In addition to selling hybrid work tools and solutions, Crestron has adopted that blend of in-person and remote staffing
Business periodicals have been seemingly inundated with the terms: hybrid meetings, the hybrid workplace, hybrid scheduling. The vast amount of info on the subject of what’s come to be called “hybrid permanence” — the blend of remote and in-person staff at companies large and small — is a direct result of one of the most profound shifts that the global workforce has seen.
The path from a culture (especially in the Western world) where in-person knowledge work was the norm to the current modality was, of course, accelerated by the pandemic. Many companies had begun to dabble in the idea that some segment of their employees could be remote on any given day. The fraught early days of a viral spread, though, triggered a sudden shift to an all-virtual reality for hundreds upon hundreds of businesses. That experiment, borne of necessity, allayed the single biggest fear C-suites had when it came to the adoption of remote work: That without the face-to-face watchful eye of management, staff would start slacking.
It didn’t happen. Contrary to many expectations, productivity spiked.
The Three Cs: Collaboration, Culture, and Community
Crestron had already begun the process of exploring hybrid work arrangements by the time the lockdowns of March 2020 had begun, according to Anthony Morin, EVP of corporate operations. The company had experience in this arena, of course — Crestron had supplied collaboration tools to enterprise-scale businesses, schools, and even government facilities for decades before COVID struck.
And, as Morin succinctly puts it: “You’ve got to eat the food you’re making. You have to live and work within your own product to be able to sell it, understand it, and get other people convinced that it works. We can't go into Coca-Cola and say, ‘Hey, you should use this device’ — and then not be using that device.”
There were concerns, of course. “I think they were the same concerns everybody else had, right?” says Morin. He lists the three Cs and points of focus, areas that had to be maintained: “Collaboration, culture, community.” Would teams collaborate effectively with a blend of in-person and remote staffers? Would Crestron be able to maintain its company culture — even though some staffers were all-virtual? And could a sense of community be fostered, even digitally?
“We were really setting foot into the unknown,” says VP of HR Operations Marcos Negron. “Before we went all in, we had to ensure we’d stay productive and keep our employees engaged.” With a great deal of research — and input from a consulting firm — the team began to build workable solutions.
There was one more aspect, especially given that many Crestron employees were returning to work after just a few months (especially on the manufacturing side, which clearly required on-site presence). “A safe working environment,” says Senior Director of Real Estate and Workplace Services Andrew Razgaitis. “If you're coming back, we want to ensure you feel absolutely safe.”
“One year after the pandemic began — in March of 2021 — we instituted the hybrid work model that’s in place today,” says Morin.
Tips for Adopting Hybrid Work: The Three Cs
Collaboration — Will teams collaborate effectively with a blend of in-person and remote staffers?
Culture — Will your business be able to maintain its company culture — even though some staffers are all-virtual?
Community — Can a sense of community be fostered, even digitally?
The Business Audit
As the plans were drawn up, Morin and his colleagues realized that the only internal model for hybrid work they had to draw from was the sales department. “They’re on the road quite a bit,” he notes. Other departments would require different approaches — approaches that would meet specific needs. “That was a large part of the analysis we did during the modeling for this program,” says Negron. As some other companies had done, Crestron didn’t want to make what Negron refers to as a “blanket decision” (e.g., pre-Musk Twitter, in which everyone could work remotely at any time). “We had to devise a strategy that works for all the different individuals and all the different functions we have,” he says. “We couldn’t just issue an all-encompassing ‘Come in three days a week’ directive.”
To further narrow down the specifics of the transition, the consultancy firm conducted an audit — and the questions were exhaustive. “It really ran the gamut,” says Morin. “How many employees do you have? What are your locations? What kind of access do the employees have to technology? What kind of technology do you use to communicate? Is a lot of the work done via email and text?” Another set of questions was directed at Crestron’s approach to work/life balance — in both reality and employee perception.
There were demographic considerations, too — specifically, average ages and years in the workforce. “An older workforce has a little bit more trouble transitioning to a hybrid work function than a younger workforce would,” explains Morin. “You could just see that by looking at the different organizations across the globe right now that are dealing with these problems. Some of those organizations that tend to have a workforce that is a little bit older employ people who want to be back in the office more often. The ones with a younger workforce tend to be pretty open and flexible with their work arrangements.”
Management — and Transparency — Were Key
The team implementing the new hybrid working model developed three different “buckets” — fully remote, fully on-site (clearly key for manufacturing jobs, for example), and hybrid employees. “We went through a process with all the managers at the highest level — and then down to even the hiring manager level — to determine which positions within different departments could go fully remote.” That, of course, opened up a world of recruitment possibilities: New hires for certain positions didn’t have to be within driving distance of physical spaces in Rockleigh, New Jersey, or Plano, Texas.
