Hybrid workplace, exploring the organisational challenges and changes required for its success

By Kavita Kurup, Global Head of Human Resources at UST.

Two years into the pandemic, most organisations have recognised that the shift from the office to remote working is irreversible. The natural course for work is going to be a hybrid working model, with on-site and remote working co-existing together. As the pandemic has become the ‘new normal’, organisations are summoning employees back to the office, albeit with the perks of hybrid working. Because of the uncertainty, there is a hesitation among employees.

A hybrid work model allows organisations and employees the flexibility to operate on two focal points—place and time. Instead of being tethered to their office desks, employees can now work from anywhere. Inevitably, this guarantees savings on the daily commute and possibly better work-life balance. Similarly, some organisations have shifted along the time axis by allowing their employees to work asynchronously. Consequently, instead of being kept within the bounds of nine-to-five, employees can choose their own working hours when they feel most productive. This can help unleash the true potential of employees. A large number of companies have found a Hybrid way of working to maximise productivity, efficiency, and output.

To underpin their steep growth journeys, many organisations are experiencing the need to acquire talent at speed and scale. With the hybrid model, there is now the option of broadening the recruiting pool for industries that struggle with attraction, whether because of remote locations, fly-in-and-fly-out work modes, or live-in situations, all of which are not uncommon for some industries. Organisations are opening their talent spectrum beyond geographically accessible pools. As the future of work gets redesigned companies are working towards further diversity and inclusion with a focus on rolling out benefits for women. The flexibility has given an added boost to women joining the workforce.

As attractive as the hybrid model is, there have been numerous challenges with balancing work and personal commitments, mobilising teams outside of traditional roles and operating models, and nurturing a cohesive culture amid periods of high uncertainty. Research shows that employees crave investment in the human aspects of work. They want a renewed sense of purpose, and they want to feel a sense of shared identity with their colleagues. They want fair pay, good benefits, and ample perks, but more than that, employees want to feel valued by their organisations and managers. They want meaningful interactions, not just transactions—though not necessarily in person. Organisations can leverage talent across the globe by taking this dual approach, defining teams based on the best available experience and skill sets rather than availability. There is a shift in priorities and employee expectations – organisations now need to view work as a subset of life and build in life milestones into the work environment. Opportunities to pursue passions, interests and different life choices are becoming key in redesigning EVPs.

Organisations can combat this by creating an effective work environment which is a zone for focused and distraction-free activities, almost like an arena. In this zone collaboration, teamwork, innovation, feedback, and professional relationships come together to help you achieve your goals. This zone can be created anywhere – inside an office or in your living room – as long as a clear understanding of what it constitutes is embedded in the DNA of the organisation.

HR leaders must focus on strengthening their cultural values and support internal collaboration for employees that are working in isolation. The goal of all cultural interventions and engagement strategies must be to help employees build mini versions of their workplaces that maintain the same values as their office desks. This will require comprehensive support systems to deliver devices, training, rewards, and engagement in harmony with each other.

One of the biggest reasons why businesses were able to maintain continuity despite a raging pandemic was due to the steps taken by organisations to adopt digital solutions and tools over the past few years. New evolving technologies are finding extensive applications in every aspect of digital workplaces worldwide. It’s easy to see talk of new technologies everywhere–artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the internet of things, etc. These technologies are taking the world by storm. Technology and tools are force multipliers and enablers, but we must meet employees where they are and work back from there. Introducing more technology for the sake of it will lead to more fatigue and disengagement.

Having a framework of technologies to invest in is the first step towards building a stronger system that can help drive business goals and empower people. Organisations today are accustomed to the practice of buying digital tools for any and every business problem. While it may seem like the progressive option, eventually you end up with multiple tools that overlap in many of their functions. When looking into the realm of digital tools, always take a step back and look at the bigger picture. An organisation is one unit that is operated by various tools and people. These tools are different from each other and need to work in tandem to help the business. To make sure one can extract the best out of these tools, they should not be looked at as quick fixes. Organisations must think holistically about what technologies will help them achieve their broader goals. Organisations should design hybrid workplaces to maximise productivity and not add tools indiscriminately. Processes and interventions must be built to enable the best selection and usage of tools and empower not just managers, but team members as well.

As companies compete for talent and adapt to new ways of working, the technology they use has become the dominant feature of the employee experience — a place where many companies are falling short. Employers should start by asking employees if they have the right tools and technology to do their jobs, especially in a hybrid or remote work environment. Once employers understand opportunities to improve digital experiences, it’s key they also take action toward closing any gaps, and let employees know that they’re being heard. It is critical employers keep pace by giving employees a forum to provide feedback, continually understanding how they are engaging with the tools offered to them and where to make improvements.

The future we envision for work allows for infinite workspaces - virtual and otherwise. The old rules of what makes a great team still apply, whether you’re a remote team or not. You can’t build a culture if you don’t have trust, accountability, and mutual respect. The foundations of the organisation need to talk to the way we work. Constant pressure to be available at all times, and adverse impact on career growth and network are some of the fears employees have about remote work - as organisations we need to tailor the employee experience to adapt to a hybrid operating model while establishing a business case for the hybrid operating model.

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