How to support your staff and create a hybrid work environment

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the format of most office jobs around the country, sending millions of workers home on a semi-permanent basis. Employees were expected to work from their home offices, kitchens, and dining rooms, often with children and elderly parents in tow.

As companies gradually start to bring employees back to the office, many sectors have settled into a hybrid of in-office and at-home work. This new format has been an adjustment for workers and executives alike.

Here are some tips and advice for how managers can support their staff by creating a hybrid work environment, especially after being remote during COVID-19.

Be flexible

Just as it was challenging for employees to adjust to working from home when the pandemic began, returning to the office after being remote for over a year is also an adjustment.

After going remote, teams got used to forgoing the commute. They also saved money on work clothes and were more available for their families. Changing that routine once again may feel disruptive for some employees.

And no matter how frequent the collaboration was between teams online, going back to conference room meetings and sharing a workspace with colleagues feels like an adjustment all over again.

It’s important for employers to keep in mind that these changes back and forth have been difficult for employees. Building in some flexibility and empathy for worker concerns will go a long way toward helping them feel more comfortable in a hybrid work environment.

Define expectations

Every employer is different. Return-to-work and hybrid work policies change frequently, and hybrid work can mean different things. It’s important at the outset to clearly define expectations for employees, and communicate those policies in writing. That way, everybody understands when they need to be in the office and when they may work remotely.

Some employers like teams to be in the office on set days, while others specify a number of days to choose from and leave the choice of days up to employees. And still, other companies have an open policy that allows employees to choose when and how they work remotely.

Clarify exceptions

Companies may decide that some categories of employees are exempt from the universal hybrid work rule in an office. For example, parents of unvaccinated children, particularly school-age, might expect some flexibility for safety reasons and also to be available as schools open and close.

Employees with health concerns may also be more hesitant to work from the office or to come in as often as other employees. In that case, they may communicate their concerns to human resources and work with their direct manager to develop a suitable hybrid work plan.

And other exceptions to the usual policy may occur if virus cases rise in the office or region.

Instill safety protocols

When a hybrid work environment occurs in a pandemic setting, workers appreciate robust safety measures as they return partially to the office. First, employers should ensure they are following state and local guidelines for safety, sanitation, and mask mandates, and communicate those policies to all employees.

Second, ensure that workers can do their job safely while in the office. Some employers add Plexiglass dividers between desks and might require mask use when employees are away from their desks. It’s also important to frequently wash and sanitize common areas, and add air purifiers if possible.

Companies may also decide to instill social distancing requirements, regardless of state and local mandates. All of these measures, while inconvenient, will reassure employees that they are returning to a workplace that is relatively safe.

Vary communication

Employees should be aware at all times of hybrid work expectations and news. When employers are rolling out and modifying rules, email newsletters are an effective vehicle for communication, particularly if policies change frequently.

Organizations should also establish a central web location for all policies and expectations, and update it in real-time. And there is no substitute for face-to-face conversations where employees may share their concerns and ask questions about the hybrid work environment.

Managers should set regular meetings to clarify expectations and convey how policies may change in the future. Regular two-way discussions and empathy for employees will help ensure that everyone adjusts well to the hybrid format.

Returning to work in the office, whether it be full-time or hybrid, is bound to be an adjustment for workers who have been remote for so long. By being understanding and maintaining flexibility, employers can create a healthy and happy work environment for all.

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