The post-pandemic office is projected to become a “hybrid office” - a workplace where employees split their time between working from home and on site. Now that organizations have invested in the technologies and policies to enable employees to work from home, many employees will want to continue teleworking, at least on a part-time basis, to strike a balance between home and work life. In addition, organizations can continue to utilize the investment in technology made during the pandemic while reducing space and associated costs. The hybrid office can be a win-win for employees and businesses. So, if a hybrid office is the right post-pandemic workplace, how do you manage it?
Forces Shaping the Workforce
There are three primary traits I believe every manager should possess in order to manage effectively in the hybrid office. But I think it’s important to first consider the factors that are shaping the post-pandemic workforce, as each of these factors will in turn shape effective management styles. Then we’ll dive into the three traits managers should cultivate as they transition to hybrid office management.
With employees working from home, the workforce is becoming dispersed and decentralized. Some businesses have been decentralizing and dispersing their workforce for years, but many businesses have held onto the more traditional central office arrangement with a hierarchical management structure. The move towards decentralization poses a challenge to traditional business structures and hierarchical forms of management.
While traditional management focuses on direct supervision for accountability, the management style for the hybrid office must shift to indirect management. Managers will no longer have as much direct interaction with employees, and must find new ways to oversee work and to incentivize employees. I would like to suggest that the management approach should remain results-based, but focus more on trust than on direct oversight. It can be all too tempting to worry about how many productive hours an employee is logging, but what really matters is that high quality work is being produced at the right level of output.
The hybrid office also provides more autonomy and flexibility for employees. This comes with a set of challenges, as both work and home responsibilities must be juggled when working from the home office. For some, it’s the occasional errand that needs to be run or the house repair that needs to be tended to. For others, there may be children or an elderly parent to help care for on a daily basis while also working. Managers can help employees navigate these divided responsibilities by allowing for more flexible work schedules while also ensuring that work commitments are met.
One of the benefits of the dispersed office is the ability to manage more employees. In a traditional office setting, it is commonly believed that a manager can effectively supervise and coordinate the activity of six to eight employees. In a hybrid office, it is not uncommon to have between eight and 12 employees per manager, or even more. The hands-on supervision time is reduced in the hybrid office and managers can focus their time on making processes more effective and ensuring that employees have what they need to perform their work. The increase in the number of employees managers can oversee should help organizations either reduce the number of managers required or reallocate additional management resources to more effectively run the organization.
Changes in Office Design
The more dispersed workforce will lead to changes in office design. Post-pandemic office space will be designed to promote the work functions that employees cannot perform at home – in-person interaction, collaboration, and connectivity. The central office will be transformed into a more agile and dynamic workplace that promotes interaction and includes the technology to seamlessly enable both in-office and remote employees to work together. There will even be opportunities to reduce space in the central office since permanent, dedicated space will not be needed for every employee.
As a result, managers will need to focus on ways to maximize the use of office space and to enhance collaboration among in-office and home office workers. There will be a shift to more creative scheduling and use of space, and a focus on the technology that best supports business operations and that promotes communication and accountability. Managers will need to be well-versed in videoconferencing systems and cloud-based project management applications to promote accountability and to track employees’ progress on work priorities. The greater reliance on technology during the pandemic has shown how organizations can adapt in our changing world.
Focus on Health and Wellness
Finally, the post-pandemic workforce will be shaped by an increasing focus on employee health and wellness. This trend started before the pandemic, but has been accelerated with requirements for sanitation, social distancing, and improving outside air flow and filtration. Combined with the pre-pandemic trends of daylighting and biophilia (natural and calming features in the workplace), the mental health of employees is now a top workplace consideration. I doubt it will ever again be acceptable for an organization to not put its people first – nor should it be.
With a more dispersed workforce, changes in office design, and a heightened emphasis on employee health and wellness, managers must not only adopt new management practices but also develop the traits that will support these new practices. The sections below present my list of three management traits most needed among managers in the hybrid workforce.
Traits of Effective Hybrid Office Managers
Trait 1: Empathy
Perhaps the number one management trait in a people-centric workforce that focuses on employee health and wellness is empathy. The pandemic has resulted in much change and upheaval in our lives. Employees are living through this change and adapting quickly to learn new ways of working, new technologies, and new strategies to juggle home and work priorities. Even if employees perceive the opportunity to work from home as a benefit, the home office environment, and even shifting regularly from a home office to a central office, can be very stressful. I cannot think of another era in our history that has resulted in so many workforce changes happening at once.
