How To Set Employee Expectations For Hybrid Work

They say people leave managers, not companies. If you want to be a leader that people love to work with, setting employee expectations is critical. Only half of the employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work, according to Gallup – and that lack of clarity is affecting engagement.

“In a hybrid work setting, setting employee expectations is even more important than traditional, in-person work settings, because it’s more difficult to continually monitor remote work performance, and employees have a greater responsibility to self-monitor and meet established expectations without continual direct supervision,” says Ben Earwicker, Ph.D., the founder and mediator at Virtual Mediation and the director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission.

“When you lay out your expectations for specific tasks, projects, and overall performance, your remote employees will have a better sense of direction and external motivation to complete their work.”

Why setting employee expectations is crucial for hybrid work

Earwicker manages a hybrid and remote team – and he has experience dealing with all sorts of tricky employment-related situations through his background in employment law. According to him, hybrid workplace managers can feel the need to micromanage their workers because of the lack of physical presence in the office. Setting clear performance expectations prevents the build-up of micromanagement and improves both morale and productivity.

“By setting clear, enforceable expectations for your remote employees, you can create a productive work environment that balances the realities of remote work with your production goals, he says.

Here are the guiding principles you need to embrace when setting employee expectations for your hybrid team.

1. Consider the new employee experience

Expectations go both ways, and you can’t ignore the impact of the pandemic on the employee experience. According to a Steelcase report on the future of work, the pandemic redefined the expectations of workers: “After spending months at home during a crisis, workers have never been more in touch with what they want from their work and workplace. They have new and increased expectations of their employers and workplaces — desiring a dramatically different and better experience than the one they left.”

Steelcase studies identified five critical employee needs that you have to consider if you want to successfully set standards in your team: Safety, belonging, productivity, comfort, and control.

2. Focus on outcomes over time spent working

Remote and hybrid work expectations should be about outcomes over time spent working, says Earwicker. Be flexible about how people get to the outcomes instead of worrying about how much time they are online. This way, you’ll set expectations for performance but accommodate the reality of working remotely.

“For example, remote employees may perform their work at different times, take more regular breaks, or spread out their work hours to accommodate other commitments and schedules. If you can allow greater flexibility in how and when work is completed, you can focus instead on work output and completion of tasks and projects.”

3. Co-create employee expectations as a team

Extrinsic motivation only gets people so far. According to Earwicker, you want to tap into intrinsic motivation factors to meet expectations. And one of the best ways to do that is to involve your team in the process of setting expectations. “Remote employees often have ideas or suggestions about improving the hybrid and remote work environment, typically because of their first-hand experience with what works, but also with what is not effective,” he says.

“They may have ideas about the frequency of check-ins or their preferred methods of communication. Even more importantly, they may think of creative ways to restructure or reconfigure hybrid work projects to be more efficient and effective. Rely on your remote employees to develop creative work solutions and they will more likely engage as active participants.”

4. Be as clear and transparent as possible

Clarity and transparency are the name of the game when it comes to setting employee expectations – especially in a hybrid workplace.

“Transparency is an absolute must from the beginning and sets an honest, positive tone that places a high standard in the workplace. Eliminate uncertainty by setting specific guidelines, particularly regarding tracking hours, project submission, and required meeting times,” adds Lilian Chen, the co-founder and COO of Bar None Games, a remote team-building entertainment company.

Earwicker says that it’s crucial to set your expectations both verbally and in writing: “Don’t assume that what you’ve said verbally was received and understood the way you intended; a written follow-up is essential to confirm comprehension and mutual understanding.”

5. Find a communication sweet spot

Once you set expectations, you need to communicate with team members and give them coaching and feedback on a regular basis. But how much is too much communication when working remotely? A GoodHire survey revealed that 62% of American workers said their managers virtually or digitally communicate too much or not enough, so finding that balance can be tricky. Keep in mind that if you have remote team members and others that are in the office, the remote ones will need more check-ins to prevent isolation. But you don’t want to overload people with Slack messages about a project several times a day.

“The nature of your work and industry will likely dictate the frequency of contact, but where you have flexibility, try to provide frequent, supportive communication while avoiding communication overload that distracts your remote employees from getting their work done,” suggests Earwicker.