Hey there! You’re reading Chapter 3 of The Hybrid Product Management Playbook: Insights for Tomorrow. Check out the rest of the playbook right here:
As an HR, Operations, and/or L&D leader (we’ve all met someone who wears every hat at once) it’s your responsibility to take care of the details that keep the whole hybrid machine working.You’ve got two main responsibilities; taking care of the people, and taking care of the business.
Those are two pretty big pillars to be responsible for! But if the change is navigated properly, the future of hybrid for your company and for the tech industry is a bright one! You could be retaining talent at a higher rate, hiring more diversely, strengthening company culture, and growing a hybrid company at scale.
But there’s a lot of small steps to take before you can get started, so let’s dive in.
The nitty gritty: hybrid policies
While the hybrid models are very useful for deciding which direction your company will go in, they can’t tell the full story. There are still a dozen small decisions that need to be made to tailor the model to your business.
- Where can people remotely work? Things like taxes, privacy issues, and timezone changes may influence the amount of freedom you’re able to give your employees while they work remotely.
- What safety protocols do you need? Will you impose a maximum number of people allowed in the office at any one time? What security measures will you put in place?
- Does WFH maintain the security levels you need? Most people working remotely use consumer-grade tech connected to their personal WiFi to access your website/data/platforms. Depending on the nature of your company, this could impact your policy setting.
- Will your policy change office-to-office? If you’re a globally distributed company, you’ll need to keep the rules and regulations of each country you operate in into account. For example, your Tokyo office may not function in the same way as your New York office.
- Do teams work to core hours? Is working 9-5 still key for asynchronous communication? It might be impractical to expect individuals to be able to keep to the same schedule in a hybrid setting, especially if they work in different timezones.
- What training do your leadership teams need? If your main facilitators are inexperienced at running hybrid teams in a product company, some training may be a worthwhile investment.
- What equipment are you prepared to provide? If you don’t already supply hardware/subsidies to your employees, is this something you’re in a position to do if asking them to work from home?
- What will onboarding look like? If an interview is swiping right, then onboarding is the first date. It’s important to get it right to retain talent, so figuring out what onboarding looks like in hybrid is key!
Setting your policies and making sure they are always accessible to your teams will help to build harmony, and will help everyone to understand exactly what is expected of them.
There’s no hard and fast rule for how to make these decisions, as each business needs to answer them for themselves. When making these decisions, ask for feedback from the people that these decisions will affect the most.
For example, when figuring out core hours for distributed teams, talk to team leaders in each county, country, or continent. There may be cultural considerations to take into account. For instance, hotter European countries like Spain and Italy expect more flexibility and fewer hours in the summer months. It’s also important to take time zones into account for teams that have to work together. Even if you’re only splitting your team across the USA, your East Coast teams might be fine waking up at 7am for a meeting, while your West Coast teams might be happier rolling out of bed before their 10am meetings.
Remember that policies are not just there to safeguard your business, they’re also to make sure everything that’s expected of your employees is well communicated to them. Rules are for making everything fair and easy to understand, not to put up barriers. So think of them as an asset that’ll help your hybrid machine run smoothly!
What does hybrid onboarding look like?
One of the biggest changes to how we work is how we onboard new team members. When it comes to retaining talent, a solid onboarding process is essential. It gets people off on the right foot with your company and helps to set them up for a successful career with you.
So how can you make the most of a hybrid model to give someone the best first impression and make them feel at home?
We can break the initial onboarding process into two significant chunks:
- Getting introduced to the role: Giving the employee an initial understanding of their role and how to get it done. It’ll involve a lot of form filling, document signing, and virtual tours of website backends and shared drives.
- Getting integrated into the team: The employee understands who’s who in the company, gets a feel for the flow of work, and knows who to go to if they have questions about X, Y, or Z.
Both of these things have traditionally been done in the office, by meeting face to face and shaking hands, being shown where the engineers sit or where the IT department is, and where to grab a coffee from. When the world moved to remote work, new strategies were put in place to make this process 100% digital.
So what do we do now that we have the opportunity for both? How can we use hybrid to nail the onboarding process?
Tips for hybrid onboarding success
- Use recordings, but don’t rely on them. In theory, it would be possible to pre-record pretty much everything needed for a new employee. Welcome messages from the leadership team, Loom tours of how your software works, and presentations on company culture. You could do that, but just imagine what a terrible experience that would be.
