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Hybrid working: balancing what employees want with your business needs

Learn how your hybrid working strategy can achieve this balance by understanding how work and value creation support business strategy and objectives.

Published by Orgvue 

Today, it seems we can’t move for commentary around what the new world of work will look like as we emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic. 

On the one hand, we have employees displaying a full range of preferences, from “I’ll never go back to 9-to-5 office work again” to “I can’t wait to get away from staring at the same four walls.”

For some, the move to remote working has been a way to reconnect with time-poor families, avoid the daily commute on crowded public transport and benefit from a better work-life balance.

Others have struggled to juggle commitments without the boundaries of office time vs home time. The social isolation they’ve felt has been damaging to their mental health and they fear a lack of face-to-face interaction will harm their long-term career prospects. 

Employers appear equally mixed. For some, the day when staff return to the office can’t happen fast enough. For others, remote working presents a golden opportunity to cut costs, increase productivity and pursue a wide range of additional benefits.

What’s becoming clear is that a post-Covid 19 future is unlikely to see a wholesale return to the working model familiar to anyone who’s set foot in an office in the last decade or two. But neither is it likely to result in full-time remote working and collaboration solely using Slack, Teams or Zoom.

The future is hybrid.

Hybrid working in the real world

One of the issues around hybrid working is just what we mean by the term.

Certainly, a prominent feature of hybrid work is that it will involve a combination of time spent in a fixed location, such as a central office, with periods spent working remotely, whether this means working from home, out of a local satellite office or at a third-space co-working facility.

But that’s just a part of the picture.

To think of hybrid simply as an optimized balance of place and time is to fundamentally miss the point of moving to a hybrid work model. Hybrid work isn’t just about the trade-off between office and remote. It’s not simply a chance to shuffle people into new boxes that replace outdated cubicles and open-plan office space.

At its heart, this is an opportunity to entirely rethink the way an organization operates.

Getting your hybrid work priorities in order

If we’re to take full advantage of this opportunity, we need to fundamentally refocus how we view hybrid work.

It should be less focused on days per week and more interested in productivity per employee (no matter where or when). It should be less concerned with how a person conducts meetings with their manager and more focused on how companies manage resources to maximize performance. In the end, it should be less about enabling remote work and more about expanding business potential.

While the pandemic may have forced many companies to change in order to maintain business continuity, rooting future plans in reactive thinking and outdated models is a recipe for an underwhelming outcome.

Instead, organizations should begin by looking at how they can mold a hybrid work model to meet their business strategy in the months and years ahead.

Focusing on growth, not time or place

A recent report by Accenture found that 63% of high-growth organizations have enabled “productivity anywhere” workforce models yet at the same time, more than two-thirds of negative or no-growth companies are still focused on where people are physically working.

If this shows anything it’s that much of the current obsession about the details of where and when work takes place is, at best, a sideshow to the real potential a hybrid working approach offers today’s organizations.

Thinking in terms of “productivity anywhere” rather than “work anywhere” forces us to zero in on what really matters – business performance. It liberates us from getting bogged down by the where-and-when debate, the days worked and the space they’re worked in. Simply put, it recenters the conversation around what it takes to compete and win in today’s unpredictable world.

Achieving balance in your hybrid work model

So much of the media focus on hybrid working has been on employee preferences that it can sometimes seem this is the only thing that matters.

How much do employees want to work from home? Do they prefer to be on-site to collaborate with colleagues and managers or are they happy to work in virtual teams? Should employers help workers create a more flexible work schedule?

What often gets lost in this picture is that employees are just one part of the equation. Equally important is whether the organization is able to achieve its business strategy.

Think beyond remote work

If you can’t compete effectively using a hybrid work model, no amount of discussion around whether people can work remotely or whether office space can facilitate employees working the way they prefer will matter.

The simple fact is that an organization that underperforms will continue to deliver poor results using a hybrid work model. And that’s bad news for everyone, from the CEO with years under their belt to the latest intern fresh out of college.

This is, of course, a matter of balance. Those businesses that ignore their employees’ preferences are likely to lose valuable talent to more enlightened competitors. Similarly, those that fail to root their hybrid approach in the needs of the organization will be overtaken by the market.

Achieving this balance in a hybrid model is a challenge all leaders are likely to face as we leave the pandemic behind and Covid 19 wanes in importance.

The challenge of bringing business strategy into a hybrid model

In some ways, the move to hybrid is simply accelerating a challenge many large businesses have been struggling with for some time.

Once your employees number in the thousands and your offices are spread across multiple locations (or even countries), determining who does what, how teams function, and which management structure works best becomes highly complex.

While an org chart can be a useful schematic, it only provides the most basic information about employees, departments and divisions. Likewise, the reliance on never-ending spreadsheets can hide valuable insight within a mass of impenetrable data. And that’s before we even get to the inconsistencies of titles and job descriptions that can make comparing like-with-like an almost impossible task.

However, to unlock the true potential of a hybrid work model, it’s vital to gain a clear view of how work is done and by whom on a daily basis (not simply what someone’s job title suggests).

This will mean spending time analyzing and understanding the tasks within each role and the time employees spend on them each week. To get this level of detail, you may need to look at timesheets (if you use them) or conduct a survey of employees and managers. You may also need to integrate data from multiple sources and systems.

Will your structure slow your hybrid work plans?

By investing time to really understand what your workforce is doing, you can uncover valuable insights into where work is done and how value is created in your company. This will be the foundation you’ll need to distinguish the work that supports your business strategy from those activities that are peripheral to success. But that’s just the start.

You’ll likely also need to look at how the company is currently structured – how many layers you have, whether the company is top-heavy or has too many middle managers, for example. This can have a material impact on how effectively you can execute your strategy in a hybrid work environment. It affects everything from collaboration to communication – tasks that can be a real challenge in a hybrid workplace.

Making sure you have a clear picture of your organization’s span of control will put you in a better position to plan how you enable your leaders, managers and employees to remain focused on the strategy, regardless of whether they are remote workers, working in the office at specific times or have more flexible work arrangements.

Making hybrid work for your business

In the coming months, we’re likely to see more companies than ever shift from thinking about how to enable remote work to more fully embracing a future where hybrid work is the new business-as-usual. We’ll see different approaches as organizations explore what hybrid work might look like for them. While there’ll almost certainly be no one-size-fits-all answer, it will be those employers that successfully balance employee preferences with the strategic needs of the business that will have an advantage.

“Most people have been working virtually for less than a year. While that amount of time seems substantial, it is unlikely that employers have discovered the full range of opportunities that virtual work provides during that period.” Gerald C. Kane, Rich Nanda and Anh Phillips, MIT Sloan Management Review

The opportunities are clear. The challenge is successfully grasping them for your business.

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The hybrid working blueprint

To help you navigate your way to adopting a hybrid work model, we’ve created a new guide: The hybrid working blueprint – 5 steps to making hybrid working work for your business strategy.

Download your copy to learn:

• Why now is the right time for hybrid working

• The main barriers to making hybrid work

• The 5 steps to an effective hybrid working strategy, and

• How Orgvue can make your move to hybrid faster, easier and more successful