Hybrid work isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Here’s how managers can better understand and support different preferences and attitudes across their hybrid teams.
The conversation between business leaders and employees about long-term hybrid work plans is a complex one. We’re trying to answer some really big questions: How is our in-person time best used? What tools do people need to succeed, wherever they are? How do we build a sustainable hybrid system?
As we strive to address these big-picture challenges, managers overseeing day-to-day operations are struggling through a messy middle ground. Every day, they’re tasked with guiding different types of employees in an entirely new (and often shifting) work environment that affects individuals differently. Managing hybrid work today can feel like trying to cross a bridge that’s still under construction.
To understand how hybrid work is affecting people, we commissioned a global survey with Economist Impact. One of its central findings was that 77% of hybrid workers agree that their managers need more specific training on managing hybrid teams. To help address this training gap, we took a deep dive into the Economist Impact research and coupled our findings with proven best practices at Google. With the right tools and guidance, hybrid teams can be successful and drive impact together, no matter where teammates work.
Economist Impact recently categorized employees into four segments based on their relationship to hybrid work: evangelists, pragmatists, fair-minded, and undecided. Interestingly, employees did not fall into categories based on neatly predictable criteria like role, seniority, or industry. Instead, the primary driver was more personal: how hybrid work affects their everyday lives. The study found that feelings about hybrid work are often determined by factors like need for child care, length of commute, and personal work styles.
Here’s a look at the four types of hybrid workers identified by Economist Impact, coupled with tips for managing each one.
The evangelist: Happy with hybrid. They want to sustain the current model.
As you might guess from their name, the evangelists (24%) are the most optimistic about hybrid work and typically very satisfied with the policies, technology, and social dynamics already in place. Many work fully off-site. At Google, we have long had distributed teams who are central to our organization, so we recognize many hybrid work evangelists in our midst by their enthusiasm, productivity, and loyalty. The system is working for them.
The questions we are always looking to answer are: how do we make sure that our most satisfied employees stay that way, and how can we tap into their enthusiasm to help their colleagues see the benefits of a hybrid structure? Here are a few ideas:
- Empower them to keep working in a way that supports their natural productivity, using centralized tools like Google Drive for easy collaboration and shared calendars so coworkers can clearly see their schedules and availability.
- Invite them to share their best practices company-wide by creating and moderating Google Spaces dedicated to hybrid work tips, work-from-home hacks, and more.
- Keep them engaged through short Google Meet check-ins on a quarterly basis, with the agenda focused on how hybrid work practices are functioning and whether improvements can be made.
- Offer continuing support by making sure they have the right technology, especially if they work fully off-site. Ask: “Is technology helping them stay in the mix across all the ways and places that hybrid work happens?”
The pragmatists: Optimistic, but facing challenges. They need to be heard.
The largest segment identified by Economist Impact were pragmatists (39%), a group who is optimistic about hybrid work, but experiencing significant challenges with it. Their sentiment can be summed up as, “Yes, but …”. Meaning that they want hybrid to work, and they want to be a part of making it work, but they don’t think it’s working well… yet. Pragmatists feel that their organization’s new policies don’t incorporate enough employee input and are more likely to feel these policies are unfair.
Pragmatists are also concerned with blurred work-life boundaries. This demographic includes workers who have less location and/or time flexibility, so they may not be experiencing significant benefits of a “flexible” workplace. Here are some ways to support pragmatists:
- Gather input by creating an anonymous survey using Google Forms. Ask what’s working or not about hybrid schedules, team processes, technology tools and training, work-life balance, etc. Repeat these surveys at regular intervals to ensure that pragmatists’ voices continue to be heard.
- To improve flexibility while ensuring collective team work, agree on “core work hours” in which teams determine daily hours when they will typically be online and meetings will take place. Offer flexibility around the “non-core” hours for focused individual work or personal needs such as medical appointments or taking children to school.
- Enhance transparency and shared understanding across the team about each others’ preferences and schedules using Calendar features like working location and focus time.
- Enable teams to communicate and collaborate across locations and time zones through shared comments in Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
The fair-minded: Feeling good, hoping for continued cultural change. They want to improve the dialogue.
Most concerned about employee wellbeing, fairness, and inclusion, the fair-minded (23%) report an overall positive impact of hybrid work on their lives. Whereas the pragmatists express a “Yes, but…” sentiment, the fair-minded express “Yes, and…”. They like where this is going, and they want more. Over the long term, they are hoping for greater flexibility in their location and work schedule. They believe that better communication and collaboration will strengthen the culture of trust in the workplace and benefit everyone. Here are strategies for managing the fair-minded:
- Foster social connection by adopting platforms specifically built for inclusivity and get creative in using them – it’s OK to have fun! Choose thematic backgrounds or break into small groups for a quick icebreaker before a meeting.
- Build an inclusive environment by providing opportunities to bond at in-person events devoted to mentoring, discussion, and socializing.
- Keep people informed via a “hybrid-work hub” on Google Spaces where management can share the latest policies and employees can ask questions.
- Strengthen the culture of trust by shifting toward impact-oriented performance evaluations.
The undecided: Craving connection, direction, and better technology. They need to hear from you.
At 13%, the undecided may represent the smallest number of respondents, but they’re a group that need significant support. Why are they undecided? Overall, it’s because they’ve yet to experience significant benefits from flexible work. They’re more likely to be at organizations that have not issued formal hybrid policies, so they’re working in uncertain environments.
This group also reports higher rates of technology challenges, suggesting that they haven’t been equipped with the right tools to connect, collaborate, and communicate remotely. And finally, many are frontline workers who have suffered from limited social interactions or extra strain during the pandemic that has affected their mental health.
With so many challenges, it’s not surprising this cohort is the least confident about the future. Strategies for meeting the needs of the undecided include:
- Clarify your hybrid policies through active communication. Consider hosting regular “re-onboarding” video calls with small groups to make sure everyone understands hybrid policies and gets training on new processes or tools.
- Strengthen their sense of belonging with clear, inclusive updates on company wide projects and achievements via Google Meet video conferencing. Use the Q&A function so employees can ask questions and everyone can see answers, or conduct live polling to survey a specific topic. Follow up your meeting with an email recap for those who could not attend.
- Help teams communicate and collaborate better with instant communication tools like Spaces in Google Chat, which keeps conversations about scheduling, shared tasks, and files together.
Let’s make it work
As leaders, it’s important to understand and acknowledge your team members’ different experiences of hybrid work. Do you know which of the four types your employees fall into? Taking the time to engage with them and learn their preferences allows you to shape policies while also making decisions that help the organization get work done. A thoughtfully planned hybrid work structure can adapt to individual needs, connect distributed workforces, and, ultimately, strengthen your organization. While our global shift to hybrid work was born out of necessity, we can use it to provide opportunity for every type of worker.