“We created employee lists and collaborated with the department managers to determine what roles can work hybrid, which ones definitely need to be on-site, and which ones could be fully remote?” says Negron. “One of the challenges that we had early on is that there was a discrepancy with some roles and their work designation.”
“We had to work a little bit closer with the managers to say, ‘Hey, if Andrew and Marcos are doing the same job, why is Marcos designated as fully remote and Andrew has to be on-site? Help us understand that,’" says Morin. The process demanded complete transparency with each employee and their manager, and considerations for coverage that kept some portion of every hybrid team on-site on a given day. The plan keyed on Wednesday as the prime day for in-office collaboration, and for, say, a team of 10, five would also come in Monday and Thursday, and the other five would add Tuesday and Friday to the three-day work week.
Employees were expected to sign contracts that outlined their individual agreements. Nothing was “squishy” about the process: “All the information was out there, in writing, from safety protocols to attendance expectations,” says Razgaitis.
Successes and Lessons from Implementing Hybrid Work
The team was observing missteps from other companies, namely, watching sudden shifts in policy that were made irrelevant by the fickle ebbs and surges of the virus. “We saw some big firms announce company-wide return-to-office policies that had to be rescinded overnight,” says Morin. Morin and his team feel that their careful, step-by-step approach paid off. “I think our process from the start worked in reference to doing the discovery and research and then executing the plan and doing it in a timely fashion. I mean, we were one of the first companies in all of North America to return to work in a hybrid model.”
The team has learned the importance of certain amenities for the in-office worker. “We’ve begun to bring in a variety of food trucks on Wednesdays when everyone’s here,” notes Morin. There are also programs to help employees utilize the on-site gym, meditation breaks, and a variety of other health and wellness initiatives since hours spent working at home tend to be more sedentary. “The lure of the office has to be more than just better lunch options,” says Negron. “It has to be the draw of wanting to collaborate in an environment that’s equal to — and in some cases, better than — the home office.”
“And that's clearly worked just judging by the number of cars parked in our lots,” adds Morin. “On Wednesdays, the number of cars is significantly greater than the number on Mondays and Tuesdays. That midweek collaboration day really does work for us.” And, of course, since Crestron makes the technology that helps drive the hybrid work experience, the communication tools are already in place. “Our Crestron Mercury devices, our conference rooms, everything was already lined up where it was basically a one-touch operation to launch Microsoft Teams,” he says. “And that certainly helped.”
As for remote workers, there are elements that go beyond getting them the right gear, says Negron. “We need to keep our remote employees engaged and for them to understand how they can stay up to date on company news.” To do that, Crestron has added a two-person team to drive internal communications. “And that’s not just for remote workers — it’s also a way to reach out to our global staff,” says Morin. “It's not only about the culture that we want to maintain — and the new culture we're trying to create within the headquarters and the U.S. — but it's also extending it globally.”
Advice for Those Adopting Hybrid Work
“As more companies adopt the hybrid model, the first order of business is ensuring that you understand your employees,” says Negron. At the very beginning of the process, HR surveyed the staff. “We didn't do this in a vacuum,” he adds. “We consulted with a company doing this well before the pandemic. They got a quick, good understanding of our culture. We also communicated openly with our employees, and then we devised a plan.”
“As you’re rolling out the concept, another big thing is to get buy-in from the decision-makers,” says Morin. “You’ve got to convince the decision makers that this is a positive for the organization, not only from an employee satisfaction standpoint but from a revenue-generating standpoint. Because ultimately, if revenue's not being generated, then this work model fails.” From there, an old adage became relevant: Create a plan, then stick to it. “This isn't one of those things that you roll out and then a year, two years later you say, Hey, we're going to backtrack on it,’ because that's just going to create failure,” he adds.
Next, getting buy-in from a firm’s leadership groups is vital. Morin defines that cohort: “Not so much the managerial, senior manager, director levels, but that next level of senior director and above.” That group — the salaried individuals who often put in 60-plus hours weekly — initially offered some pushback. “But as they saw the rollout and they saw that people were still being productive, I think that acceptance happened a lot quicker than we probably imagined,” says Morin.
Lastly, says Negron, “One of the things that is still a little bit difficult to manage is the employees themselves working beyond the hours that they should be.” The HR team stresses that hours spent in-office and hours spent on the job at home should roughly match. “That's probably the hardest thing to manage through this whole process: That consistent message of, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be on the computer answering emails at 11 o'clock at night.’ Whatever your work hours were prior, those should be your work hours at home.”
“That's where it's important to monitor as a manager and make sure your team is looking out for themselves and their own health because that's burnout waiting to happen,” adds Morin. “And that's when the hybrid situation can flip to the ugly side, and people start to say, ‘You know what? This really isn't that great. I'd rather just go back to the office and put my time in and walk away at five o'clock.’
“Well, you could do the same thing when you're working from home, too.”