Employee Wellness in the Hybrid Workplace

Successful hybrid working environments prioritize employee wellbeing to create a healthy, equitable, and inclusive culture for all.

April 6, 2023


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Like it or not, the era of the hybrid working model is upon us in this (almost) post-pandemic world. Get on board – or be left behind. According to a new McKinsey survey of one hundred executives across industries and geographies, 9 out of 10 organizations will be blending remote and on-site working, beginning in 2022. In fact, the majority of executives surveyed expect that in the new hybrid working world employees will be on-site one to four days per week.

How can organizations begin to grapple with this daunting transformation to hybrid? Certainly, one important theme rises to the top: employee health and wellness. Beyond internal systems, technology infrastructure, and productivity, taking care of staff will be a crucial priority for any company wishing to maintain a competitive advantage in the hybrid working age.

When it comes to employees – the bedrock of any organization – these are scary and uncertain times. After almost two years of working from the cocooned safety of home, many are reconsidering the role of work in their lives. Priorities and preferences are changing. The idea of a partial return to the office may be met with cheers by some (a joyous reunion with colleagues), with fears by others (is it safe?), and with reticence and uncertainty by the remainder (do I really want to be in a physical workspace away from home anymore? What about flexibility?).

The War for Talent Intensifies

Gone are the days when employees were simply grateful to have a job and eager to stay loyal to their employer through thick and thin. Indeed, 2022 brings a tidal wave of attrition: one in four employees quit their job last year according to data from the people analytics firm Visier, and the trend continues. This means challenging times for employers hoping to attract and retain talent. The COVID-19 crisis has ushered in an explosion of remote working opportunities and a booming gig economy for knowledge workers. For these and other reasons, the war for talent is expected to rage on throughout 2022, challenging employers to shore up resources and rethink more meaningful recruitment and retention strategies. According to an XPertHR survey report, 89% of employers believe recruiting and hiring will be either “somewhat” or “very” challenging this year – and a full 79% expect employee retention to be exceptionally challenging. The new data indicates a 23% jump in recruiting and hiring concerns compared to last year.

Hybrid Work Secrets: Wellness is the Word

According to a study by Gartner, “wellness” is fast becoming the new metric North American companies are using to assess the mental, physical, and financial health of their employees. During the pandemic, a great number of companies took steps to reinforce the wellness supports they provided. An investment in employee well-being translates to higher levels of performance, retention, and success in the hybrid work transition.

In fact, Jan Bruce, CEO of workforce solutions platform meQuilibrium, says that, without employee wellbeing as a focus for HR in the coming months, productivity and profitability will certainly suffer. Conversely, those leaders who prioritize employee well-being will not only win the goodwill of their people, but also significantly reduce costs and attrition in their transition to a hybrid work model. What’s more, a 2021 report by Gartner predicts that by 2022, 60% of workers in the hybrid work environment will prefer a wellness-equipped smart office relative to a remote office.

So, you have done the logistical planning around distancing, hygiene, and desk reservation systems. What steps can you take to unleash a healthy hybrid work model for your organization? A culture where everyone feels safe, empowered – and included?

Wellness in the Hybrid Workplace: Three Ideas to Inspire Your Health and Wellbeing Programs

Keep Teams Together Through On-Site “Neighbourhoods”

Create reassuring new rules around desk booking, space booking, and hoteling that ensure teams work in the same space each time. Consider creating designated areas where associated employees (i.e., the marketing team, operations group, accounting staff) can stay together, collaborate and work alongside each other whenever they reserve space to work on site. No more fear of a strange new person right behind the next partition – or unfamiliar faces just across the aisle!

Respect Different Levels of “Proximity” Comfort

Many businesses have been socially distanced for the better part of two years. As a result, employees will have different levels of comfort regarding proximity and social interactions. Some will be ready to return to handshakes and high fives, others will prefer the elbow bump.

With the return to work, organizations will have to renegotiate our understanding of personal space – both individually and in relation to the differing comfort level of others. One area of research that is useful in this regard is the study of interpersonal space, known as proxemics. An interesting aspect of this concept is that it is largely nonverbal. We do not go around asking strangers if we can pass them or touch them; we need to judge from their body language how to best maneuver through their space and relate.

So – how can you enable your workforce to read these cues – and maintain respectful distances between coworkers, based on their comfort?

Take steps to ensure all these different comfort levels are respected through:

Open, honest conversations with each individual about the degree of proximity that is right for them. This will serve to create clarity, ensure everyone’s preferences are respected; and reduce the stress of potentially intruding on someone’s safe space.

Implement coloured wristbands for easy cues: green for handshakes and hugs, yellow for elbow bumps, and red for “don’t touch me.” Survey employees to gather their thoughts on how to best identify and respect their wishes and boundaries.

Make additional hygiene aids available for those who need them: santizers, wipes, and beyond.

Structure collaboration time: Consider scheduling team standups at a set time each day and set rules based on all team member preferences. That way, those who are uneasy with group gatherings can prepare themselves mentally and physically.

Champion Inclusiveness and Employee Equivalence in the Hybrid Workplace

In this new model of work, the notion of inclusiveness will expand beyond demographic categories to encompass all those with differing needs, anxieties and working preferences. Some may prefer (or be required) to be on-site all the time. Others may be caregivers at home, or have other reasons they need to remain working virtually.

Hybrid work environments should foster equity among virtual and in-person workers. Creating this equivalence is easier said than done. Technologies, processes, and cultural changes must support fair treatment and include everyone, regardless of location, individual sensitivities, and working styles.

How do you ensure that all voices are heard, everyone is included, and no one is left out in the hybrid workplace? Make sure those who remain working virtually get equal respect, support, and opportunities as those coming into the office through:

A hybrid approach to meetings with on-site and virtual staff always invited and present

– Creative approaches to social and collaborative working events that include those on and off site. Consider mailing craft or cocktail kits to staff homes. Or, inviting virtual workers to join meetings and actively participate with tangible items to bond them with those in the office. You could hold team lunches where remote staff join in via a food delivery service – there are many options.

– Appointment of “Hybrid Work Champions” whose job it is to ensure no one is left out; that voices of both on- and off-site staff are equally heard – and their needs are equally met.

New technology to support employee equivalence: Workers at home and in the office will need shared information and collaborative spaces that are as accessible and intuitive as possible – think online collaborative spaces, smart technology, and other team building technologies.

Creative solutions to drive purposeful engagement: Although virtual social gatherings have benefits, they are not sufficient to create the levels of connection needed for an organization to thrive. To reduce isolation, prevent new hires from feeling lost, and help employees feel part of a team they may never have met in person, consider creating formal buddy systems, beyond traditional mentors. Engineer moments that will foster loyalty, such as celebration of team accomplishments and milestones. Develop first-line manager tools and training to enable them to drive engagement. Do not abandon newcomers to fend for themselves!

Wellness Strategy for Hybrid Work

In creating your wellness strategy for the new hybrid world, the best place to start is with your people. Talk to them. Survey them about their hopes, fears, and current levels of engagement. Ask them what they want – and what they do not want.

With these important insights, you can build a roadmap forward – ensuring your workforce wellness plan is always adaptable. Take care to constantly check back with your workforce on the state of their well-being along the path to transformation. After all, this hybrid transformation is new terrain for us all. Organizations around the world are learning as they go. The best we can all do is take tremendous care, physically, emotionally, and financially, of our most valuable asset: our people.

Looking for the right solution to optimize wellness in your workplace – and increase employee engagement and retention? Contact us to find out how Nspace, our state-of-the-art workplace management solution can help.

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