Slack Research Reveals These 3 Strategies Can Make Hybrid Workforce More Successful

Remote and hybrid working options create more opportunities for companies to attract and retain talented people. But hybrid work, often referred to as the “messy middle,” requires an entirely new script to work properly.

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That’s why I wrote How the future works, with Slack’s Brian Elliott and Sheela Subramanian. In the book, we not only use what we learned from two years of research and a survey of more than 10,000 knowledge workers conducted by the Slack consortium Future Forum, but also what we’ve seen implementing at companies like IBM, Royal Bank of Canada and Genentech. Our goal is to give leaders the whys and hows of building hybrid teams. Here are some of the best parts and key lessons from the book:

Know the difference between guardrails and principles

Executives are used to leading and controlling, and many now think that making flexible work models successful means requiring employees to spend a certain number of days in the office. But our research shows that 79 percent of people want flexibility and a say in how that flexibility is shaped.

So how can leaders balance the needs of the company with those of their employees?

Start by establishing principles and barriers to help define what flexible working means for your organization. Principles are the foundation for an approach in the company’s core values, while guardrails are the agreed-upon rules of conduct that keep a company’s principles in place. This approach gives people the framework to get started, but also leaves room for teams to test and learn.

But be careful not to fall into the trap of fake flexibility. Leaders should lead by example rather than hand out broad mandates. At Slack, product leadership has a “one dials in, all dial in” meeting guardrail policy. Leaders should also consider setting “speed limits,” another guardrail, to the number of days per week executives spend in the office. Define your principles and guardrails and stick to them.

Time is more important than place.

We can often focus too much on “days at the office” when we think about flexibility. But while the majority of people want location flexibility, nearly everyone we surveyed — 94 percent — want scheduling flexibility. It is more valuable in unlocking productivity, reducing stress, and work-life balance. But how can teams coordinate and collaborate when working on different schedules?

For scheduling flexibility to work, team-level employees must agree on how they will work together. For example, our Future Forum team members agree to a series of “core collaboration hours” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. PST, where we are all available for live chats and meetings. Then the rest of the day is reserved for heads-down focused work.

Documenting decisions and sharing discussions in virtual spaces is critical to keeping teams aligned. Teams should use digital channels for status updates and brainstorm in real time using a shared cloud document.

Onsites are the new offsites

Creating a flexible and digital-first approach gives leaders access to a wider, more diverse talent pool, but this requires more intentional relationship building, both online and offline. And that can be difficult without serendipitous lunchroom encounters.

Navigating this paradigm means, again, consciously managing time. Leaders should use face-to-face meetings more consciously for connection. We’ve seen teams get together in the office for a few days or weeks at a time to plan, reconnect and socialize. Onsites are the new offsites. Encourage teams to find the rhythm that works best for them, whether that means meeting monthly for more frequent product sprints or meeting quarterly for long-term strategy planning sessions.

It’s also important to create programmatic ways for people to build networks, such as employee resource groups and mentoring programs. It’s also vital to use digital tools like Donut and Gatheround to connect with people outside of your team.

The takeaway

To attract, retain and get the most out of a hybrid work environment, leaders need to consult a new playbook. At companies that have experimented with new, more flexible ways of working, employees report improved work-life balance, higher productivity and even a better sense of belonging than those who work full-time in the office. Employees don’t want to give up that, and leaders who want to attract and retain top talent need to consciously transform their work models.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.