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This article was first published on leaderonomics.com on 8 December 2021. 

Employees love having the flexibility to work from home, even business leaders love to work remotely.

Working flexibly allows us to plan our work schedules to fit our lifestyle needs. When we work remotely, we are able to prioritise our deadlines and work at our own pace. If we need to run an errand, such as picking up our kids from school or going a medical check-up, we can simply inform our team and come back to work without having to apply for leave. In short, work from home benefits include an increase in quality time with our family.

According to Randstad Malaysia’s Employer Branding Research Report 2021, 59% of local respondents in Malaysia ranked “work-life balance” as a top EVP factor, an 11-point increase from 48% in 2020. It shows that workers have a very different perception and attitude towards work-life balance as well as what they expect from their employers after having the chance to work from home during the pandemic.

Hence, it is evident that the flexibility to control our time has helped us become more productive workers, and  boost our work performance. Night owls can work during the time when they are most productive and parents can now accommodate to their child’s school schedule. We can better meet our deadlines because we are able to prioritise our work and set the pace on when it will be done. We’ve also gotten better at communicating with our team members over video conferencing and chat messages.

However, as safety measures get lifted, we are hearing that many employers are expecting their staff to return to the office. Some companies have also implemented hybrid teams or hybrid workplace models to slowly adjust returning to the office. A few remain skeptical and how this will affect the employee’s performance if they continue to work remotely.

best practices to boost productivity in a hybrid work environment
best practices to boost productivity in a hybrid work environment

returning to the office will not be easy

There are many reasons why employers want workers to return to the office. They might be looking to rebuild the organisational culture, better integrate their new employees into the workplace, or simply want “things to return to normal”.

But some employees may rebut the idea of returning to the office after working from home for so long. Employees are so used to the remote work environment that returning to the office might impose a new problem for them. Many people may think that their bosses want them to return to be micromanaged, or just to make sure that they are working from 9 to 6. Perhaps some others may feel that their bosses are stuck with the traditional mindset that work can only be duly performed in the office.

Regardless of the reason, expecting employees to work in the office from 9-to-5 brings back pre-pandemic workforce issues such as presenteeism. It creates a false perspective that being in the office means we are working or are more productive. But the reality is that we scroll through social media or read the news - even when we’re in the office. We are humans after all, and we all take breaks.

Fortunately, unhealthy work requirements are starting to be put in the spotlight in recent years. Some companies that have poor employee wellbeing are getting called out by their employees on social media and online forums, forcing the organisation to go under widespread public scrutiny. These negative reviews will significantly impact the company’s ability to attract new talent or retain their employees in the long run, even if they offer to pay a higher salary.

This is why when we interviewed 16 HR leaders across Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, they all agreed that the hybrid workplace model is the best HR solution that would meet both new employee expectations and the organisation’s workforce management goals.

Your employees can continue to exercise the flexibility that they have and choose where and when they want to work, individually or as a team. However, business leaders face a new challenge with the hybrid workplace model: how do you manage your employees when you don’t even know where they are that day?

it’s okay not knowing where your employees are working from

Managers and team leaders need to understand that it’s okay not knowing where your employees are working from, as long as they are communicating regularly with the team and meeting their deadlines. It is more crucial to cultivate trust among your employees and be confident that they are responsible in delivering their work.

Instead of measuring inputs like your employee’s working hours or the number of emails sent in a day, employers should learn to measure the outcomes. This includes their ability to meet deadlines, targets, project goals and work quality.

If you need regular progress updates from your team, you can always set up regular work-in-progress meetings or ask your co-workers to send you email updates every two to three days. It’s unnecessary to contact them every hour to check on their progress, and more often than not, they are actually wasting more time giving you the update than doing the actual work that needs to be done.

Leaders will need to establish trust with their employees for a more meaningful and mutually-beneficial relationship. Your role as a boss or manager is to encourage and guide your hybrid worker in their journey to explore new solutions that are more resource-efficient.

