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    TL;DR: (Article Summary)

    We are now at a point in this new work frontier where hybrid or remote work is no longer new. As a result, experts and research are emerging with "best practices" for this evolving era. This article looks at employee stories, studies, and research that shed light on the biggest mistakes leaders make in their hybrid plan. Namely, falling for mental blindspots, not surveying employees, mandating rigid rules and not giving managers influence, and finally, not changing the culture to focus on results.

    I want to start off the article by highlighting one thing: creating a hybrid work strategy is no easy feat. Because when something has never been done before, how can you be sure you're doing it right?

    The answer: you don’t, really. 

    That’s why we applaud all the hard-working HR people and leaders that have been tasked with developing their company's hybrid or remote work policies.

    Doing hybrid right

    When initiating a hybrid work plan, there are countless questions and concerns that cross companies' minds. The implications of this new way of working are quite substantial.

    For example

    • What is the right number of days to ask people to come in?
    • How much latitude should be given to managers?
    • Will people who stay home miss out on opportunities?
    • Will morale and culture be impacted?

    Since Spring 2021, businesses have been experimenting with hybrid or remote work strategies. We are now at a point in this new work frontier where hybrid or remote work is no longer brand new. As a result, experts and research are emerging with "best practices" for this evolving era.

    All that to say, whether you're developing a hybrid strategy or re-working your old plan, don’t have to go into this blind.

    In this article, we look at employee stories, studies, and research that will help you guide your hybrid work strategy. And hopefully shed some light on the best path forward, one that will not only help maintain your culture, but keep your employees happy, loyal, and engaged too. 

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    Mistakes Companies Make in Their Hybrid Work Strategy

    Hybrid work is an emerging field. As such, although there are many workplace experts out there, not many of them can claim to be experts in the field.

    However, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, a cognitive neuroscientist and behavioural economist, has emerged in the field of hybrid and remote work. He has written one of the few books on the topic titled Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams.

    His work explains best practices for leaders, but also, what to avoid when developing a return to the office or a hybrid strategy.

    Here are the key mistakes Tsipursky explains that leaders and companies make:

    • Leaders are reluctant to make changes due to mental blindspots.
    • Companies may not bother to survey their employees. 
    • Companies mandate rigid rules and do not give managers influence.
    • They don't change the culture to focus on results.

    In the next section, we’ll dive a little bit deeper into each point to explain why these decisions can be problematic and what you can do instead.

    Are you falling for mental blindspots?

    There is widespread agreement that employees want to work remotely or hybrid. Despite this, companies are demanding a return to office or a set number of days in office per week. 

    Tsipursky explains why leaders are overlooking the seemingly obvious solution -- mental blindspots.

    In this Psychology Today article Why Have So Many Leaders Screwed Up the Return to the Office he explains how mental blindspots or "cognitive biases" prevent leaders from moving forward with adopting a new way of working.

    For example, he speaks of the anchoring bias. This mental blindspot causes people to feel anchored to their initial experience. Claiming that the old way of doing things is "better," even though there is strong evidence to refute it.

    From the employees' perspective, many know they are more productive and focused working from home. Not only that, they have a better quality of life. So leaders simply saying, "this is the way it's always been done, so we have to go back to it," is no longer a good reason for employees.

    Moreover, this Microsoft study reported on by HBR 5 Key Trends Leaders Need to Understand to Get Hybrid Right showed that many company leaders are not adequately justifying their return to office. According to the author, this is an issue.

    Now that it's proven that work can happen "just about anywhere," and most employees know they are more productive at home, leaders must make an extra effort to "make the office worth the commute." The author insists, "If leaders don't get this right, they will risk employees giving up on the notion of hybrid completely."

    Not surveying employees

    You may think this is a no-brainer; however, many companies have tried to impose a return to the office or develop a hybrid plan without employee input.

    Like in this example reported by Business Insider of a woman who worked for a PR firm. After over a year of working remotely, she was given one week's notice that she and her colleagues would be expected to return to the office. They weren't given a choice, flexibility, or survey. The woman pushed back and eventually quit for a job that offered her more flexibility.

    According to Tsipursky, once again, this is a big mistake. 

    "Surveying your staff" is one of his key recommendations based on a sample of leaders who also had to develop and implement a strategic return-to-office plan.

