Each year, the good folks at Merriam-Webster crown a “Word of the Year” as a way to document the concept, phrase, or conversation that dominated the cultural zeitgeist. Late last year, to absolutely no one’s surprise, “pandemic” won the title. For 2021, it doesn’t take psychic powers to see the clear front-runner.

“Hybrid work.”

According to Google Trends, searches for “hybrid work” spiked an astonishing 1,566% between January and May of this year. This increase is due, in part, to several high-profile employers announcing their hybrid policies such as:

  • Amazon: Tech and corporate employees may work remotely for up to two days per week.
  • Apple: Employees whose jobs do not require daily, in-person work may work remotely two days per week. In addition, they may take up to two weeks per year to work remotely.
  • Google: Similar to Apple’s policy but with up to four weeks per year for remote work plus “Focus Days” for heads-down work without meetings and “Reset Days” as added, company-wide days-off.
  • Salesforce: Employees will fall into three categories: (1) “Flex” who work one-to-three days in office, the rest remote, (2) “Fully Remote” who aren’t close to an office and work remotely full-time, and (3) “Office-Based” who work in the office full-time.

Clearly, hybrid work is a hot topic of conversation. However, even these high-profile employers demonstrate that it is also a hotbed of controversy as the policies of Amazon, Apple, and Google were refined after pushback from employees on the initial policy announcements.

So what’s an employer without the HR muscle of big tech to do? Here are some thoughts on how not to burn yourself in the heat of hybrid work:

1. Define the Challenge.

Hybrid work is a means, not an end. Before you implement any change in work policy, you must first define the challenge you seek to solve. Are you seeking to keep morale high among key employees who learned to love turning commute hours into family time? Are you seeking to empower employees to maximize productivity on their terms? Or are you building a bridge to an eventual office return for everyone?

Once you define your challenge, you can begin to map out whether a hybrid work policy is in your company’s best interests and, if so, what that policy should entail.

2. Avoid Complexity.

Every employee must easily understand a hybrid work policy to succeed. You are not writing a rule book, you’re providing guidelines for individual and team productivity. Be clear and concise so managers have guidance on how to lead and so employees know where and when they need to be.

3. Communicate Constantly.

Once you lock your hybrid work policy, over-communicate it to your entire team. Discuss it at leadership meetings, team meetings, and all-hands gatherings. Send it out via email, blog, Slack, and intranet. Last, but not least, train your managers on the policy and how it should be applied as well as how employees can provide feedback.

4. Apply Consistently.

There’s no faster recipe for disaster in a hybrid work culture than clear policies applied inconsistently to similarly situated employees. If your policy requires the entire team to be in the office Monday through Wednesday, then barring illness or personal emergency, the entire team needs to be in the office those days. Failure to enforce the policy you set opens the door to bitterness, job dissatisfaction, and increased attrition. And that’s exactly what you’re seeking to avoid with any hybrid work policy.

5. Manage for Outcomes, Not Tasks.

While hybrid work policies should be enforced consistently, managers should not take that as an opportunity to micromanage employees. Successful hybrid work cultures manage goals and outcomes within project timelines; they do not monitor every minute of every individual task because to do so kills productivity, job satisfaction, and trust. If you are concerned about an employee’s abilities, measure and address them in the context of the objectives you set, and create peer evaluation programs that provide insights from angles you otherwise would not see.

6. Build Your Online Office.

At Filo, we’re big believers in the hybrid future. That’s why we’re building virtual spaces that connect teams whether they’re in the office, working from home, or out on the road. Having a centralized platform—a virtual campus, if you will—for team events, collaborative meetings, and spontaneous conversations helps bridge the gap between office and remote workers. Moreover, it gives them an online space to call their own. In a hybrid work world, that sense of ownership, place, and presence may unlock even greater productivity.

7. Revisit Annually.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that circumstances can change in an instant. The hybrid work policy you adopt this year may not be the right policy for next year. Accordingly, make sure your policy includes a stipulation for how often it will be reviewed, revisited, and revised. Manage the expectations of your team, and they will be far more understanding of future changes necessitated by evolving business conditions.

Hybrid work could usher in a new wave of productivity and job satisfaction, the likes of which we’ve never seen. It could also, however, have a number of unintended consequences. The CEO of Drift decided that his team’s hybrid future is something different than Amazon, Apple, Google, and Salesforce. His teams will be fully remote, and their offices will be used for teams who opt to gather, collaborate, or meet with customers in person. Why? Because he wanted to avoid the inequities of opportunity that can arise with some employees spending more time in-office than others.

Is this the right decision? Will yours be? Time will tell, but one thing is certain. Every company needs to define its policy regarding hybrid work now or risk getting burned by an evolving workforce that sees flexibility as a non-negotiable benefit.

For a conversation on the impact of hybrid work on sales enablement’s future, be sure to join Filo on Thursday, June 24, at 2 p.m. EST for a Sales Enablement Roundtable on Lessons from the Virtual Salesfront featuring Todd Caponi (author of The Transparency Sale), John Moore (host of Coffee, Collaboration & Enablement podcast), and Larkin Kay (VP of Sales Enablement for Ping Identify).