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Why HR Should Lead Your Hybrid Work Initiative

November 07, 2022 Digital Workplace
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Hybrid work is gaining momentum as the operating model of choice in the U.S. Research shows that 74% of U.S. companies are using or planning to make hybrid work permanent.

The benefits for business have been covered at length. The myth that productivity declines with employees who are not on site has been debunked. In fact, according to Accenture's future of work report, nearly two-thirds (63%) of high-growth brands utilize a "productivity anywhere" hybrid work model — and 83% of employees prefer that, too.

Those are compelling numbers. But the question is, can it be done? Or, more importantly, can it be done right?

The success of this model is the joint responsibility of managers and employees. But it's also important for HR to be actively involved in the process to support implementation and monitor hiccups along the way. Here's how to bring HR into the fold to spearhead the hybrid work transition.

3 HR Roles to Leverage for Hybrid Work Success

From a corporate perspective, HR is responsible for empowering the relationship between employers and employees to support organizational goals. In short, this means HR leaders are tasked with ensuring a successful workforce strategy: does the organization have the workers it needs to meet its goals? Are there gaps to fill to meet potential future needs? Is the culture "on the floor" healthy and supportive of the company's mission? Do employees have what they need to complete their work?

Those — and many more — are overarching questions HR leaders must address in order to then define the best recruitment and retention strategy. It's those elements that will later give life to more specific items, such as employee experience, healthcare benefits, wellness programs, compensation scales and many other perks, including hybrid work.

While management sets the tone for how and where work should be done, it is HR's job and expertise to identify what's working and what's not, and come up with a plan of attack. “Working in HR equips professionals with a set of ready-to-go solutions for workplace problems,” said Karolina Kijowska, head of people at Warsaw-based PhotoAiD.

And when it comes to making hybrid work work, there's a lot of HR's skills arsenal to pull from. Here are three main roles your HR team should play through the transition — and onward.

Related Article: What Traits Make a Human Resource Leader Effective?

1. Setting (and Monitoring) Expectations

In the workplace, both employees and employers come to the table with a set of expectations. At the root of it all is, of course, the compensation-for-work-performed relationship, which is as basic as give-and-take. Employers need a set of tasks to be accomplished, and employees offer to do the work in exchange for pay.

Simple enough, until you get to the definition of "pay." Pay has become much more than monetary compensation, and what it entails continues to evolve rapidly. From community involvement to ergonomic workplaces, workers today are demanding more from their employers, and it's HR's role to clarify these expectations on both sides — and make sure both parties deliver on their promises. 

When it comes to hybrid work, the premise is the same. HR leaders must set clear expectations of what is acceptable, what isn't, what works and what doesn't all with the intent to continuously improve on the process and ensure that employees and employers find agreement and work toward the same goals.

2. Keeping Employees Engaged

Another significant role of HR is keeping employees engaged. Employee engagement has been a challenge for organizations that have implemented remote work policies.

Airbnb made headlines earlier this year when it announced employees could live and work anywhere in the world. But just last month, CEO Brian Chesky, in a piece for Fortune, warned of the risk of loneliness and seclusion with such a model.

The message is clear: companies can't just implement new work models haphazardly. For this to work, there has to be monitoring and tracking of how it is impacting those involved. That's where HR comes in.

Managers don’t always have the skills or time to manage the social aspects of remote teams, and it can be complicated to get virtual social activities organized for staff who are working across the world. But HR teams can help.

“[HR] can create meaningful employee programs that support engagement, culture building and connections,” said Dave Wilkins, CEO of New York City-based Ten Thousand Coffees. 

There are many things HR leaders can do to support the employee experience and the process of building culture. Plus, when HR takes charge of this initiative, it gets applied across the organization, which improves the chances of a more unified base.

Related Article: Here’s a Novel Idea for Leaders: Don’t Monitor, Participate

3. Arbitrating

Conflict happens in every workplace. Pollack Peacebuilding reported, in its Workplace Conflict Statistics report for 2022, that 2.8 hours are wasted per week per employee on disputes with peers.

HR is ideally placed to deal with these issues to ensure there is a fair and just resolution to conflict because its leaders are more prone to have developed the skills to listen with empathy to everyone, regardless of position, said Amira Kohler, director of performance and change at London-based Appraisd.

HR teams can act as an arbiter, offering neutrality and a focus on equitable and logical resolution, all while respecting the organization's policies and guidelines. According to SHRM, it is particularly important to involve HR when conflicts reach a stage where:

  • Employees are threatening to leave
  • Personal and insulting remarks are made
  • Conflict within the team is affecting morale and productivity

At the same time, HR should also be proactive. Leaders can offer managers and staff the training they need to help them avoid conflict from the start — and resolve issues before they escalate.

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