Try to make sure that human interaction is as much a part of the process as possible, in whichever way that makes sense, whether that be in-person team lunches or virtual weekly coffee chats. That being said, recordings are still useful. Information-dense meetings can be recorded for people to review later on.
- Make time for fun. Don’t underestimate the power of teammate bonding! Facilitating these relationships early on will help newbies to find their feet that much faster. If your teams are sociable and friendly, it should happen organically. But it’s a great practice to structure team-building into your onboarding process. If you have a hiring spree and have a lot of new people, perhaps that’s an opportunity to plan an on-site for the whole company.
- Keep information bite-sized. However you choose to deliver information to new hires, make sure it’s easily digestible. So that doesn’t mean three hour-long Zoom calls and endless videos. You can prepare fun, interactive content like digital whiteboards.
- Encourage 1-1 connection. It’s a given that someone’s direct manager will reach out to welcome them on their first day. But it’s important that everyone who is vital to that person’s role also makes a connection.
Don’t leave remote newbies behind
Depending on your hybrid model, some new hires may be working entirely remotely. It’s important that they feel just as introduced and integrated into your company as those who are able to spend time in the office. A think piece in the Wall Street Journal, In a Hybrid Office, Remote Workers Will Be Left Behind, had people talking about how to keep remote workers engaged. And this is an important consideration for your onboarding process.
To combat this, don’t leave all the fun stuff for the office. Sure, have onsite events and make the most of having access to an IRL space, but make sure to come up with some online alternatives for your distributed teammates.
According to a survey by Gallup, millennial employees (who are quickly becoming the largest demographic within the global workforce) want to feel like part of a team. They want to feel engaged by what they do. An onboarding process should get them integrated into a team they’re excited about working with.
At Product School, we organize Global Parties for our distributed teams. We’ve had guest DJs, group exercise classes, and even a cooking class with a Michelin-starred chef! We’ve also gathered to talk about important issues like Black History Month, and LGBT+ and women’s rights. Our teams also self-organize casual chats to catch up on their own terms.
With a little creativity, there are plenty of fun ideas for team bonding remotely, and these can be extremely important when onboarding new remote teammates. You inject some much-needed energy into your team, and help to make the new hires feel at home.
The future of diversity, equity, and inclusion in hybrid
DE&I is another topic that’s been a focus point under the umbrella of hybrid work, presenting both new challenges and new opportunities…
Opportunity: diverse hiring
If everyone in your company needs to come to the office every day, that limits your pool of employees to people who live near to your office. In expensive capital cities, this narrows your talent pool to a specific type of person. In cheaper, less urban areas, this limits your talent pool in terms of size.
But with hybrid, you have a wider range of choices. You’re no longer limited to hiring within a mile-radius of HQ, and you’re able to tap into more diverse talent pools. This is especially impactful for product companies, who benefit from having a wide range of voices in the room. Products built for everyone should be built by everyone.
Challenge: proximity bias
One thing to be very aware of when it comes to setting policies is proximity bias. When it comes to things like performance reviews and recommendations for promotion, those whose faces are seen more around the office may be viewed more favorably. The key to combating this (though you’ll never eliminate it) is to make sure your processes are objective as well as subjective. Sure, Person A is liked more because they’re always around the office, but Person B exceeded their targets.
Opportunity: Providing a great work environment for all
Everyone has different needs, with some being more visible than others. Hybrid gives you the opportunity to provide a work environment that allows people to tailor their routine to their needs.
For example, people with visible and invisible disabilities may feel much more comfortable working from home. Single parents and carers will appreciate the flexibility, and there may be a whole host of other reasons why people benefit from controlling their own environment more.
For many, 9-5 office life just isn’t a possibility. Or at least, it isn’t easy. When you open up the world of hybrid working options to your talent pool, you’re able to hire people because they’re talented, without requiring them to sit at the same desks all day. Giving people options and power over how and where they work will not only make
Challenge: Making sure resources aren’t an issue
If you’ve mandated that some need to work from home, you need to take into account that not everyone has the perfect WFH set up. Employee A comes from money, so they have their own home office with an ergonomic chair, and enough good lighting to make any influencer jealous. Employee B lives in a cramped city apartment, so they work from their kitchen table where they are distracted by noisy roommates.
