Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Matt Cain, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
By this point, the long-held beliefs around the relationships between work environment, productivity and responsibility have been shattered. The global shift to working at home has proven that individual workers and teams can be both responsible and productive irrespective of their work location.
For most organizations, the expectation for employees to commute daily into an office and sit at a desk to do their job is no longer relevant in a post-pandemic world.
CIOs must now plan for the emerging hybrid work environment, a component of which involves developing common-sense approaches that they can use to combat anxiety around hybrid work, while also boosting team unity and efficiency.
One exercise that some organizations have found helpful in reducing the uncertainty around this new way of working is to decide on "ground rules" for hybrid working interactions. They must be customized by each team for their own use and updated periodically via team discussions. The team dialogue around ground rules can help to create a sense of agency and control over hybrid working.
Here are 12 rules of the road for CIOs and their IT team managers to encourage across their new hybrid work organization, split into three main categories: tools and equipment, team unity and health, and time management and team coordination.
Tools and equipment
The idea that employees need to take ownership of their digital dexterity is an essential ingredient in making hybrid work effective.
Digital workers claim greater mastery of and more appetite for variety in software, device use and means of contacting IT for help to accomplish their work than ever before, according to the 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey.
The rules in this category remove the blame-shifting that often occurs when tool and equipment use is inadequate. In return, CIOs should build on worker momentum and outline the minimum competencies that all employees are expected to maintain for productivity tools — starting with meeting solutions.
The IT organization is also in charge of seamless provisioning equipment and providing effective help desk services. The ground rules place responsibility on team managers to ensure that no employee is left behind.
As such, the rules under this category are as follows:
- Rule No. 1: Gain minimal levels of proficiency with collaboration tools to ensure effective virtual collaboration.
- Rule No. 2: Understand and embrace the general guidelines regarding which collaboration tool is most appropriate for the business task at hand.
- Rule No. 3: Ensure that the remote collaboration set up — including but not limited to endpoint devices, internet connectivity, sound, lighting and video — are adequate for productive remote collaboration.
Team unity and health
COVID-19's impact on employee well-being is a stark reminder of the importance of peer-to-peer relationships and social connection.
Maintaining interpersonal unity in a fully or partially remote work environment is no easy feat, so the guidelines under this category aim to explicitly achieve such. After all, it's critical to maintain collective team engagement and inclusion.
Explicitly calling out and encouraging the ability to time-shift — for example, to accommodate a visit to the doctor or picking up children from school each afternoon— reinforces the idea that we are all in this together.
Manager empathy and approachability can make the difference between a great employee experience and a not-so-great employee experience, which is why it deserves its own set of rules:
- Rule No. 4: Encourage team members to participate in water cooler events and other community activities.
- Rule No. 5: Establish an informal dress code when interacting virtually with teammates — video presence must be based on individual preference, the meeting objective and mood.
- Rule No. 6: Make yourself available for coaching and support — identify signs that someone is struggling and help them overcome barriers to personal and team health.
- Rule No. 7: Prioritize empathetically communicating news and change to ensure teams feel well-informed about matters that affect them in the hybrid organization.
Time management and team coordination
The remaining rules promote transparency around how teams use their time, agreement around response times, and work time flexibility. These rules assume that team gatherings in corporate-supplied offices should generally be devoted to collaboration activities, while allowing team members to choose where they work the remainder of the time.
The idea of "collaboration equity" for remote and in-office meeting participation is included because there is a growing concern that in-office participants may be favored due to their physical presence in the meeting room.
Here are the rules that promote healthy time management and team coordination:
- Rule No. 8: Empower team members to determine their work-life balance and hours, so long as desired outcomes are met and team activities fully participated in.
- Rule No. 9: Within working hours, help team members set and publicize specific time for individual focus work versus collaborative activities, prioritizing overlapping time zones for global team collaboration.
- Rule No. 10: Establish that teams need not respond to non-emergency work situations outside of published working hours.
- Rule No. 11: Determine fair response time guidelines with various communication modalities, for instance up to one business day for nonurgent emails, but within two hours in enterprise chat tools.
- Rule No. 12: Ensure team members agree on the need for, timing, duration and location of in-person team meetings, while striving for equal-opportunity participation with remote and in-office teams.
The pivot to hybrid work is just beginning and most organizations will figure it out as they go along. These rules of the road are part of this journey, and they enable individuals and teams to set their own path while adhering to organizational guidelines.
Not only do the guidelines enable co-creation and grassroots innovation of hybrid work, they also help new team members quickly ascertain and embrace team cultural norms. This exercise will shed longer-term insights on what hybrid work practices are closely associated with high-performing teams.