Hybrid work models have become increasingly popular in the modern workplace, offering employees both the flexibility of remote work and the cultural and productivity benefits of working together in person. However, successfully managing a hybrid workforce requires the right technology, smart strategies, and a little bit of creativity.

In this installment of CO— Strategy Studio: Optimizing Hybrid Work, CO— VP and Editor-in-Chief Jeanette Mulvey spoke with Erin Pash, CEO and Founder of Ellie Mental Health, a Minnesota-based mental health franchise with more than 550 locations in 40 states. Pash shared her strategies and experience maximizing productivity and collaboration in a hybrid work environment.

  • Pash explained how Ellie Mental Health has been able to accommodate the various needs and preferences of its clinicians and staff members across the country with broad but flexible policies.
  • Ellie has found success by empowering its leaders to adapt the company culture to suit the needs of their individual teams.
  • Hybrid work has been a great recruiting tool for Ellie by allowing Pash and her team to attract talent from a wider, more diverse pool of applicants.

Craft broad policies that can be tailored to individual workers’ needs

With so many corporate employees and franchisees spread out across the country, Ellie Mental Health has always worked hard to find the right balance when it comes to engaging its geographically-dispersed team. This became even more important during the pandemic, when the company’s 200-plus clinicians and employees went fully remote for about a year.

When the Ellie team returned to the office, the company implemented a hybrid schedule where some employees come in several days a week and others work remotely full-time, depending on their location. To ensure everyone is able to craft their ideal hybrid schedule, the company works with its employees to be as flexible as possible with its remote versus in-person work arrangements.

“People really crave flexibility,” Pash told CO—. “We create policies that are broad, while also making sure we're working with folks on an individual level [to] make sure … their needs are being met for themselves and their families. We might say our generalized rule is that you should be in the office three days a week, [but] we will sit down and create action plans with each of our employees … if that doesn't feel possible for them.”

[Read More: How the Remote and Hybrid Work Era Impacts Employers and Communities]

The single most important thing is making sure you have strong leaders who understand…your business culture, and then making sure you support them to adapt it to…the needs…of the people they are managing. That has been extremely successful for us.

Erin Pash, CEO and Founder, Ellie Mental Health

Empower leaders to foster connections among remote and hybrid team members

While there are many obvious benefits of hybrid work, such as the ability to hire talent from across the country and offer a desirable work-life balance to employees, it can be challenging to contend with the disconnect staff members may feel when they’re not all in the office together at the same time.

“Even though they're passionate about the company and about the values and the mission, it can still just sometimes feel isolating,” said Pash. “We are … constantly trying to find ways to connect with folks.”

Nurturing those connections means making sure people feel like they’re still part of the culture, whether they’re in the office or working from home — and that all starts with having the right leaders in place.

“The single most important thing is making sure you have strong leaders who understand … your business culture, and then making sure you support them to adapt it to … the needs … of the people they are managing,” Pash explained. “That has been extremely successful for us.”

Just like the flexibility of hybrid work itself, there should be some flexibility and creativity in leaders’ ability to direct and foster company culture within their teams. For example, Pash said, some of Ellie’s clinics want a budget to host happy hours while others want to use those funds to give bonuses to their teams.

“Assess the … cultural needs of specific areas and then really nurture that,” she added. “It's not … one size fits all.”

[Read More: How to Lead a Hybrid Meeting]

Use your hybrid work environment as a recruitment and retention strategy

One of the biggest benefits of a hybrid work approach is the ability to cater to every employee’s preferred work style, whether they want to be in the office full-time, work fully remotely, or do a combination of both. As an employer, being able to accommodate those preferences can give you a leg up in attracting top talent from a larger, more diverse pool of applicants.

“We have some folks who want to come in five days a week and … [want] a dedicated office,” said Pash. “On the flip side … there are a lot of people, especially in this day and age, who really need the flexibility to keep up with what's going on in … their personal lives.”

Offering the hybrid work option has helped Ellie tremendously in its ability to recruit and retain the talent they want, Pash said.

“I would hate to not be able to hire somebody because we couldn't find that middle-of-the-road flexibility to make sure that people can do what's best for them personally and [for] their families while also being able to commit and be passionate about their work,” she added.

[Read More: Best Technology Tools for Hybrid Teams]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.