Top 3 Hybrid Workplace Questions

Author: Kim Freeman, Esq.

Handling hybrid work issues with compassion and consistency is essential, especially given the tightening of the job market. Even in the best of times, the failure to retain good employees meant a hit to the bottom line. According to Gallup, turnover and replacement cost businesses one-half to two times an employee's annual salary. And these days, it may be difficult to replace the person at all.

Hopefully, part of your hybrid work or return-to-work plan involved surveying employees about their concerns. If it wasn't, it's not too late to ask them how they are feeling and how you can help. Consider quarterly surveys to gauge your employees' thoughts. Workers who believe that their employer cares about them and is transparent with them about hybrid work or return-to-work plans are more likely to stay.

Here are some questions and answers you'll want to consider:

1. What are some issues to watch for in "hybrid" work arrangements where employees mix in-office and remote work?

A recent executive poll by a national consulting firm found one in five businesses already implementing hybrid workplaces, and the top challenge identified was maintaining company culture. Additionally, organizations must focus on compliance with employment laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when adopting this work model.

Many previous employee engagement and team-building events no longer work in a post-pandemic world, especially in a hybrid work model. Remember the potluck or the tailgate party? Likely permanently struck from work-related activities. HR can help management find different tools to reshape company culture for the hybrid model. Areas to address include:

  • Performance Management;
  • Communications;
  • Motivation Tools;
  • Social Connections;
  • Team Building/Planning/Training;
  • Service Projects; and
  • Awards and Incentives.

Importantly, don't forget to refresh supervisors on the FLSA, FMLA and ADA. When workers are remote, these issues are harder to spot. To avoid FLSA problems, organizations must enforce strict policies regarding nonexempt work hours, including signing in and out for meal breaks or any other "off-the-clock" time.

Managers need to be alert to possible FMLA and ADA situations with remote workers. Failure to recognize that employees were requesting FMLA or an accommodation under ADA increases legal risks.

2. How can an employer make sure remote workers feel included in company culture and decision-making?

A hybrid workforce means that employees may miss the chance for the impromptu hallway chat or that the boss gives an assignment to the first team member they see, resulting in missed opportunities to feel included and valued. Make sure you promote a company culture that keeps remote workers in mind by:

  • Spreading the responsibility for engagement: For meetings that include in-office and remote workers, allow team members to take turns "running" the meeting. The person in charge must open with something that encourages engagement.
  • Making it a habit to ask offsite employees first: When managers want input on a decision or project, ask remote workers first. By doing this, there's less likelihood that in-house employees give input and remote workers are forgotten.
  • Prioritizing check-ins: Communication is critical for hybrid workplaces. HR shouldn't be the only department tasked with keeping employees informed and asking for feedback. Team leads, supervisors and managers must find ways to keep remote workers productive and engaged.

3. Are there any tips for electronic surveillance so that employees don't feel micromanaged?

Employees who feel micromanaged likely don't feel so because their employer tracks computer or phone use. Micromanagement issues typically are a function of poor managers or supervisors.

Instead, electronic surveillance (ES) makes employees uncomfortable because they feel spied on as if the employer doesn't trust them. Implementing hybrid work as a permanent alternative means additional measures to ensure employee productivity may cause grumbling among workers.

To lessen the concerns over electronic surveillance, consider:

  • Narrowly tailoring ES as much as possible.
  • Reminding hybrid workers that ES occurs in the office too.
  • Detailing ES in any hybrid work agreements.
  • Clearly explaining why it is necessary (productivity, legal compliance, performance evaluation).
  • Making sure any additional ES for work from home complies with applicable laws.