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Going Hybrid? What to Think About & How to Return to the Office

Just as the rise of the internet massively expanded choices for consumers, the pandemic has created a whole set of opportunities for work and lifestyle choices.

Whether you’re contemplating a mix of remote and office work or plan to get everyone back at their desks full-time, there are steps you need to take and issues you need to consider.

Here are some things to think about if your company is going hybrid and how to make a safe return to the office.

Adapting to a Hybrid Environment

While some CEOS may choose to remain fully virtual, and others may decide to return to their building, the majority will likely seek a balance between remote and office work. 

Certain aspects of work like collaboration, problem-solving, or innovation have proven to be more effective in the office. Planning sessions, corporate culture or alignment events, and team-building exercises are also much better in person. 

But individual task completion, personal project work, and much of the day-to-day responsibilities can be done just as productively—if not more so—remotely.

Consider these issues if you’re trying to make decisions about how to go hybrid.

Maintaining Culture

Culture becomes both a victim and beneficiary of the new paradigm. It was a major factor in the prior talent war. The unique element of any business, culture is the gravitational force that keeps good employees, rejects bad ones, and radiates into the community to attract new employees. On the new battlefield, culture is hard to maintain and harder to improve in a work-from-home (WFH) situation, yet its importance is even more profound. 

Culture is dominantly absorbed through observation. With fewer human-to-human interactions, CEOs will be challenged in the hybrid workplace to find ways to communicate, reinforce, and reward culture, creating an even greater competitive advantage as culture feeds the human need for belonging. Weak cultures will dissolve into workers working with little to no attachment to the company, making the job transactional.

Managing Performance

Ultimately, WFH is a performance management issue. Physical attendance does not necessarily equate to productive work. Unproductive workers are just as unproductive at home as they are in the office. If anything, being seen in the office versus the invisibility of WFH provides a shield for the unproductive. 

Setting clear goals and objectives then holding workers accountable for them is critical in all scenarios. Eliminating or minimizing physical attendance as a subjective criterion will create cleaner performance assessments uncovering the unproductive and illuminating true contributors.

Clarifying Policies & Guidelines

Heading into 2022, CEOs will have to clarify their WFH policies and guidelines. They will need to be cascaded down the organization with clear policies for managers to follow. The challenge is that the majority of CEOs have never had to make this decision before. 

Except for the 2% who were already virtual, everyone lived in the Monday to Friday, 9-5 work world. Alternatives and options are starting to emerge, but the new reality for the post-pandemic workplace is just starting to be sorted out with no best practices or solutions available.

Returning to the Office

As a growing number of CEOs are considering how to reopen their businesses, leaders want to be able to protect the health and safety of their employees.

According to a Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey, CEOs from small and midsize businesses plan to implement a wide range of safety measures as part of their return-to-work strategy.

Take a look at this checklist of safety protocols, policies, and practices to consider if you’re planning to go back into the office.

Reengineer the Office

  • Reconfigure desks. Create physical barriers to enforce social distancing. Place desks at least six feet apart.

  • Upgrade doors and ducts. Install electronic door openers or prop doors open slightly so people don’t need to manually open doors. Consider installing UV light technology to kill airborne viruses.

  • Post signage that outlines new protocols. Use these to clarify new policies for handwashing and personal hygiene. Explain processes for accepting deliveries or avoiding groups. Outline rules for hosting visitors and working with outside vendors. Request for ill individuals to not enter.

  • Limit the number of people present. Stagger people’s shifts. Make teleworking available to more people for longer periods. Prohibit meetings, parties, and any other gatherings with large groups of people (e.g., more than four people). Modify as needed.

  • Upgrade cleaning and sanitization. Enlist an expert to clean and disinfect workspaces, especially if an employee takes ill. Frequently wipe down often-touched surfaces.

Put New Policies Into Practice

  • Conduct health checks. Take employees’ temperature each morning and consider requesting antibody tests. Monitor employees’ symptoms and self-reporting of symptoms. 

  • Set safety standards—not guidelines. Make these standards strong, clear, and non-negotiable. Provide training so employees learn, understand, and abide by them.
  • Provide and require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Issue PPE, such as masks, to all employees and require them to be used, while keeping in mind employer obligations to reasonably accommodate those with health conditions who may be able to be at work with modifications to these requirements.

  • Allow for remote work. This is the time to be flexible on where your people work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telework is an effective infection-control strategy that’s also familiar to ADA-covered employers as a reasonable accommodation.

  • Act swiftly when employees get sick. Ask employees showing symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days, or as otherwise required by their health care professional. Establish a process for notifying authorities and employees about new incidences of COVID-19.

  • Provide special accommodations for at-risk workers who request them. This includes older workers, those with underlying health conditions (e.g., heart disease or diabetes), and potentially those with mental health conditions. 

  • Also, offer accommodations to working parents whose children are still at home, and consider whether federal leave obligations apply. Be mindful not to treat these employees differently unless they request assistance, but be sure communication channels are open for such requests.

Appoint & Empower Leaders

  • Appoint a Chief Safety Officer. Have them monitor changing federal, state, and local regulations and make executive decisions about safety protocols. Safety compliance should be a top concern.

  • Create a safety committee. The committee should weigh in on questions.  Who is coming back to work and why? Who determines how people will return to work? Should we ask employees to volunteer to come to work? Should we offer hazard pay to reward employees for coming in? Be mindful to avoid the appearance of, or actual, discrimination in making selections of who to return to work.

  • Monitor changing laws. It’s not clear whether businesses will get a liability shield that protects them from COVID-19-related lawsuits. It’s also not clear whether workers who get COVID-19 may be entitled to workers’ compensation. Companies need to be mindful of privacy laws, as they’re likely to have more access to employees’ health information than ever before.

  • Ensure open and clear communication. Leaders across the executive, director, and managerial levels need to communicate openly and regularly with their employees to keep everyone informed of and on board with new and changing procedures.

Going Hybrid & Returning to the Office

Now you have a better understanding of what it’s going to take to for your company to implement a hybrid working environment and return to the office.

Maintaining culture, managing employee performance, and clarifying policies are the key components to success in an environment that mixes remote and office work. 

Reengineering the office and appointing (and empowering) leaders are also necessary to make sure working conditions are safe and optimal.

CEOs should have a plan but also stay flexible as conditions continue to evolve and the future remains uncertain.

 

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Research

Vistage Research Center publishes actionable, data-driven insights and expert perspectives from our global community of CEOs and thought leaders. Led by Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer