Written By: Christy S. Renjilian
As you probably know, a hybrid workplace is one in which staff members have the flexibility, based on their position, preference, and job performance, to work at the office or off-site.
It’s a workplace that trusts and values its employees, actively promotes and fosters a work-life balance, and supports individualization of work schedules.
These workplaces are forward-looking, innovative, and adaptive. They continue to ask the question, how can we support our staff and serve our clients better?
And an understanding that the answers are not mutually exclusive.
On top of all those characteristics, successful hybrid workplaces listen.
“Our capacity to operate at peak productivity and performance varies dramatically according to our personal preferences. So in designing hybrid work, consider the preferences of your employees—and enable others to understand and accommodate those preferences.”
— Lynda Gratton with Harvard Business Review
If you work at a hybrid employer, you may feel similar to the way respondents felt in a recent Gallup Poll.
If reported the greatest advantages of hybrid work to date are:
- improved work-life balance
- more efficient use of time
- control over work hours and work location
- burnout mitigation
- higher productivity
And that same poll showed the greatest challenges of hybrid work include:
- having the right tools to be effective at work
- feeling less connected to the organization’s culture
- impaired collaboration and relationships
- disrupted work processes
If you’re still on the fence about embracing a hybrid approach, here are a few statistics from Zippia’s September 2022 hybrid workplace report:
- 74% of U.S. companies are using or plan to implement a permanent hybrid work model
- 63% of high-growth companies use a “productivity anywhere” hybrid work model
- 55% of employees want to work remotely at least three days a week
Hybrid workplaces are more in demand than ever, and I’m pulling back the curtain to share with you how we here at CCC transitioned from an in-person nonprofit to a hybrid workplace.
How CCC Shifted from a Traditional, In-Person Employer to an Evolving Hybrid Workplace
The shift from traditional to hybrid was built on the foundation and culture we work so hard to create.
About a year into the pandemic, a manager who has been on the team for years commented, “We would not have been able to transition to working remotely if the pandemic had hit either before you became Executive Director or shortly thereafter. We didn’t trust our employees, and there was a culture of micromanagement. Our communication and connections were not strong like they are now.”
Like most Executives, while I saw the pandemic coming, I had about four hours—from the time I
got the Governor’s text at around 5 am until my 9 am all-staff meeting to develop the initial plan
for how people would do their jobs at home.
And at that moment, while I didn’t know exactly how it would all work out, I had a deep trust in my team’s commitment to those we serve and knew they would work hard to complete their job duties.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, we were a hybrid workplace. Some staff preferred to
continue to work in the building, and we were able to accommodate them. With precautions of course, like not sending accounting team members home with blank checks and a printer.
One of our core programs pays child care fees for low-income working families directly to child care providers. We process thousands of payments and distribute them to seven counties — for an average total of $5 million a month.
The next payment was due to be processed two days after we transitioned to working at home. Plans were made to cut checks and process ACH with as few people in the building at the same time as possible. I remember going into the office at 5 am to sign the checks after the finance team member had printed them out the day before. We did whatever was necessary to keep CCC running and our community supported.
Over the past two and half years, we continue to revise our model—to re-imagine and re-
configure what hybrid means to us.
We distributed a staff survey asking each employee what their preferred work model was —home, office, or hybrid. And to define “hybrid” how many days per week or month in the office they preferred. The Leadership Team used this information to develop individualized staff schedules that aligned with preferences as well as reduce the number of people in shared office spaces at the same time.
Some job functions, such as receptionists, require people to be in the building. Others, we have determined, do not. Even if prior to March 2020 we would never have thought the job could be performed while not in the building.
When we first sent people to work remotely from home in March 2020, of course, their laptops
went with them. Over the course of weeks, we quickly realized this was going to last longer than
anticipated, and staff could choose to take home their office chair, printer, and equipment to
support their home workspace.
Our HR manager regularly sends information about ergonomics, mental health and wellness, and reminds the staff of our EAP services. We send multiple emails a week regarding health and wellness, started a weekly mindfulness/meditation practice, and use TEAMS for catching up and sharing photos of our lives (our new “water cooler chats”).
Three Mindset Shifts to Embrace This New Way of Working
- Technology Is Your Friend
CCC quickly embraced Zoom and TEAMS. Staff was encouraged to explore these tools and empowered to share their knowledge with others. We realized that TEAMS is a fantastic tool
both for “work tasks” and “maintenance and promotion of our interactions and culture.”
We learned how to teach the families, providers, and community partners how to use these
technologies to ensure that we could effectively engage with them during the height of the pandemic when in-person visits were not possible.
- Flexibility and Individualization
Pre-COVID, most CCC staff worked 8:30 am to 5 pm, although we did have some people begin as early as 7 am and others start later. We have shifted our mindsets so that work times are more flexible.
Our culture and trust, and systems of checks and balances, allow us to have staff work times
that align with their needs. For example, in the first weeks/months of COVID when schools
were closed or remote, some staff began their work day earlier, perhaps took a longer break
during the middle of the day (than the typical hour lunch), and then worked later into the evening.
We allowed them the flexibility to manage their time to ensure that they were both meeting their
work requirements and their family responsibilities. These schedules could change daily,
weekly or monthly as their particular situations changed, and we are able to accommodate
CCC’s leadership team shifted to a more individualized approach. While we previously
accommodated modest variations in schedule, we typically approached situations striving for
consistency. Our mindset has shifted so that we embrace a culture of individualization.
