Workplaces globally are facing a historical shift to hybrid work. The hybrid model comprises working from the office and the option of remote work, with the latter focusing on employees having some flexibility with when and where they get to fulfill their work duties (Monteiro, 2022). This has forced many organisations to ask: how do we manage employee wellbeing in this new hybrid world of work? When organisations first began to embrace the hybrid model, one of their key concerns was how to develop and maintain a company culture that reflected the company’s values. Now employee wellbeing will come to the fore as a key focus in the post-pandemic hybrid workplace (Monteiro, 2022).
Employee wellbeing is described as employees’ total mental, physical, emotional, and financial health. It is influenced by several factors, including employees’ relationships with their colleagues and managers, how decisions are made in the organisation, and the tools and resources available to them. Employee wellbeing should allow for a productive and healthy workplace (Waida, 2021). Prior to the nationwide lockdown, employees had a variety of options for coping with work stress, such as working hours for the most part confined to 8 to 5, human interactions at work, water cooler or coffee talks, and daily commutes. Hybrid and remote workspaces have almost eliminated these stress relievers, prompting leaders to develop innovative initiatives to support employees and decrease stressors in the post-pandemic workplace (Monteiro, 2022).
Managing wellbeing in the new hybrid world is not about replicating what was done previously, but about coming up with new and innovative solutions that can serve employees’ current needs (Monteiro, 2022). Let’s look at some key enablers to help organisations redefine employee wellbeing in the hybrid world of work:
1.Leaders must be trained to deal with hybrid work arrangements
The pandemic has shown that leaders were not ready to manage remote work whether it was in terms of maintaining engagement or productivity, much less supporting employees’ mental health. One of the major impediments to increasing employee wellbeing in organisations is a lack of a clear plan and allocated responsibility. Leadership training is required to enable leaders and managers to successfully serve employees in the current environment (Monteiro, 2022).
2.Human connection through the facilitation of streamlined communication
Technologies created expressly for remote workspaces must be adopted by organisations; tools that allow leaders to manage both in-office and remote employees. Teams will thus be able to work and communicate with confidence due to the correct resources and strategy in place (Monteiro, 2022).
3.Listen to employees to ensure employee benefits fit the new reality
A substantial number of existing employee benefits such as subsidised lunches, health checks, and so on are based on the person’s physical presence at work. However, with hybrid remote working becoming more common, benefits must be adaptable to prevent bias against either in-office or remote workers. Employee feedback is a great way to understand what is important to them. Leaders and managers can use surveys to determine the types of benefits that are important to employees in a blended work environment. Make employee engagement more effective by working together to incorporate employees’ input. The best way to gauge how an employee is coping is simply just to ask them (Monteiro, 2022).
4.Understanding the importance of OKRs
Whether working remotely or in person, all employees need to prioritise and manage their time. When working in a hybrid environment, it is harder to gauge expectations and communicate work priorities, which can lead to the habit of treating every task as the most pressing. Therefore, organisations should consider adopting a framework that combines clear objectives and key results (OKRs) that makes it clear to employees and employers which work is a priority. This encourages employees to say “no” to work which is not a priority as per the OKR. An OKR framework allows employees to have a tool at their disposal to assist them in achieving equilibrium (Microsoft, 2021).
Wellbeing is both the responsibility of the employee and employer. Employees come from diverse backgrounds, whether it’s caring for an ill parent, studying part-time, or caring for a spouse and children. All employees must identify and own their limitations based on what they can and cannot achieve. This may involve establishing work hours and sticking to them whilst managing the expectations with managers and colleagues. It is about establishing a culture of mutual support that promotes all employees’ wellbeing and these limits must be respected by all (Microsoft, 2021).
6.Meetings must be planned with a purpose
Meeting bloat is one of the most inefficient aspects of remote work. Showing up to a meeting has become the signal of performing work in the absence of metrics to determine productivity and engagement. This is the twenty-first century’s equivalent of clock watching which is not beneficial to employee or employer. By cultivating a meeting culture oriented on preparation and purpose, organisations can reduce this expectation and the drain on wellbeing that comes with too many meetings. Determine whether meetings are to reveal, discuss, or decide and only invite the people who need to be there. Communicate the agenda ahead of time, take meeting minutes and publish meeting minutes to reduce FOMO among those who were not invited. When people want to know what was discussed in a meeting, encourage them to look at the meeting minutes. Assist individuals in believing that the best meeting is the one they do not have to attend (Microsoft, 2021).
7.Strive for inclusion
In the hybrid world of work, inclusiveness will extend further than demographics and will start taking into consideration the needs and preferences of employees. While some employees may be at the office more than others, some may be at home caring for family members or have other reasons to work remotely. Thus, virtual and in-person workers should be treated equally in hybrid work environments. Regardless of geography, individual sensitivities, or working methods, the hybrid model must ensure equitable treatment and involve everyone. Everyone deserves the same respect, support, opportunity and information sharing (Nspace, 2022)
8.Follow scientifically proven methods
The current workforce is co-creating the future of work as the first members of the world’s first totally digital workforce by establishing guidelines, behaviors, and best practices. This honor comes with a responsibility and an opportunity: rather than relying on assumptions, this is an opportunity to let science lead the way. Science confirms that even the world’s finest athletes have long known peak performance necessitates rest and recovery periods. Longer hours do not imply better work. Organisations need to create an environment where taking time off is seen as a sign of being wise rather than lazy. Allow employees rest by spending time outside of work. Wellbeing is not a collection of catchphrases. It is evidence-based best practices (Microsoft, 2021).
9.Creating a trusting environment and leading with empathy
No organisation can build a culture of wellbeing without first developing trust with and among employees, and the most effective method to do so is to show real concern for employees as individuals outside of their work (Marzec, 2021). Leaders must be excellent practitioners of empathy, as well as the loudest and most prominent champions of wellbeing. This establishes a permission system for everyone in the organisation to prioritise their own wellbeing. If there was ever a time to provide grace to someone else, it is now. In every conversation, listen and lead with empathy (Microsoft, 2021).
It is evident that over the past two years a lot has been realised about hybrid work. What organisations did not expect was the need for change in managing employee wellbeing in this new way of work. Many people are rethinking the importance of employment in their life and priorities and preferences are shifting (Microsoft, 2021). What is evident is that employee wellbeing must become an integral part of an organisation’s culture. As businesses grow and adapt to a new hybrid way of working, it will become increasingly necessary for leaders to change the way they lead teams and ensure that employee wellbeing is prioritised (Deligiannis, n.d.). The hybrid model is upon us, and organisations need to realise that taking care of employees will be a top priority for any organisation hoping to preserve a competitive advantage (Nspace, 2022)
University of the Western Cape