You can’t offer these employees the same resources and expect them to have the same experience. It wouldn’t be surprising to see that Employee A is more productive and is more willing to do a little overtime when needed. (Employee B would do overtime, but their roommates need to cook!)
You’ll need to either be prepared to provide employees with what they need to work from home remotely, or adjust your model to make sure it’s fair for everyone.
Mind the budget!
Employee compensation: This is one of the more controversial topics surrounding hybrid…how does hybrid working affect employee compensation? Or at a more philosophical level, should hybrid working affect employee compensation? A survey by salary.com found that for 72% of employers in the US, there is no formal system for figuring out compensation for fully remote workers. That number shoots up to 92% for workers who only work remotely a portion of the time.
According to the same survey 94% of employees believe that compensation should be based on a person’s contributions to the company and not on their geographical location. When employers were asked if partially remote workers were seen as more or less valuable than fully onsite workers, 94% of respondents said that they were equally valuable.
So everything points in the direction of hybrid work not impacting employee compensation.
But in big tech, Google turned heads when it was announced that Googlers working from remote locations could face pay cuts up to 25%. Mark Zuckerberg has also hinted that similar pay cuts could be in store for remote/hybrid employees at Facebook. At Apple, employees are fighting back against unsavoury pay cuts and some teams in the US and France have written open letters advocating for remote work. (Apple currently only allows 2 weeks of the year in their ‘work from anywhere’ policy.)
It’ll mostly affect those who have moved from expensive locations (Silicon Valley, we’re looking at you!) to more affordable places. For Google, with around 20% of its employees telecommuting permanently, that’s a lot of potentially slashed salaries.
If changes to employee compensation is something that’s on your company’s radar, consider what others are doing in your industry. Google may be able to get away with adjusting employee salaries and still mostly retain talent, because they’re Google! But you might not be, and the choice to adjust the salaries of your existing employees is a decision that needs to be made with delicacy.
Decisions can be made based on the scenarios your find your workforce in. For example…
- Are your teams wide distributed across cities and countries?
- YES: Adjust compensation according to local standards
- NO: Keep compensation the same for hybrid workers
- Do your teams receive a stipend for out-of-the-office activities?
- YES: Consider how much activities may cost across your team’s regions, and the different types of activities that might have different rates of accessibility.
- Do you use a mix of full-time employees and contracted freelancers?
- YES: Maintain standard salaries across your FT employees and adjust freelancer contracts according to their location/rates.
- Will you need to adjust your existing employees’ salaries?
- YES: Consider the regional average for each team. Aim to still offer an above-average salary, or risk losing your employees to competing offers.
- NO: Outline what your new salary policies will be, and set processes for deciding things like annual salaries for both old and new employees.
To train or not to train?
A lot of things, especially in Product Management, are learned ‘on the job’. That’s either that you learn by doing, or you learn by osmosis as you observe the people in the room with you. That’s not impossible to do from home, but those organic moments of learning something new from someone in another discipline are harder to come by.
Corporate or individual training could be a great solution to even the playing field between your remote and in-office employees. You could either offer some specific courses as standard, or have an ‘on-request’ policy.
Offering training to your employees has the dual benefit of being good for you and good for them. You get a more skilled workforce, higher employee satisfaction and retention rates, and a positive reputation with applicants.
You might be interested in checking our our corporate training offering, to take your hybrid, remote, or in-person product teams to the next level!
Final Thoughts: Making the model work
Making a hybrid model work for a company of any size involves a lot of moving parts, from policies and salaries, to diversity and bias. So keeping track of whether or not hybrid is working can feel like a challenge in itself.
Conduct a routine check in, and ask yourself these questions…
- What opportunities/benefits can we take advantage of to make this a great place to work?
- Are we still able to provide the resources that our team needs to make the model work?
- What employee feedback have we received about our hybrid/remote work situation?
- What steps can we take to go above and beyond to delight our teams?
Remember that as a HR/Operations/L&D manager, it’s not just your job to make sure people stay productive and keep contributing to the bottom line. Your most important responsibility is to your teams. If you provide a great place to work, your teams will do great work.
Coming up in Chapter 4
Don’t just take our word for it! Hear from industry leaders from PayPal, Amazon, Coinbase, and LinkedIn on how they make remote/hybrid work for their teams. They’ll discuss the things they’ve learned through working remotely or in a hybrid setting, talk about the pros and cons, and discuss the unique strategies that their companies employ to keep their teams healthy and happy.