If your company is considering a move to hybrid work, it's a good idea to find a consulting firm that can offer critical guidance
April 5, 2023 - The transition to the hybrid workplace isn't just about the right technology (although that's a huge part of making the jump successfully). It requires a shift in mindset for both workers and management. A great example: When Crestron moved to a hybrid work policy, the team implementing that model knew right away that "they didn't know what they didn't know." To help ensure success, the company brought in an outside firm, Distribute Consulting.
Distribute was founded by Laurel Farrer, a former COO of an event production agency. As her company grew, she proposed telecommuting to help alleviate real estate costs as a bevy of new hires came aboard. This was in 2006 — just before the first iPhone® mobile devices were introduced. As Distribute's CEO Sunny Ziemer notes, "Productivity and employee retention increased so dramatically that Farrer's company was never co-located again."
After a decade of research and writing on the subject, Farrer became a full-time consultant in 2016. This led to the founding of Distribute in 2019 as Farrer joined with other like-minded experts who brought their own virtual management skills to the firm. Timing was everything: "Very shortly after, the coronavirus pandemic caused an unexpected boom in work-from-home models, creating intense market demand for remote work consulting," says Ziemer. Today, Distribute provides an array of consulting services, including program strategy, leadership training, infrastructure design, and much more. Beyond Crestron, their clients include Microsoft, Abbott, Logitech, Hubspot, Zoom, and several international governments.
To learn more about making a successful transition to a hybrid workplace, we put several questions to Ziemer and her colleague at Distribute, Business Development Director Megan Dilley.
Three Key Tips for Hybrid Work Success
Develop a Healthy "Virtual Culture" — Ziemer and Dilley say, "Whether you have a fully remote or hybrid model, the most important factor in developing a virtual culture is ensuring that your culture isn't reliant on location." Distribute offers this article on creating "location-independent cultures."
Learn the Necessary Skills — This applies to both staff and management. Distribute has more on adopting the right "Habits to Ensure Equality in Your Hybrid Team."
Monitor Your Model — "Like any business strategy, your hybrid work model needs to be monitored, evaluated, and iterated on over time," says the team at Distribute. They further offer advice on potentially creating a position in one's company called "Head of Remote."
CRESTRON: When a business is developing a hybrid model, what kind of questions do you ask?
DISTRIBUTE: We have developed what we call the Virtual Health Analysis (VHA), which is a series of about 100 questions that we ask a varied group of leaders on a group call. The VHA is for businesses that are using (or going to use) either a hybrid or fully flexible model. It covers topics like handbook and policy creation, company culture, leadership and workforce training, hiring and onboarding, digital infrastructure and performance management, home office safety, and hybrid role compatibility and employee equality. It helps us identify where the company is excelling and where there is room for building and allows us to prioritize helping a business mitigate risks surrounding unfair, unsafe, and illegal practices.
The team that wrote, edited, tested, and built the product that it is today consisted of Laurel Farrer, Lance Robbins, and Gary Walker (along with Dilley and Ziemer). The flexible workspace is full of incredible subject matter experts that are always there to help and support each other, and we are forever thankful to them all.
CRESTRON: What policies are key?
DISTRIBUTE: Having a flexible work policy is the number one policy that an organization needs to remain compliant in remote and hybrid work while also providing the team with the stated expectations and standards for how an organization works, regardless of work location. It articulates the details of your remote or hybrid work model and becomes the basis for all expectations and values that align with your organization. A flexible work policy covers everything, including communication and performance standards, in-person office requirements, home office setup, compensation, and more.
Three Tools to Help Manage the Hybrid Work Environment
Flexibility Policies — Also called "remote work policies" (as well as other names), flexibility policies are the legal agreements between a business and its staff that lay out the responsibilities of each, including (but not limited to) performance requirements, virtual codes of conduct, and information security guidelines.
Digital Handbooks — Digital handbooks, the next evolution of the employee handbook, should function as "the single critical source of truth that consolidates all knowledge management and equips your team to independently find answers and resources for the operations of your remote and hybrid organization," according to Distribute Consulting.
Communication Charters — Communication charters set "norms and expectations for communication within your organization." This includes setting hours, response time, meeting etiquette, and more — protocols that are especially important for asynchronous work.
CRESTRON: What are the positives of a hybrid model?
DISTRIBUTE: Today, hybrid is the preferred work model of many organizations around the world. It's yet to be seen if it will remain the model of choice as companies settle into it long term. For some employees, hybrid offers the best of both worlds. If they enjoy having the flexibility to go and connect in person with their team while also spending some days working at a home office, it can provide a great employee experience if the organization is thoughtful about articulating standards and expectations.
CRESTRON: What are some pitfalls of the hybrid work model?
DISTRIBUTE: When it comes to hybrid work models, the biggest risk factors often surround bias and unequal employee experience based on work location, which can lead to discrimination, lawsuits, and attrition. (You can find more info in Distribute's article on the "Risks of Hybrid.")
CRESTRON: Are some C-suites still reticent (as in, still harboring fears of remote workers "slacking"), or are we past that?
DISTRIBUTE: When something has been done a certain way for a very long time, people can be very averse to changing — and where we work is no exception. Even though many businesses found that their staff was more productive while working from home during the pandemic, we still hear things like, "Well, how will I know if they are working?" It seems that, particularly in the last year, we are finding ourselves brushing off the old "Case for Change" information while talking to C-suites and again having to educate them on the future of flexible work. They are feeling the pressure from staff, their industry, and the world as a whole, and yet they still can't shake those old myths and outdated opinions.