For many small businesses, a hybrid workforce is the new normal, creating novel opportunities and unique challenges that organizations will need to navigate in the year ahead.

Change is never easy, and the past year has been a constant exercise in disruption. From shifting consumer demands to a radical reorientation of workplace structures, most organizations are becoming even more proficient at navigating uncertainty than ever before.

Now leaders are grappling with the implications of short-term adjustments becoming long-term transformations. Most notably, small businesses are becoming less centralized and more agile by embracing a hybrid workforce composed of on-site, remote, and distributed teams.

It’s estimated that 67% of small business will adopt a hybrid workforce model as their default operational arrangement this year. While there are many benefits of a hybrid workforce, leaders will need to effectively navigate potential pitfalls while optimizing for sustainable growth.

A hybrid workforce can be a boon (or bust) for small businesses

While it’s taking on renewed importance in this moment, remote work isn’t a new idea. Increasingly capable and accessible mobile technology made remote popular even as it experienced different names and manifestations. Teleworking, telecommuting, working from home, and other terms have defined the practice, evolving alongside its implementation.

Today, remote work helps companies achieve operational continuity while supporting employees facing challenges on many fronts. In this environment, better work-life balance, great flexibility, and less stress benefits workers and their companies.

A study on remote work job satisfaction found that employees with work location flexibility were 22% happy at work, leading to higher levels of employee retention and productivity, which is critical as companies navigate a business landscape inextricably altered by the recent pandemic. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, “productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely.”

At the same time, a hybrid workforce reduces health and safety concerns as offices are less congested and in-person communication is restricted. Collectively, 60% of companies cite cost savings in all its forms as one of the primary motivators for empowering a hybrid workforce.

The challenge, for many, is activating a hybrid workforce without undermining other priorities. For small businesses, the stakes of this transition are incredibly high. More than 100,000 small businesses have already closed since the onset of the recent pandemic, and an effective transition to a hybrid workforce can help companies thrive or fall behind in the year ahead.

Best practices for managing hybrid teams

#1 Establish trust.

For managers accustomed to conducting in-person team oversight, the transition to hybrid teams can be especially challenging as communication, collaboration, and accountability protocols all need to be reimagined.

That’s why, as the Harvard Business Review reports, “a large number of managers are struggling with the effective management of people working from home, with this translating into many workers feeling untrusted and micromanaged by their bosses.”

In some ways, trust is a cultural issue predicated on person-to-person interaction, track records of high-quality conduct, and observable outcomes. In a hybrid environment, trust can also be built and established through accountability software.

Already popular before the pandemic, employee monitoring software adoption has surged in the past year, giving managers a tool to facilitate data-driven leadership and buoy confidence in employees’ remote work habits.

Monitoring alone can’t cultivate a culture of trust, but it can serve as a starting point for establishing trust at every level.

#2 Measure productivity.

When transitioning to remote work, many leaders worried about employee productivity. Without in-person incentives and accountability, would workers take long lunches, binge Netflix, or ignore professional responsibilities?

In reality, employees have generally demonstrated incredible efficacy when working from home, leading to continued productivity and efficiency, regardless of setting.

Many people are working more than ever before. The workday increased by three hours during the recent pandemic, and many workers note now physical presence of work as an omnipresent feature of their lives.

There are many reasons for this increase, but in response, leaders can consider measuring productivity through outcome-driven metrics rather than total time to encourage workers to maintain work-life balance.

In a remote setting, productivity tracking – whether evaluated by total time, business outcomes, or other quantifiers – will make sure that small businesses meet their objectives in any environment. As Forbes notes, “Productivity tracking technology also provides employees with an opportunity to demonstrate their hard work and ability to work autonomously.”

While the actual implementation will vary by region, industry, and company, measuring productivity allows small businesses to make data-driven decisions about the future of hybrid arrangements, empowering them to make real-time decisions about its efficacy and sustainability.

#3 Account for cybersecurity. 

Cybersecurity is a serious concern for small businesses embracing a hybrid workforce. Not only do distributed teams expand a company’s potential threat landscape, but the consequences of failure can be catastrophic.

For starters, the cost to recover from a data breach continues to rise, leaving cash-strapped small businesses with a significant expense. At the same time, the reputational damage can be expansive and long-lasting.

Customers are increasingly wary of buying from data-breached companies. It’s estimated that 25% of Americans won’t shop at companies after a data breach. As a result, 60% of small businesses will permanently close after a data breach.

Simply put, cybersecurity is a mission-critical, bottom-line issue for small businesses embracing a hybrid workforce. While they may lack the financial resources and personnel of their corporate counterparts, small businesses can still prioritize the most prominent risks to optimize their defensive posture for today’s threat landscape. This includes:

  • Insider threats. Working from home makes it more likely that insider threats will undermine data privacy and information security. Both accidental and malicious insiders can cause a data breach, making real-time threat detection and endpoint data loss prevention a veritable must-have security feature for hybrid teams.
  • Unsecured connections. After investing heavily to fortify their on-site cybersecurity capacity, many small businesses are now trusting their cybersecurity to coffee shops and home WiFi arrangements. To prevent a breach, consider providing all employees with a trusted VPN service to help protect important data.
  • Account integrity. Billions of login credentials have been compromised in the past several years. Each one could give bad actors front-door access to employee accounts. Making matters worse, many employees never update their passwords, leaving their accounts vulnerable and easily accessible. In addition to requiring regular password updates, small businesses can enable two-factor authentication on their accounts to make it more difficult for bad actors to access employee accounts and company data.

Small businesses can’t afford to ignore cybersecurity, but a robust defense doesn’t have to consume an excessive portion of their resources. By relying on comprehensive services to account for the most prevalent threats, they can reduce the risk of a costly cybersecurity incident.

Conclusion

For small businesses, the transition to a hybrid workforce is both an opportunity and a challenge. Those who effectively embrace this format stand to benefit on many fronts, while those who remain stagnant may struggle to adapt to an ever-changing, often-disruptive business environment.

Establishing trust, measuring productivity, and accounting for cybersecurity can serve as pillars for this transition, helping support small businesses during a disruptive time.

At the same time, remember that remote work isn’t new. Small businesses can learn from previous iterations and embrace best practices to chart a course that avoids pitfalls and maximizes potential when they need it most.

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