It’s a mistake for IT leaders to believe that managing a hybrid team is like managing the full work-from-home teams of 2020 or the on-shore/offshore teams of the previous decades. Today’s emerging hybrid environment is different, more complex, and fraught with organizational risk.
IT’s traditional organizational structure, culture, and processes for managing virtual resources around the block, around the country, and around the world, evolved over decades of organizational growth, technological enhancement, and business opportunities. The sudden and unexpected work-from-home environment caused by COVID-19 was driven by legal requirements, health concerns, and organizational preservation.
Today’s hybrid workplace is different. It’s not evolutionary. It’s not forced upon us by legal or health requirements. It’s being driven strictly and only by management decision. Even worse, everyone has their own opinion on how it should be done, including senior organizational leadership, IT management, and the IT employees themselves.
Because of all these factors, pivoting from work-from-home to a hybrid workplace is much more complex than simply bringing people back to the office; it’s a rapid change in organizational culture, processes, human resource policies, and other related areas.
As a result, you must properly prepare your IT supervisors, managers, and executives to lead in this newly created workplace by following these ten steps:
1. Seek the input of all IT leaders and individual contributors on their future workplace
Asking the entire IT team about their thoughts on a future all-in-office, all-virtual, or hybrid environment has three primary advantages. First, it will provide you with insights on what your team is feeling. Second, it may reveal innovative ideas that were not previously considered. Third, because they IT team was involved in the decision-making process, they are more likely they to go along with your decision.
2. Develop a vision of your desired future hybrid workplace and culture
As the leader of IT, it's up to you to develop a vision for the IT workplace of the future (within the parameters of what senior executive management will allow). Within IT, this vision is of great importance because it becomes the single guiding light to IT’s future culture and workplace design.
3. Clearly define the employee work location rules (home or office)
Writing clear, easy to follow, and non-debatable rules helps assure that the work from home or office decision for each employee is evenly and fairly administered across IT. Certainly, there will be employees who don’t like or agree with your vision and rules, but at least they will know they were asked (step 1) and they were treated equitably.
4. Create specific incentives/benefits for both home and office work locations
This suggestion may seem both controversial and expensive, and that's because it is. However, it’s implementation has the potential to enhance employee morale and help formalize your new hybrid workplace culture. For employees working in-office, these benefits could include paying for their commuting costs or providing free lunches. For those working at home, it could be paying the internet connectivity fees or giving them office furniture.
5. Document the rationale behind your vision and work location rules
Publishing FAQs (frequently asked questions) about the vision and rules related to employee physical work locations has two primary benefits: It provides all IT employees with a common and consistent message. And it helps your IT supervisors, managers, and executives roll out and enforce your hybrid work requirements in a consistent manner.
6. Work with IT leaders to understand, accept, and execute your future hybrid workplace vision
The movement from a work-from-home to a hybrid workplace is likely the biggest organizational change and challenge many of your IT leaders have ever faced. Formal training in change management, decision making, and difficult conversations can help your IT leaders properly roll out your hybrid vision and simultaneously help prepare them for future promotional opportunities.
7. Work with individual contributors to understand and accept your hybrid workplace vision
If your IT supervisors, managers, and executives are properly trained on how to roll out your hybrid vision (steps 2 - 6), your next step is to ensure that each IT employee understands their future physical work location and the rationale behind it. This should be done through a combination of your messaging and one-on-one discussions between all employees and their managers.
8. Give those moving back to the office ample time to develop new routines
Over the approximately eighteen months working from home, families have developed new routines. Some even moved fulltime into their vacation homes or moved in with extended family members at distance from their place of employment. Pushing them to unwind these arrangements too quickly could put undue stress on them and their families and ultimately cause them to seek employment elsewhere.
9. Strictly and consistently enforce your hybrid policies
Consistency, ongoing communication, and common messaging and actions from all levels of management regarding your hybrid policies is imperative for success. Provide those at all management levels with the ongoing training and support needed to assure a smooth rollout.
10. Measure employee morale, productivity, attrition, and other factors
Hybrid workplace policies, like all IT initiatives both organizational and technical, need ongoing measurement to assess their success and provide insights into where adjustments must be made.
The stronger and more organized your leadership team, the more likely it is that your move from work-at-home to hybrid will be successful. As with other major initiatives investing your time and company funding on proper training, mentoring, and support of your IT leadership team pays off in positive results.
Author: Eric Bloom
Eric Bloom is the Executive Director of the IT Management and Leadership Institute, the governing body of the ITMLP (IT Management and Leadership Professional) and ITMLE (IT Management and Leadership Executive) certifications, and a leading provider of IT leadership, interpersonal communication and business skills training.