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3 Keys to Improving Your Hybrid Workplace 

May 2022

Over the past few years, nonprofit managers have encountered unprecedented challenges affecting their organizations' operations, from the impacts of the ongoing pandemic to the economic upheaval caused by the war in Ukraine. One of the most jarring adjustments that leaders have been forced to make has been rapidly adapting their workplaces to accommodate both in-person and virtual employees. Some organizations have had to work much harder than others to implement these changes if they started out with lesser technological capabilities. 

As organizations have made this shift, they have often encountered significant workforce issues as management and staff have grappled with stark changes to the location and modes of work. Significant mismatches have often arisen between the expectations of executives and staff members on this issue. Despite these challenges, you can foster productive hybrid workplaces through thoughtful planning and engagement with your employees. Here are three things you can do to make the most of hybrid workflows at your organization.

 

1. Assess which factors you can and cannot control

As organizations that face scarce funding streams and unstable government support, nonprofits have become accustomed to acting in an environment where many important factors are out of their control. Many leaders have long since learned that they can act more constructively by refusing to get bogged down over issues outside of their influence and instead focus time and energy on those they can more effectively manage. 

Some factors you have little to no control over:

  • Shifting government health regulations: While you can advocate impactfully for your interests, the various government entities enforcing public health policies will always have the final say. 
  • Employees' personal healthcare choices: Regardless of your interventions, staff will make their own health-related decisions based on many personal and social influences. 
  • Employees' self-evaluation of their productivity at home: Employees may view their productivity differently from their bosses, perhaps because they might emphasize different aspects of their work output (e.g., content produced vs. time spent in meetings).

Some factors you have more control over:

  • The productivity metrics you utilize to assess staff performance: You can experiment with new evaluation measures and analyze which are more appropriate for your current hybrid environment.  
  • Having candid and supportive conversations with your employees: Starting from a point of empathizing and learning from your employees creates more opportunities for you to learn something that adds nuance to your view of the situation. 
  • Setting the tone by embracing technology-integrated processes: Designing all workflows with technology in mind will ease the interaction between virtual and in-person employees. 

Leaders can improve these assessments by adopting an Appreciative Inquiry approach that focuses more on building the assets and skills the team already possesses, as opposed to merely highlighting deficient capacities. You can start by identifying a handful of skills that your team can build on, then focus on other areas where you can reasonably make modest improvements over a short period. 

 

2. Consider the full spectrum of options

Nonprofit managers can easily trap themselves in thinking dichotomously between fully in-person or fully virtual working arrangements. In reality, organizations can adopt combinations of these modalities across a wide spectrum, as well as experiment with workspace arrangements that can reduce the negative aspects of hybrid work. You should prioritize crafting solutions that are appropriate for your team since they will be the ones who have to thrive within this environment. 

Technical Expertise

Managers must consider the technical expertise of their team members when deciding on how best to integrate technological tools into their workplace. If your team is relatively small and only one or two people (perhaps this is you) possess the necessary technical skills to maintain a digital setup, it risks overburdening the people charged with that responsibility. Alternatively, if most of your employees have some skill in operating highly-involved technical infrastructures, then the responsibility can be shared more broadly. If this is not the case, you should consider investing in technology training for current staff members or hiring individuals with more technical savvy.

Synchronicity

You should also examine the degree of synchronicity required for the team's workflows. Some teams function best meeting several times each day with most of the staff in attendance, while others perform best meeting synchronously only every few weeks. This will depend on the preferences and work style of the team members, but you should aim to avoid having key tasks being derailed for weeks because the team cannot wrangle four or five necessary people onto a Zoom call for 15 minutes.

Office Adaptations

Once you have decided on a balance between in-person and virtual work, you can also consider adopting changes to the physical design of the office aimed at maximizing interactions that staff members lose in virtual environments. Consider increasing the sizes of cooperative spaces and hosting meetings in these more open areas to create a sense of connection. Nonprofits operating on small budgets can use low-cost interventions such as these if they cannot afford wholesale remodeling jobs of their office spaces. 

 

3. Work to create buy-in from your team

Regardless of the opinions you have on the design of your organization's workflow, none of them matter unless you can garner enough buy-in from your employees. You can create the most inventive solutions possible for your organization, but your employees will ultimately decide if they will invest themselves in the arrangements and see them through. To increase their investment, you should heavily involve them from the beginning of the planning process and incorporate their feedback in every aspect of the plan. 

Working in collaboration with your staff, aim to craft a hybrid workflow design that is built on highly specific and actionable components. This will decrease confusion and help keep everyone on the same page about how to interact with their teams. At the same time, you will be able to hold employees accountable to the system they signed up for and discourage them from straying into unconstructive habits.  

You should also spearhead the use of a digital-first approach in all aspects of your organization's operations, meetings and workflow. This approach entails setting up systems so that all employees can participate in work processes no matter the venue they are working from. Keep in mind, however, that this can create substantially more work for you to manage, so if you realize that you do not have the bandwidth for it, then maybe a simpler situation is warranted.

While we cannot know when the challenges associated with the pandemic will wane, we know that hybrid work is here to stay for many organizations. You can best capitalize on this evolution by embracing the opportunities it offers and leveraging the talents of your employees to rebuild the operations of your organization as much as possible. 

 

Additional Resources:

'Peopling' Avoidance Creates Back-to-Work Issues by Nonprofit Pro

5 Tips To Create a Happy, Healthy Nonprofit Hybrid Workplace by Beth Kanter

Four Principles to Ensure Hybrid Work is Productive by MIT Sloan Management Review

What is Appreciative Inquiry? by the Center for Appreciative Inquiry