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A majority of Canadian employers intend to pursue a hybrid strategy that blends in-person and remote work once employees return to the office. Most, however, are yet to set clear guidelines on what that will mean in practical terms, and perhaps more importantly, who gets the final say on where employees work each day.

According to a recent study conducted by Colliers Canada , 57 per cent of employers intend to implement a hybrid model, but 66 per cent of them remain undecided on how to execute it. Another study, conducted by McKinsey and Co., found that 52 per cent of workers would prefer a more flexible working model post-pandemic, but remain unsure of where their employer stands on the issue. Furthermore, 68 per cent of employees feel their organization has not communicated their post-pandemic work policies clearly. In all, 47 per cent of employees feel concerned by the lack of clarity around hybrid working arrangements.

Working from home, Canadians are saving thousands. Some don’t want to go back to the office

One of the biggest challenges employers now face is determining who is responsible for deciding where employees work: the CEO and executive team, managers, or the employees themselves.

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“It’s very clear that employees won’t be very excited about losing their autonomy,” explains Anu Madgavkar, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute. “You do need that decision to first come from the top-down from the executive level, but the trick is to do that while allowing for some flexibility.”

Ms. Madgavkar believes that managers will serve as important intermediaries between executives and employees when it comes to determining hybrid work arrangements, but is concerned by their lack of training in this area.

“Companies are going to have to really double down on training around the softer skills like empathy, leading others, and managing people, picking up on cues, coaching and feedback – softer things that we might have taken for granted,” she says.

Since the start of the pandemic numerous companies in the technology industry – including Shopify, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox and Zillow – have announced plans to transition the majority of their staff to remote work on a permanent basis. However, experts advises against a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach.

“You can understand why CEOs, their intuition will be, ‘let’s set rules for everybody,’ but I don’t think that works very well,” says Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and co-author of Remote, Inc. “The idea that you’re reaching the same conclusion for everybody in a an organization of several thousand people just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Rather than a blanket policy that applies to the entire organization, Mr. Pozen – who previously served as the president of Fidelity Investments – recommends offering employees some degree of decision-making power over their own schedules, but believes managers should ultimately guide policies and norms for their teams.

“The manager needs to set ground rules for his or her team as to when they’re expected to be online, how quickly they’re supposed to respond to messages, and what are the norms of that team,” he says.

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In order to develop those policies and norms Mr. Pozen advises managers to take five key factors into consideration, which he organizes into the acronym “FLOCS.”

F stands for function, or the specific job requirements and the degree to which they need to be completed in person. L stands for location, and Mr. Pozen argues that the inconvenience of commuting can vary drastically by city. O stands for Organization, and refers to how the organization is structured. C stands for culture, and refers to the degree to which in person or remote work is a part of the company culture, and S stands for scheduling, and includes practical issues around co-ordinating schedules.

“The answer to these questions may be quite different depending on which team you’re in, and in my view you’re trying to give people as much individual choice as possible as to where they’re going to work, but in the end I think the team is going to take priority,” he says.

Managers should have some say over the norms and policies of their teams based on its unique features, but the McKinsey data also points to the importance of offering employees some flexibility and control over their own schedules.

“I want to underscore the fundamental importance of giving employees choice; there can be some boundaries around that choice, but employees need some degree of clear choice,” says Laurent Lapierre, a professor of workplace behaviour at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management.

Prof. Lapierre agrees that decisions around hybrid work schedules should be made by managers, but should be developed in close consultation with employees. He explains that each individual will have different preferences based on their unique circumstances and personality traits. Managers will need to develop a high degree of empathy and understanding in order to incorporate such considerations into their hybrid work policies.

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“Manager who are more naturally able to be in touch with their employees, to understand their perspective – and you can imagine that’s certainly not all managers – are going to be more effectively sailing these seas,” he says.

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