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Hybrid working: don’t let a fixed office mindset harm your approach

Discover how you can break old ways of thinking and capitalize on the productivity benefits of hybrid working

Published by orgvue 

Woman wearing earphones working on a laptop hybrid working

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and begin to see an end to social distancing rules, organizations the world over are exploring new ways to structure how they do business. While the rapid acceleration in remote working was largely forced on firms, many have been pleasantly surprised by the benefits they’ve seen.

On the whole, workers have been more productive working remotely than in the office.

Many employees have seen improvements in their mental health and work-life balance from more flexible working arrangements.

And business leaders have glimpsed the opportunity to significantly reduce office space costs, gain access to a wider pool of talent, and improve diversity and inclusion.

So, is this the future of work?

Hybrid working is here to stay

Happier employees, greater productivity — what’s not to love? Few businesses are returning to the 5 days a week office-based working model. If the Covid-19 working experience has taught us anything, it’s that many of the structures we’ve taken for granted simply aren’t necessary these days. More flexible alternatives can deliver better results and a greater return on investment.

The reality is that employee performance can be optimized across many settings, whether we’re talking about working from home or remote working from some other location. With the right processes and technology in place, effective collaboration shouldn’t be an issue. And in-person meetings can often be simply moved online.

But don’t write the office off just yet

Not everyone wants to work from home. At the other end of the spectrum, we’re not seeing many organizations abandon their fixed office space altogether – certainly not when it comes to companies that count their employees in the thousands. While “the great work from home experiment” of the last couple of years has delivered many benefits, when we dive into the detail, the picture becomes mixed.

Senior managers worry that a wholesale shift to remote working may damage company culture. Despite the benefits around mental health for some employees, others complain of social isolation.

And while being able to work from home can improve an employee’s work-life balance, it can lead to unhealthy and unsustainable working practices that can damage long-term performance.

Ultimately, when most businesses think about the future of work, they are considering some form of hybrid working.

Hybrid working – evolution or revolution?

It is, of course, quite natural to think of hybrid working as an evolution of where we’ve already been. The idea itself isn’t new and many companies have been offering some form of flexible working to employees for years now.

Some employers have used the approach to help attract key talent who live outside an easy commuting distance to the office. Others employ it to retain those needing to juggle caregiving arrangements.

So, it’s not surprising that many organizations view hybrid as a mix of the old and the new. It’s about the same employees doing the same jobs. The difference is that some of the time each week is spent at desks in offices and some at kitchen tables, working from home.

Same jobs, different locations

But to think this way is likely to leave significant value on the table.

Rather than viewing the move to hybrid working as an adjustment to business-as-usual, companies should take this opportunity to fundamentally rethink how work gets done in their organizations. It’s a chance to revisit and rethink ways that may have been appropriate in the past but are less well-equipped to deal with the challenges of today’s disruptive market conditions.

As the saying goes, the thinking that got us here won’t get us there.

A clear preference for employees

Most employees prefer hybrid working models. A landmark research study by Accenture from May 2021 explored how employers and employees have changed how they think about work. It looked at what today’s employees want from their workplace.

While it discovered that some 83% of workers prefer a hybrid work model, it also found that HR policies are almost entirely built around in-person office-based management. After all, 90% of employees were working in largely fixed locations before the pandemic.

As such, many companies aren’t in a position to explore all the possibilities hybrid working can offer. This echoes what’s been covered in many mainstream articles on hybrid working, of course.

The productivity anywhere workplace

Perhaps more important was the finding that 63% of high-growth organizations have enabled “productivity anywhere” workforce models. This contrasts with the 69% of negative or no-growth companies that remain focused on where people physically work.

This is an interesting development. It takes the hybrid working conversation away from whether people want to be working remotely or not and frames it as the search for a more effective working model. One that will help the company grow, no matter where people are.

Fundamentally, it makes us think about what a high-growth organization could look like in a hybrid world.

The reality is that where you start on your hybrid working journey can have a significant impact on your organization’s performance over the long term. Begin with an office-based mindset and you’ll probably try to replicate your existing system over multiple locations. Start with a focus on productivity anywhere and you open a wider range of possibilities.

Begin with the work (not the workplace)

So, what does this mean in practical terms?

Instead of focusing on who can work remotely, who should be in the office and how these options are combined, you should begin by focusing on the work itself. It’s the work that matters most, not where it’s done.

When we start with the work, we can begin to zero in on how people create value within the organization. We can move beyond a simple focus on where employees’ desks are located or even where they sit on the org chart.

Think roles and skills, not positions and titles

Employees are not simply job titles. Rather than focusing on positions and job titles when looking at the work, you need to understand the skills necessary to complete it and at the roles in which those skills are organized.

Often, employees’ skills will be much broader than what’s written in their job description. As many companies have seen with the enforced remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic, employees are often incredibly adaptable. They bring skills and resources to challenges that their managers and teams didn’t realize they had.

By looking in detail at the work, you’ll spend less time obsessing over real estate and more time thinking about how to encourage greater collaboration, foster effective communication and make sure employees and teams have the resources they need to drive the business strategy forward.

Less why we have meetings, more how we can increase team performance.

Less how we manage remote workers, more how we accelerate commercial success.

Less how to return to a version of the past, more how to create a “future of work” that works for our business objectives.

Understanding what each employee actually does

Of course, starting with the work demands we know how people are working, what they’re working on and, yes, where and when that work is being done. For large companies, this can present quite a challenge.

Job titles and descriptions may give us an insight into what employees do in theory. But in reality it’s often quite a different picture. Employees who share the same title may undertake a different range of activities on a day-to-day basis.

Likewise, a job description set down when someone joined the business may have changed significantly over time. Role-creep is a commonplace occurrence in most companies.

This isn’t always clear to employees’ managers, let alone the company’s senior leadership. So, it’s important to spend time uncovering the truth. This may come from timesheets (if you use them) or from surveys of staff and managers, although you’ll probably need to combine several sources of data to get an accurate view.

However you achieve it, the key is to discover what people are actually doing and how long they spend doing it.

What location and time dependencies are you working to?

Chances are that certain types of work within your organization will have to happen in certain locations and at certain times. That said, many knowledge-worker tasks will have a fair degree of latitude.

By exploring the hybrid readiness of roles and activities (not job descriptions and positions), you can begin to form four broad groups:

  • Those roles and activities that aren’t dependent on location
  • Those that have partial location dependencies
  • Those that could be made flexible with appropriate investment
  • Those that are dependent on location

This will give you a broad view of the shape your hybrid working strategy could take. You’ll be able to use what you learn to get a clearer picture of who needs to be where and when. And you’ll gain a better understanding of what it’ll take to create a hybrid working model that works in practice (not just on paper).

From where we work to how we work

Hybrid working is less about location and more about potential. The current move to hybrid working is a golden opportunity for organizations to reshape how they create value, how they serve customers and how they can more effectively drive business strategy forward.

In this article, we’ve explored the importance of freeing our thinking from a fixed office mindset. The traditional office-centered approach brings with it a lot of baggage around where, when and how work gets done. While every business has constraints it must work to, adding artificial ones based on last-century norms won’t help you unlock hybrid’s full potential. Instead, by focusing on the work rather than the office, we can start to shape an approach that’s firmly centered on the best way to get work done. And that opens up an enormous number of new possibilities.

Read more about hybrid working

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

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 make 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