Many organizations are considering a hybrid office for the future of their workplace. A hybrid office is an employee-centric concept where the employees work a portion of their time from home and a portion of their time from the office. As employees return to the office, a hybrid work environment capitalizes on the remote work practices that became widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic and promotes a better work-life balance for employees. Under the hybrid office model, the traditional way of directing and mobilizing employees needs to be reimagined to effectively keep employees progressing while they are working from home and in the office.
I have managed employees who work remotely for over 30 years and have tried many different techniques to mobilize employees around a company mission. The three techniques described below have emerged for me as best practices.
Objectives and Key Results
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are, in my opinion, an ideal way to mobilize hybrid employees toward achieving organizational goals. I have tried Balanced Scorecards, Key Performance Indicators, and other methods with remote employees and have had varying degrees of success. None of the other techniques have compared to the company-wide roll-u and direct measurability of OKRs.
When developing OKRs, an organization creates three or four major objectives. An objective should be a goal that you want everyone in the organization to mobilize around so that you can monitor and measure success.
The objectives should not simply be a checklist of easy-to-complete goals. They should represent goals that the organization is striving to achieve that will require a substantial push. Typically, not all objectives are fully completed.
The objectives can be established for different timeframes. I prefer quarterly objectives.
As an example, an objective that we use is to expand our knowledge base so that we can perform our jobs more effectively and contribute new ideas to our work efforts.
Once the objective is identified, the next step is to develop three to five key results for each objective. A key result is a measurable accomplishment or action toward completing an objective. At the organizational level, the key results for the quarter related to expanding our knowledge base could include:
- Attend monthly meetings of a professional organization supported by the company (company representatives attend three meetings per quarter)
- Acquire training (every employee receives at least one hour of training)
- Fund certification programs (fund work-related certifications for two employees)
These three key results are concise and measurable. We keep the math of measuring OKRs simple. In the above example, each of the key results would be weighted 33.3%; if we achieved all three of the key results over the quarter, we would receive 100% on the objective. I have seen organizations add more sophisticated weighting to the key results, but my preference is to keep it simple.
Once the organization’s OKRs are established, the next step is for the divisions, teams, and individual employees to develop OKRs that tie to the organizational objectives. For example, to expand our knowledge base, an employee might develop an objective to acquire training over the quarter. Under this objective, an employee may establish a key result to participate in a webinar series related to an aspect of his/her job (or take a certification course, attend a professional meeting, etc).
All employees’ OKRs roll up to the organization’s OKRs (including team and division roll-ups). For example, as each employee completes training, a small percentage of the company OKR is completed. When all employees receive training, full credit (33.3%) is calculated for the company’s key result stating that all employees acquire training.
In this way, each employee can roll up to a team or division, which can roll up to the entire organization. Progress is measurable down to the employee.
Simply put, OKRs are the best and most transparent way that I have seen to mobilize employees, whether in the office or remote, to achieve organizational goals.
Based on the description of the OKRs above, a question could be raised about how often employees update their OKRs. The answer for us is weekly.
We have a weekly check-in that all employees fill out each Friday. The purpose of a check-in is for employees to consistently provide feedback to their respective managers on their work. Our version of the check-in has the following components:
- Employees provide the status of their OKRs and indicate whether each objective is on track, behind, or at risk.
- Employees provide responses to the following questions:
- How did you feel at work this week? Employees rate their workweek from 1 (awful) to 5 (amazing). The ratings are totaled across all employees, providing a “pulse” for the company as a whole that week.
- Have you had any wins this week with your work?
- Have you had any challenges this week with your work
- Employees provide updates on progress made on completing priority tasks for the week
- Employees identify priority tasks that they intend to complete the following week
We also use the check-in as a time to give other employees “High 5s” that are shared in the company Slack channel. High 5s are given by employees to co-workers who have gone above and beyond in their work or provided support to co-workers during the week.
It typically takes each employee about 15 minutes to reflect upon the week and complete the check-in and then managers typically spend approximately five minutes reviewing each one.
Full disclosure: we use an employee engagement application called 15Five. 15Five is a wonderful tool that enables organizations to input OKRs, track employee progress through check-ins, and manage 1 on 1 meetings (see below). It has become an indispensable management tool that can be successfully applied across remote and in-office workers.
The check-ins place the status of OKRs in front of both employees and managers weekly. Regularly updating the status of OKRs through check-ins leads to both awareness of the OKRs and the ability to accurately track OKR progress across all levels of the organization.
1 on 1 Meetings
1 on 1 meetings are held between each employee and their manager. The goal of the meetings is for employees to have the chance to ask questions and discuss topics that are of interest to them. The role of the manager is to listen and coach. 1 on 1 meetings are not designed to discuss the detailed status of employee work assignments. Instead, the meetings are a time for employees and managers to connect.
As a manager, I often start 1 on 1 meetings with the question, “Is there anything on your mind that you would like to talk about today?” This gives employees the opportunity to share what’s on their minds. Responses range from priority setting with work assignments to events going on in their personal lives.
Toward the end of each meeting, we take a moment to review the progress an employee is making on his/her OKRs. This is not a detailed review of objectives and key results, but rather a quick review of completed tasks and potential roadblocks to future progress.
Ideally, 1 on 1 meetings would occur every one to two weeks. In our organization, we have a very decentralized structure with many employees reporting to a manager. I strive to conduct 1 on 1s monthly, which is not ideal but does fit our unique situation.
1 on 1s can be performed in person or via videoconference. Though I have held several 1 on 1s in person, I find that videoconferencing works effectively, and I recommend this technique for hybrid offices.
Why Would These Techniques Work in a Hybrid Setting?
OKRs, weekly check-ins, and 1 on 1 meetings combine to create a structure that is focused on both employee engagement - which is critical for remote workers - and the accomplishment of organizational goals. In a hybrid office, such structure is key to keeping employees engaged and focused regardless of where they are working.
The OKRs set the big picture for the organization’s goals which break down to each individual. All employees in the organization are aware of the organizational objectives and how they individually contribute to accomplishing the objectives.
The weekly check-ins provide consistent input on the status of the OKRs, as well as routine communication between the employees and managers on work priorities. The check-ins provide updates on the work that is performed across the organization in a manner that rolls up to each manager and the organization as a whole.
1 on 1 meetings provide an opportunity for employees to ask questions of managers and for managers to acknowledge an employee’s progress and to discuss any roadblocks.
I feel these three techniques form a structure that is important for hybrid office managers who need adaptable processes that are effective no matter where employees work. In my view, OKRs, weekly check-ins, and consistent 1 on 1 meetings are the trifecta of mobilizing employees in a hybrid workplace to accomplish organizational goals. This structure promotes employee engagement and is effective no matter where your employees work.