To respond to all the change-induced stress, it is critical for managers to exhibit empathy in the workplace. Empathy includes taking an interest in your employees, listening, expressing gratitude, and being encouraging and supportive. By expressing empathy, your team will feel more supported and you will be contributing to a positive, respectful culture. Being part of a connected and caring team not only boosts morale but can also boost participation and productivity.
If you are like me, empathy does not come naturally. As a manager, I have had to learn empathetic practices to keep my otherwise analytical and problem-solving skills in check. In doing so, I try to focus on three practices: listening to employees, asking questions without judgment, and helping employees feel heard and understood. If you do not have the empathy gene, fake it till you make it. Empathy is cultivated, not born.
Trait 2: Trust
Because direct oversight is reduced in a hybrid office, the most effective managers will develop an attitude of trust in overseeing employees. The old concept of management by walking around and looking over an employee’s shoulder (McGregor’s Theory X, an authoritative style of management) is not possible with a remote workforce. Instead, the Theory Y style, participatory management, will prevail as employees must be trusted to work independently.
Through the pandemic, teleworkers have gained a great deal of autonomy, which can be a significant workplace motivator. Coming back to the office and to authoritative, “hands-on” management will likely not go over well with most employees. Thus, management will need to engage less in the process of overseeing employees and more in managing outcomes.
Outcome management will be a key factor of the new normal. Ultimately, it is fairer to view employees by what they produce anyway. Measuring the quality and quantity of the work performed will require managers to gain a solid understanding of the work effort. By focusing on outcomes, managers can take a step back from direct oversight and trust the employees to be self-motivated in completing their assigned responsibilities.
And when performance is not hitting the mark, managers must focus on working with the employee to assess where the problem lies. Substandard performance is not always due to a lack of effort – it may be related to unclear expectations, a mismatch in skills relative to the assignment, struggles with time management, or another factor that can be worked through. If the employee is simply unable to meet the job requirements overall, the performance issues may be grounds for dismissal, just as in a traditional office setting. The same principles of employee feedback and performance monitoring apply whether the setting is in-person or virtual. The added trust in the hybrid office is the key difference.
Trait 3: Strong Organizational Skills
The hybrid office necessitates a multifaceted workforce scheduling system. There is a lot for a manager to coordinate. Not only does the work need to be scheduled, but so does the space in terms of shared workstations, meeting rooms, etc. Also, a manager must coordinate which employees will be in the office versus at home on a given day, and what to do to maximize the interaction of employees in the workplace and even those connecting from their home office. This all necessitates that managers have strong organizational skills and the ability to set up internal structures to facilitate the successful performance of both in-office and remote employees.
Organizing can be greatly helped with technology, such as applications to schedule shared workstations and collaboration areas. Such applications enable employees to reserve a desk or conference room while respecting social distancing policies. The applications include a dashboard that can help a manager quickly understand what workstations are being used and who is in the office versus teleworking.
Cloud-based project management software (we use Asana, though there are many options in the marketplace) can help with assigning work and monitoring performance. Such systems have status reports that can keep managers appraised of the progress being made and if there are any risks or concerns regarding project success.
Communication apps like Slack can help employees stay connected to one another and can even keep project communication flowing on a real-time basis. Cloud-based time-tracking apps can help managers keep on top of hours worked by project or task. And a multitude of new apps are being created every day. The bottom line is that managers must be well-organized to stay on top of these organizational tools and to help create a structure that both supports the work effort and helps employees feel connected, empowered, and successful in the hybrid office setting. Technology can greatly help a manager keep the moving parts operational and focused on a performance outcome.
Hybrid Office Management Success
The traits of a successful hybrid office manager include empathy, trust, and strong organizational skills. A hybrid office manager should also be technology savvy, as technology will keep the office communicating and on track.
The hybrid office is a new way to work that necessitates a new way to manage. The pandemic has plagued us with problems but it also has created tremendous opportunity. It has broken down the perception of how businesses must work, and ushered in new ways of working that have proven to be highly successful overall. Companies are functioning well, employee satisfaction is high, work time is more flexible, and the majority of employees want to continue teleworking at least part-time. It is time for management to embrace the change and to learn how they can make the hybrid office the best it can be.