You should also help them remove barriers or obstacles if you see them struggling at work. They could be facing some issues at home or feeling too overwhelmed with their workload. Being able to understand their challenges, professionally and personally, can help build trust. You can offer to guide or help them re-prioritise their work. Subsequently, you will gain the respect and trust from your employees and they will become more loyal to the company.

A strong feedback culture like Klook’s is a great example of how organisation-wide trust can be established even when working remotely. Klook promotes regular check-ins between employees and supervisors, not just to discuss work KPIs, but also issues at home that may be impeding productivity.

optimise digital tools to improve productivity

Productivity is important and it is critical to deliver results to show your boss during discussions about pay raises and promotions.

In a hybrid work environment, using digital tools such as team collaboration, communication and upskilling can be of advantage. These tools are incredibly helpful in providing an online space to work effectively with your team, which will boost overall productivity.

types of digital tools for productivity
types of digital tools for productivity

Since your employees can access these digital tools from anywhere, all you need to do is to ensure that they are actively using them so that data and results can be tracked.

1. cloud-based collaboration tools

Most of us are already used to using cloud-based collaboration tools during the pandemic. Google Suite and Microsoft Office allow employees to work on the same document together from wherever they are. As an organisation, you can achieve better collaboration and efficiency when your team members are able to work on the same platform or project - regardless of where they are working from.

Besides presentation decks and Excel sheets, you can also use project management boards like JIRA and Monday.com to keep track of project progress and deadlines across the team. Managers can use these digital boards to distribute the workload fairly across the team and ensure that all projects are properly tracked, assigned and completed to stipulated deadlines.

2. communication platforms

The capacity to communicate effectively and clearly with someone is one of the most in-demand soft skills and there’s a reason for it.

Working from home limits the opportunities to train our communication skills. We are unable to read body language or accurately understand the tone when reading emails and messages. When a person is very straightforward in the way they write emails, they may be misunderstood as being too blunt or aggressive.

This is why all employees need to learn how to communicate clearly in emails, messages and video conferences. Communicating on digital platforms requires a different approach. To some extent, you may need to over-explain yourself and give very clear instructions to reduce the possibility of miscommunication. Employees should also learn how to ask questions and seek clarifications regarding the task when necessary.

There are also many ways we can collaborate even when we are all working remotely. Many video conferencing solutions such as Zoom and Google Meets offer fun functions such as polls and quizzes. As a manager, you can also create breakout sessions for brainstorming sessions with the team. When used effectively, these tools can help build better camaraderie and employee engagement.

Better communication creates more transparency and clarity among the workforce, which leads to a more productive workforce. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do, leaving little room for second guesses.

3. learning and development

One of the best ways to improve productivity and employee engagement with your employees is through training and development. Many employees are turning to Reddit, YouTube or Coursera to learn how to use Excel functions or new software. Even TikTok users are sharing free software such as Notion, as well as tips on uncommon functions people can try out on Powerpoint to create videos and gifs.

As organisations forge ahead with their digital plans, they would need to continue offering such exciting opportunities and channels for learning to instill the future of work mindset. Managers should also encourage and empower your employees to take charge of their own upskilling.

Randstad conducts “train the trainer” sessions where subject matter experts within the organisation share their knowledge to help others become better. Subjects could include personal online branding or hybrid work management. Other companies also offer sponsorship or scholarship programmes to encourage more employees to get certified.

be agile and flexible in how you measure and drive workplace productivity

Implementing a hybrid workplace model will be a challenge faced by most business leaders around the world. Many of us are still on a discovery journey to find out what works best for our organisational culture, and it takes time to experiment. Even though most of us work better remotely, work from home challenges still exist for some employees. There will be failed attempts, but we must be quick to adapt and forge ahead.

Employee retention can also be increased when bosses start making effective decisions by factoring in employee wellbeing and business strategies for growth. This not only betters the work experience for employees, but also positively impacts the business performances and guarantees a higher rate of success.

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To establish relationships and engagement amongst the workforce in a hybrid work environment, you would need to have talent with the right skills and personality. Connect with our recruitment consultants and let us know how we can help you drive your future workforce.

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