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Future of Work

7 Tips to make a distributed workforce work for you

This is a guest post, written by Rajendran Dandapani, Director of Engineering, Zoho Corp.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed almost all aspects of our lives. On the professional front, many organizations quickly adopted new practices to provide a safer working experience to their employees. One of them was remote work. In a very short period, businesses had to transition to a work-from-home model, which was uncharted territory for most of them. These new working conditions quickly became the “new normal” for millions of people, and now, remote work is shaping up to be a major trend that will likely keep growing even after the pandemic ends.

However, some employees want to go back to their worksite in order to overcome the feeling of isolation caused by the lack of face-to-face interactions with their teammates. That’s why, many organizations are planning to switch to hybrid workplaces, which is a combination of remote and in-office work, with some employees working from their office and others from afar.

The pros and cons of a hybrid work model

The hybrid workplace model focuses on productivity, which is one of the major aspects of organizational growth. The model gives employees the freedom to create a flexible work schedule for themselves, which leads to increased engagement, satisfaction and productivity. Employees also value and respect employers who empower them to control and manage their own space and time. This will go a long way towards building long-lasting relationships with employees, which is crucial for retaining top talent. Also, adopting a hybrid workplace model shows consideration for the safety concerns of employees who either reside in areas where the pandemic is still at large or those who do not wish to return to the workplace due to a general fear of infection. Apart from these benefits, with the hybrid workplace model, organizations can reach a wider talent pool as there are no geographical restrictions.

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Although the hybrid workplace model comes with many benefits, there are a few downsides to it. For instance, as employees work from different locations, keeping everybody on the same page can be really challenging. Employees might feel isolated when they are confined at home 24/7 and eventually, their morale, productivity and engagement could take a hit.. Managers may also find it difficult to track the progress of their team members. And over time, equality and inclusion issues might arise within and between teams when managers unconsciously support in-office employees more than remote workers because of a lack of communication. These challenges, when left unaddressed, can knock down all the important aspects of an organization including employee retention, engagement and motivation. With slight changes in employee management practices, organizations can easily overcome these challenges and manage a hybrid workforce successfully.

What can you do?

Here is a set of general tips to keep in mind for any organization that wants to embrace the hybrid work model:

1. Improve communication

With employees scattered in different locations, communication breakdowns are common. In order to overcome this issue, different communication channels can be utilized. For instance, an internal chat system allows employees to communicate easily and respond at their own pace. Leveraging mediums like virtual company forums to post announcements also ensures that employees are well-informed of all the important developments in their organization. While setting up team meetings, managers can check in personally with remote employees to settle on a time that’s convenient for everybody involved.

2. Practice Empathy

This is a time of great uncertainty and employees will find solace in an empathetic work environment. It’s important for managers to check in with the employees often to understand the challenges they face and offer the best possible support. For instance, if an employee has to take care of a sick family member, consider allowing them to check out as soon as they complete their work, irrespective of working hours.

3. Make it equal

Equality and inclusion are necessary to make a hybrid workplace model successful. One reason the hybrid model is well-received among employees is because it gives them the option to choose and decide. If the hybrid work policy allows for two days of office and three days of remote work, organizations can consider letting the employees decide each week’s schedule individually or among their own teams. In order to make the process bias-free, it is better to establish guidelines for both in-office and remote work, and let employees make the final decision. Organizations should treat all employees equally no matter where they work.

4. Focus on the output

One of the key business aspects that has changed considerably by remote work is performance management. Remote work provides a chance for organizations to start measuring what matters: output quality instead of hours worked, and missions accomplished instead of tasks completed. Businesses should replace micromanagement with continuous, interactive performance feedback to help employees clearly navigate their job responsibilities and expectations when they work remotely. This will help employees set realistic goals and work towards achieving them, further enabling employees to complete tasks quicker and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

5. Use technology

Technology that is well-designed, modern, easy to use, and flexible can bring remote teams together and enhance productivity. For instance, digital signature tools empower employees to sign and share documents from wherever they are, without having to waste time behind manual document signing. Similarly, implementing an online meeting software helps employees organize and participate in meetings on the go. This way, employees can meet, discuss, and make decisions wherever and whenever. Overall, technology should empower employees to work at their convenience.

6. Hub-and-spoke offices

The hub-and-spoke model is a potential game-changer that could take hybrid workforce management to the next level. The hub-and-spoke model enables employees to either work from their organization’s central headquarters (hub) or other smaller offices (spokes), spread across a country, often closer to places where employees reside. This way, employees can alternate between remote and on-site work with ease. It allows them to occasionally meet their peers face to face for brainstorming or even a catch-up lunch and then, go back to the safety of their home offices.

7. Leverage gig economy

Hiring gig workers like independent contractors and freelancers can be very beneficial to organizations adopting the hybrid workforce model. Unlike full-time employees, gig workers are given the freedom to choose when, where and how to work. Also, these workers are paid based on the work they do and not on the processes involved.

Shifting to a hybrid workplace

More and more organizations, especially in the IT, finance, customer service, advertising, publishing and marketing industries are shifting towards the hybrid workplace model to cater to the needs of their employees. By focusing on communication, flexibility, inclusion and use of technology, any organization can excel in hybrid workforce management.

About Rajendran Dandapani

After dropping out of IIT-Madras as an Engineer in Electronics and Electrical Communication, Rajendran was part of the founding team at Zoho Corporation, then called Vembu Systems. Later, he spent seven years at Xerago, Asia’s largest New-Age Marketing Entity, as their Chief Algorithms Officer, managing projects and services for clients including Citibank and Sify. After rejoining Zoho Corporation in 2004, he has been serving a triple role at the company. He spearheads mobile development at Zoho, with a multi-talented team that builds mobile Apps for its 45 million+ customers. He is the President at Zoho Schools of Learning, Zoho’s own ongoing social experiment seen by many as a viable alternative to conventional college education. He is also a TEDx speaker and a technology evangelist who tries to share hard-earned advice and best practices from his two dozen years of professional experience.

Beyond work, he is a contra-academician at heart. Feeling strongly that the education system in India needs a reboot, he also walked the talk, doing his own small bit by ‘free-schooling’ his 18-year-old son at home. His son graduated out of Zoho Schools of Learning, and is now his colleague, at Zoho Corp!

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