and Support
A hybrid office requires new technologies, tools, and processes to support remote work and collaboration. Training and support can help employees feel more comfortable with the change. Consider the following types of training:
- Encouraging employees to experience hands-on training for technology in pilot areas that can be set up in the office to give employees firsthand experience. There are standard technologies for videoconferencing, such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom; however, other collaborative tools like Kumospace help remote employees feel engaged and connected.
- Remote management training is also important so managers and supervisors can learn how to work with hybrid employees. A key element of this training is learning how to treat people equitably, whether they work in the office or at home.
- There could also be specialized training like tips on presenting virtually, building customer relationships remotely, and remote project management.
- Perform a training assessment to determine the specific needs of your organization.
Organizations can effectively manage the transition to a hybrid office and reduce employee resistance by implementing these change management strategies.
Tips for Effective Communication
Effective communication is critical for successful change management in a hybrid office. Here are some tips for effective communication:
Clear and consistent messaging ensures employees understand a hybrid office's changes and expectations. Ensure that messaging is communicated through multiple channels, such as email, video conferencing, and company-wide meetings.
Consider using various methods to communicate changes to employees, such as video announcements, training sessions, and one-on-one meetings. Use language that is easy to understand and avoid technical jargon.
Encouraging employee feedback and addressing concerns can create a culture of openness and transparency. Consider creating a dedicated channel for employees to submit feedback and concerns, such as a feedback form or a dedicated email address.
Timing is important when communicating changes to employees. Consider communication timing, such as the start of a new work week or month, and allow employees time to process the changes.
By following these tips, organizations can effectively communicate changes to employees and reduce resistance to the hybrid office.
I see too many organizations “bribing” their employees back to work. The employees appreciate the happy hours, gourmet coffee, and free food. However, many employees fear that coming into the office regularly for these amenities makes it more likely that management will require them to be there full-time.
The workplace and change management strategies presented above can help employees feel connected to the transition. Get the employees involved. Keep the process open and transparent. Engage the employees in the common purpose of planning and promoting a hybrid office. Employee engagement will go far beyond free coffee and drinks in making a connected and productive hybrid workplace.