We accommodate individual schedules, needs, and preferences. We work hard to ensure that staff view individualization as “fair” even though it may not be “equal.”
- Connection Doesn’t Require Proximity
Prior to COVID, we did our work in person. Either within our office buildings, at an early childhood education program, or attending face-to-face meetings in the communities we serve. We would drive all over our 13 county regions with the mindset that to support and effectively interact with someone, we needed to do it in person.
And while there are some things that are better done in person, we have learned that many
things can happen with the same high level of personal connection virtually. Particularly small
group meetings or meetings that pull in people from multiple counties.
Eliminating travel time has greatly increased attendance at these meetings. We worked hard to provide virtual meetings across several platforms, at various times, and in both small and large groups to foster connections when we couldn’t meet in person.
As we transition back to more in-person events, we think strategically about what the best format for the interaction is as well as the preferences of the persons we will be engaging with.
Two Reasons Our Hybrid Workplace is Working
- Commitment to Customer Service
From the very first days of COVID, our commitment was both to protect our staff and to continue
to provide the highest possible customer service. CCC never closed—we just transitioned to
working remotely (and now hybrid).
We determined very quickly that the most critical aspects of customer service are not you being in the same physical space. But rather through actively listening to the person you are interacting with, building meaningful and effective supportive relationships. That work can and does happen through consistency, caring, and time.
Our staff cares deeply about those we serve. And we mean SERVE. We work for them. And that care and commitment shines through even over Zoom or the phone.
We believe that our retention rate (99.99% over the past three years) and the ability for clients and providers to have the same point of contact are critical to high-quality customer service and effective partnerships.
CCC’s staff regularly comment that this is the best place they’ve ever worked. And that’s a
testament not just to leadership but to each and every employee. We deeply care about and pay
attention to our culture. It’s a culture of mutual respect, open communication, and the belief that
each employee is critical to our success.
Many businesses that struggled through remote working and are having trouble implementing a hybrid work model state that the challenges are mostly around maintaining their culture and ensuring that staff feels and are connected and supported.
Since CCC spends a great deal of time and resources promoting and nurturing our culture, we had the tools in place to maintain and grow it even during COVID.
As the saying goes, if you want to know what’s important to you, track what you spend your time
on. We intentionally spend time on communication, connections, culture, and relationships. We’ve done that for years, and it is what enables us to be so successful.
We practice what we preach, encouraging work-life balance, people taking their PTO, involving staff at all levels, seeking their meaningful input, and using it to inform decisions and policies. Board and staff (all staff) regularly serve on committees together, and the ED does not micromanage their relationships or communications.
And Our Biggest Struggle When It Comes to the Hybrid Model
CCC added 11 positions during the past 18 months. It has been challenging to secure new
employees during this time of staffing crisis. We feel fortunate that we have all but one
position filled. (Check out our website if you’re looking!)
We’ve also, due primarily to the ARPA and CARES grants to ECE programs, DOUBLED our
revenue from approximately $85 million to $161 million in the past two years.
This incredible growth was initially done with the staff on hand. It required our excellent leadership team to effectively manage job tasks, increased workloads, and staff morale.
Of course, the increased work did not mean that other job functions went away (that’s never the case, especially for a nonprofit). Our staff rose to the occasion and have successfully navigated the exponential growth.
Advice For Nonprofit Leaders Looking to Recruit and Retain Talented Team Members
If I could only give you one piece of advice it would be to join the evolution toward a hybrid work model.
According to Stanford University research, “About 70 percent of firms — from tiny companies to massive multinationals like Apple, Google, and Citi — have implemented some form of hybrid working arrangements so their employees can divide their time between collaborating with colleagues on site and working from home.”
Stop saying, “we have always done it this way, we can’t try that, or we have to do the same thing for every employee”
Value, trust, and actively encourage work-life balance and offer some type of hybrid work model to retain your workers.
CCC has ONE staff person who has left for another position since March 2020. One. Fortunately, the great resignation did not impact us. And you’ve heard about how women left workplaces at a higher rate… which is noteworthy since 98% of our staff are women.
Why have we retained our team when others have not?
Because we listen, adapt, and trust.
As a nonprofit that serves families, it is critical that we also value—through tangible means—the
family life of our employees. We’ve worked hard to keep our culture thriving, to increase
salaries, to adapt to a hybrid model, and to support our employees.
Simple but powerful concrete actions to maintain our culture and connections included a weekly
newsletter at the start of the pandemic, not about work, but about life during the pandemic,
written by the ED.
Fun virtual meetings planned by staff committees, that occurred both during work hours and in the evenings. We played trivia, Bingo, and Scattegories. Family members joined in. We laughed and connected with each other.
We have lunch and learn check-ins on a wide variety of topics to promote staff interactions. The Executive Director held small group sessions with every employee to maintain connections.
It’s imperative to evolve our culture and boost morale as leaders and employers.
You can implement change within your organization, nurture a listening environment, and grow trust within your team, too.
“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they’re at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”
— Sir Richard Branson, Virgin America
About Child Care Consultants, Inc.
Child Care Consultants, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic.
For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.
Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.
To learn more, visit childcareconsultants.org.