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Is Your Company Ready for Hybrid Work?

August 12, 2021 Digital Workplace
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By Sarah Fister Gale

Is your organization ready for hybrid work? Surveys say probably not.

recent report from consulting firm McKinsey showed that 90% of organizations expect workers to remain remote at least part of the time post-COVID. Yet, 68% of respondents said they have no detailed plan in place for returning to the office, leaving managers and employees to figure it out on their own.

The hybrid workplace is coming, but most executives have failed to think about what it means for their workforce. That’s putting their organizations at risk. 

At larger companies, the trend will exacerbate the already existing lack of insight into the workforce and how it functions, said David Powell, president of Prodoscore, a business insights technology firm. Even before 2020, many companies had no visibility into who was working for them, he said. That made it difficult to manage productivity, track employee engagement, or understand what skills they have in the workforce and where the gaps are.

“Companies had a false sense of understanding about who was productive and who was actually miserable,” Powell said. It's only going to get worse if companies don't grapple in a meaningful way with how they'll manage hybrid in-office and remote work.

Embrace the Change 

Whether organizations are ready or not, employee expectations have shifted after nearly 18 months of remote work. For many office workers, daily commutes and office perks are an increasingly distant memory. What's fresh in their minds now is the convenience of working from home or at an alternative location. In fact, a survey from WeWork, the New York-based shared workspace giant, showed that 75% of employees would be willing to give up at least one benefit or perk for the freedom to choose their work environment.

“The pandemic spurred a seismic shift in how we think about work,” said Quendrida Whitmore, senior vice president and head of the community at WeWork. “Employees want the flexibility to work where they want — at least a few days a week — and we’re seeing companies of all sizes embrace hybrid work models.”

According consulting firm PwC's 2021 remote work survey, 55% of employees want to be remote at least three days a week after pandemic concerns recede, and 87% of US executives expect to make changes to their real estate strategy over the next 12 months in response to the hybrid work trend. 

But getting hybrid work right goes beyond offering more flexible work options and changing up the office environment. It will require an intentional approach to monitoring employee engagement, productivity and learning.

Companies have to rethink what it means to be productive, and how to use technology and remote management strategies to engage teams that are permanently scattered across the globe. McKinsey's analysis showed that 57% of what they called "leading organizations" have trained managers how to change their leadership style for a hybrid environment. Only 36% of laggards have done the same.

“Employers need to take time to think about their organizational design for the future,” said Steve Knox, vice president of talent acquisition for Ceridian

Related Article: Is Hybrid Work Really About Convincing Employees to Return to Office?

5 Ways to Manage Hybrid Work

Companies that adapt their culture to inspire productivity and engagement from anywhere have the opportunity to attract new talent and retain their best people. Here’s how to do it:

Manage productivity by output not hours.

Butts in seats is not a measure of productivity, Powell said. It never was. And if employees can work from anywhere, managing by walking the floor and noting who looks busy no longer works.

In a hybrid environment, productivity has to be tied to what the employee accomplishes, whether they meet daily goals or project deadlines, the effort they contribute to value-added tasks, and the quality of that work. When you track productivity based on output it no longer matters where people are sitting or what hours they keep, according to Powell.

“They can work when they are most productive, and take breaks when they need them,” he said.

Not only can that improve productivity, it enables a more authentic work/life balance and makes it easier for employers to engage workers across time zones.

Change the way you use the office.

Rather than leaving the office open for those who want to come, Whitmore suggested being more intentional in how and when it's used. “Moving forward, we see offices as being designed less for head-down work and more for people to safely work together, discuss ideas and collaborate in meetings,” she said.

For example, Dropbox found that most of its employees didn’t want to return to the office post-pandemic, but were concerned about the need for collaboration. In response they came up with the “Virtual First” model. Going forward, remote work will be the default model for daily work, with a “cadence of in-person collaboration and team gatherings” planned for existing offices and in studios established near where employees live.

This intentional model allows companies to make better use of their real estate, and helps employees engage and build networks with peers in the limited time they spend together.

Rethink what skills people need — then train them.

The future of work will be defined by soft skills, including the ability to lead, make decisions, collaborate virtually and empathize with teammates and clients. In a hybrid environment, these skills become even more important.

To adapt, companies need to assess the skills in their current workforce, then build training programs to bolster remote leadership techniques, and teach change management and project management skills, according to Knox. “Companies should lean into soft skills training, and embrace tools that help them understand managers’ natural style of leadership," he said.

They may also want to invest in more robust online training, via learning experience platforms and online content libraries, to give employees access to real-time training at the point of need. This can help bolster the overall skills in the workplace, and give employees control over their learning journey, which can build a stronger sense of engagement.

Related Article: Top Skills for the Hybrid and Digital Workplace

Make gig work part of the design.

Ceridian’s most recent Future of Work report found 57% of executives believe gig workers will replace full-time positions in the future. “That was a shocking number,” Knox said.

The use of contingent labor as a strategic workforce strategy has been a long time coming, he said, and the pandemic accelerated it as many people were pushed into gig work. Some don’t want to return. “It’s changing the conversation about what gig work means,” Knox said.

In the past, companies treated gig workers as less valuable than full-time hires, and they received little management, support or tracking. Whereas now, they are being viewed as experts who can address a specific high-value need, and be brought back in the future when another need arises. In this context, it makes sense to upskill gig workers and engage them so they want to return, Knox said.

“It’s another way to think about internal mobility in the future of work,” he said.

Integrate hybrid into recruiting.

When employees don’t need to come into the office, it dramatically expands the talent pool, giving employers the freedom to recruit great candidates from anywhere in the world. But be warned: The hybrid environment gives employees that same flexibility, Knox said. Candidates can now consider job offers coming from anywhere. For in-demand skills, that’s a big risk for employers.

If companies want to keep their best people, managers need to be thoughtful about how they engage and support all workers, whether they are in the office or remote. Candidates and current employees expect to see inclusive behavior from their leaders, and they will look elsewhere if they see them falling short.  

“Employers need to think about whether they are truly living their brand values,” Knox said. 

Getting it right ultimately will require exactly what many employees are seeking from their employers: flexibility. That starts with listening to what employees are saying and adapting policies in a way that works for all involved.

“Ultimately, hybrid work will mean something different for every organization,” Whitmore said. “When possible, employers should listen to their employees on an individual level, and help to find the best hybrid work solution that works for both the employee and the business.”

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