    In the article Best Return-to-Office Plan: A Team-Led Approach, he emphasizes asking various questions, but be sure to focus on "their desire for frequency of work in the office."

    Tsipursky believes that hybrid plans should be "team lead." This means that leaders should give individual teams leeway and influence over how they work. Ultimately, they know what working method will most benefit them, their workflow, and output. 

    This leads us to the following point…

    Mandating hybrid rules & not giving managers influence

    Many businesses made the same mistake in 2021 when attempting to bring employees back to the office or begin a hybrid path.

    The company's leadership created a rigid policy and gave managers and teams little influence over the new rules. 

    Tsipursky emphasizes this is the wrong approach. 

    He states that leadership should provide broad (but flexible) guidelines for the whole company. And then, managers should talk and discuss with their teams and come up with arrangements that work for everyone's unique needs. 

    According to him, "'the top leadership should encourage team leaders to permit, wherever possible, team members who desire to do so to work remotely."

    The Skimm, a digital media company, exemplified this strategy well.

    They asked all full-time employees to come into their New York headquarters three times a month. However, managers were given discretion to figure out which days employees would come in. Some employees were approved to stay 100% remote (about 15%). Ultimately, they worked with their employees and tried to be flexible and accommodating.

    This is not the case in all companies...

    For example, according to the same Microsoft study as above, "managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations. 

    More specifically, 74% of managers said they don't have the influence or resources to make changes on behalf of their team. There's a clear gap that needs to be addressed.

    Ultimately, flexibility continues to be key. There is no magic 'in office' day that makes or breaks anything. If someone cannot make it -- that's okay! Companies should empower their managers to work with their employees to figure out which days work best for them. 

    A results-focused mentality is not nurtured

    Back when we all worked in an office, it was common for presentism to be confused for productivity. 

    In other words, if an employee was early to arrive or late to leave, it was assumed that this person was being productive -- even though this may not have been the case. It was all about optics. If your managers see you, then you're good.

    But being present is not necessarily connected to productivity for remote workers. Nevertheless, we naturally tend to favour people we physically see more often. 

    This is why flexible work does present some drawbacks, Tsipursky explains. When you have some people working in the office and others remote it might lead to tension between employees. It is feared that office employees will be given more challenging projects, career advancement opportunities, and promotions.

    Indeed, many other experts echoed this opinion. In the article, Hybrid Work is Presenting HR Leaders With a Major Conundrum, the author explains research that shows while 32% prefer hybrid environments, 43% regard in-person work as the best for advancing their careers.

    Tsipursky offers a solution to help mitigate the problem.

    In the article How to Create a Thriving Hybrid and Remote Work Culture Tsipursky explains a concept he calls an "excellence from anywhere" mentality. 

    The essence of "excellence from anywhere" is that expectations of employee performance are clear to each employee, but also, every team member. 

    A lot of transparency is present.

    Bottom line: in a hybrid work environment, it's more critical than ever to clearly define what success looks like for each role.

    According to Tsipursky, this approach “addresses concerns about fairness,” as focuses the conversation on what needs to get accomplished, rather than the method for doing so.

    As a result, it is clear what others are working on, and what they are responsible for. And "where" of “how” the work got done becomes an afterthought.

    Final Thoughts

    Many workplace experts claim the best approach is to test and refine your hybrid plan. There is no one-size-fits-all plan. A hybrid plan should be something that evolves with your company and employee needs.

    Nevertheless, there are some best practices we covered that you can keep in mind:

    • Honestly address mental blindspots: Ask yourself if your company might be falling for them. Is the old way really the better way?

    • Keep lines of communication open between leaders and employees: Use tools to survey staff or speak to them one on one to get feedback about the new plan.

    • Give managers influence: A hybrid plan should be “team led,” this means team leaders should have some power or influence over how and where their team members work.

    • Foster an “excellence from anywhere” mentality: Cultivate a lot of transparency and emphasis the importance of output rather than “where” or “how” the work gets done.

    Ultimately, with this new model of work, there will be a lot of trial and error. Nevertheless, if you follow a few of these guidelines and learn from companies who have already experimented with hybrid plans, you'll be setting yourself up for success from the start. 

    Michelle Cadieux
    Michelle Cadieux

    Michelle is the lead content writer at Applauz. She has a Psychology background and loves to read and write about human happiness, motivation and decision-making. She loves scary movies and cooking classic Italian food.

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