Rebecca Achurch, CAE
Rebecca Achurch, CAE, is the CEO and founder of Achurch Consulting.
It would be nice if associations could say they’re a hybrid office, snap their fingers, and have all go well, but going hybrid with no planning invites trouble. To position themselves for success, organizations should be intentional, leverage their strengths, and sharpen managers’ skills.
More than 75 percent of associations are planning to evolve into a fully remote or hybrid workplace in 2022, according to the 2021 State of Association Workplaces Post-Pandemic Survey. While more staff will head into the office, we will continue to Zoom in and out of our coworkers’ lives with children and pets reminding us we were human before we were employees. COVID-forced “remote workspaces” will transition into permanent hybrid and, for the very progressive, borderless workforces.
As 2022 progresses, we are likely to encounter challenges if we don’t intentionally redesign how we work together. Without proper planning and investment in staff development, hybrid work environments can produce communication conundrums, manager miscues, employee angst, and cultural question marks. Here are three action steps that association leaders can take today to conquer these hybrid headwinds of tomorrow.
As tempting as it may be, associations can’t simply announce they are “going hybrid” and post a Tuesday/Thursday schedule. Doing so does not magically save money, improve communications, or increase productivity. Rather, it quickly leads to employee disgruntlement, a deflated culture, and ultimately to a talent drain. Associations need to be intentional about their remote/hybrid work structure.
Hybrid managers must know how to set iterative performance targets, track flexible schedules, apply cross-team feedback loops, monitor project progress, read the hybrid room, and build cohesive teams that work asynchronously.
There are compelling reasons for employees to gather in person—to build team rapport, to expedite brainstorming, to jumpstart a new project launch, or to improve communication around complex problem-solving. Associations should know exactly why they need employees to meet in person and why they need a physical office space (if they do).
Invest time and energy identifying the purpose of bringing staff together and reconfiguring office space to meet in-person needs. As you design your hybrid model, be intentional and consider things like:
Knowing the answers to the above will help you create an engaged, inclusive, and happy workforce.
The struggle to optimize a hybrid workforce is real. Clear and effective communication has never been more necessary, nor more difficult. Research shows that strengths-based teams communicate better and are more productive, happier, and engaged than other teams. Most importantly, they feel empowered to tackle challenges head-on. These strength-based teams are precisely what associations need as they intentionally transition to a hybrid model.
To better understand your team, consider using assessment tools such as CliftonStrengths to identify their strengths. The benefit of an assessment tool is that individuals learn their greatest areas of strength (e.g. analytics, adaptability, persuasion, learning, strategic thinking, and so forth) and can apply those strengths to face organizational challenges. For example, as associations are adopting their optimal hybrid model, they can lean on their “strategic thinkers” to lead the planning. As they train managers to lead hybrid teams, they can lean on “relators” to help build strong communication channels. Associations that are identifying their teams’ strengths will be most prepared to overcome future hybrid challenges.
Managers must be trained and enhance their skills in hybrid management, which is very different from traditional in-person management. Hybrid managers must know how to set iterative performance targets, track flexible schedules, apply cross-team feedback loops, monitor project progress, read the hybrid room, and build cohesive teams that work asynchronously. They must also be confident in communicating and managing across both the in-person and remote work worlds. This is no small feat; it requires practice and support.
Fortunately, managers can learn these skills and foster greater collaboration and increased productivity. Associations should invest in remote/hybrid manager training programs to upskill their managers, demonstrate support for their development, and empower them to be effective advocates and stewards of their organization. Well-trained hybrid managers are true association assets and will help propel their associations forward.
Remote, hybrid, and “borderless” offices (and the associated flexibility and reduced commuting time) are here to stay. The most successful organizations will meet their mission, engage employees, increase productivity, enhance operations, and ultimately attract and retain top talent by planning for the future. Simply “going hybrid” is not enough. Be intentional. Leverage team strengths. Upskill and support managers. Taking these three steps will give your association a true leg up in 2022.