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How to create a successful hybrid workforce

Patrik Wilkens, VP Operations - TheSoul Publishing

No one could have anticipated the upheaval to our ways of working over the last two and a half years. Work culture has been entirely reinvented, and hybrid working is now accepted as the new normal. We are seeing companies turn towards virtual meetings as the backbone to the day-to-day experience. 

At TheSoul Publishing, we have a 2,700-member strong global workforce, 80% of whom already worked remotely even before the pandemic. One of our major observations of companies who are now finding it hardest to adjust, is that simply replicating the IRL office set up doesn’t work. While the work product remains the same, we need to find new ways to do it, which make the best use of time-saving tools, different working days, and altered methods of communication. 

While companies have largely carried on with a business-as-usual approach wherever their teams are, there are certain ways of working that need to be altered to suit the hybrid style. For TheSoul, this adaptability is in the nature of our business and built into our DNA. We have structured our approach around a few unusual strategies to create an effective hybrid working style. 

Banning internal meetings and emails
While a virtual meeting may seem the obvious way to connect employees together when working in a hybrid way, companies must stop and question what they get from them. Often, employees will call a meeting before attempting to solve a problem, creating a delay in the project. Similarly, if side conversations have happened in the meantime, meetings can risk becoming nothing more than passive status updates. 

To create a more efficient hybrid culture, TheSoul has adopted an asynchronous communications style. In its simplest form, asynchronous comms is a move away from communications requiring an immediate response. We first adopted this style in 2019, allowing team members to decide how to reach their goals and define their own productivity. Asynchronous comms negate the need for all employees to be at their desks at once, reducing the always-on work culture that so many suffer from.

For us, the most significant element of this approach was banning both internal meetings and emails (except in exceptional circumstances, with clearly laid out criteria). We find that quite often internal meetings and emails leave some employees out of communication threads, creating a hierarchical culture. In our remote-first approach, transparency is key.  After all, you can’t expect people to act like a team if they are not all on the same page. 

Of course we still need to find time to communicate and better get to know our colleagues. We use project management software to set clear deliverables and for our team members to access all information relating to the work and the opportunity to share timely updates. It’s also not to say we don’t like spending time together. But what we’ve found is that when you take away calls, employees seek their own opportunities to do so, including grouping around shared interests like book clubs and voluntary gatherings. 

We find this approach far better for staff wellbeing. The Zoom-fatigue that characterised much of early lockdown appears to be dragging beyond the restrictions. A recent study reveals that post-pandemic, people are attending 13% more meetings than before, and more meetings create fragmented workdays.

Moving away from one timezone
The joy of flexible working should be that it allows each employee to work in the way which best suits their own productivity and ultimately lifestyle. But this benefit is reduced at the point where you expect everyone to be online at the same time, in the same way they used to be. 

We have teams working across six continents. Coordinating a call which suits everyone, without eating into their free time, is nearly impossible. Similarly having everyone in the same location doesn’t allow us to recruit the best talent, or ensure we find the people with the right working culture. Embracing the hybrid lifestyle does require a different way of thinking and this has played a key factor in us cutting out all but the most pressing internal calls. 

There’s a clear business efficiency for us here too. Due to the location of our teams, many projects can be worked on almost 24 hours a day. We can respond quickly to new trends and opportunities, with every team member passing the baton as they wrap up their day. 

For companies aiming to get hybrid work right, allowing employees this flexibility to coordinate their own schedules away from meetings is key.

Implementing a strong re-onboarding programme
Traditionally, onboarding is a tool used to help new employees understand a company’s culture and goals. It helps to familiarise them with their new surroundings and role for a quicker integration and better performance. However, as business goals change and develop, it can mean that older employees fall out of the loop and you end up with a disparity in how each teammate understands the direction of business and its ways of working. 

To combat this, TheSoul has implemented re-onboarding for employees of all levels within the organisation. This happens every year and is mandatory for all employees who have been at the company for more than  a year. The programme is exactly the same for every team member, ensuring a comprehensive knowledge across the business. 

When fostering a hybrid workforce, this level of transparency and fairness is key. Those working remotely may miss out on some of the day-to-day changes witnessed by employees in the office, inevitably leading to a feeling of isolation. Re-onboarding is one small but effective way to adopt this and foster a great hybrid working style. 

Taking a holistic approach to change
Working culture as we know it is being redefined, and many companies are only really now exploring what this means for their business in the longer term. While a hybrid or flexible workforce can offer huge rewards to employers and employees alike, we do need to continually think differently as to how we approach ways of working where we’re not all sitting side-by-side. Every company will need to find its own way to do that, but increasing efficiencies, improving transparency, and respecting employees’ personal needs will make the new office environment more productive for everyone. 

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