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Hybrid working: where expectations meet business reality

Learn how to take the emotion out of difficult hybrid work conversations.

Published by Orgvue 

Person at computer holding mobile phone hybrid working

In the many articles debating what the post-pandemic work environment will look like, it’s been employee expectations that have dominated.

Some have jumped on the possibility of working remotely as a way to create a better work-life balance. Others are less interested in working remotely 100 percent of the time and would prefer to see their organization adopt a flexible work model.

There are also a few people who can’t wait to get back in the office full time. Though they are very much in the minority, they miss the social aspect the workplace offers and want to escape the fatigue they feel from sitting on endless video calls.

Of course, where workers’ expectations match the needs of the organization, there’s no problem. Companies can move ahead with implementing a hybrid work model that easily fits their strategy. They can begin to put in place the systems, processes and technology needed to benefit from productivity gains and reduced overhead costs.

But in reality, those organizations that have a near-perfect match are virtually non-existent.

So, what happens when employee expectations and those of the organization are misaligned?

When hybrid work gets emotional

People invest a lot of themselves in their work. For many, work isn’t just something they do, it’s a part of who they are. For this reason, conversations around how that work may change in future can be quite emotive.

While many employers welcome the passion that sits behind this, the challenge comes in navigating situations where employees want to work remotely but the organization needs them to be in the office or in some other designated location.

The resulting conversations often expose deeply entrenched viewpoints that are as much philosophical as they are practical. These often center around notions of “this is simply how we work.” Just as often, however, these ideas are based on an antiquated model that was built for the last century.

Given the significant change a move to hybrid working entails, it’s unsurprising that we see a broad spectrum of opinions. These range from businesses such as LinkedIn that are leaving it up to each team to decide the right office-remote mix to the boss of Goldman Sachs who sees remote working as “an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”

In the end, there’s no right and wrong answer. Each organization will be challenged to develop a hybrid model that works both for employees and the company’s business strategy. Doing so means having the right kinds of conversations. Not doing so could mean losing talent, sacrificing productivity and becoming less able to compete.

Handled poorly, these interactions could harm employee morale and negatively affect company culture. Handled well, they can help employees, managers and leaders align around what really matters for the business and identify areas for increased performance and a stronger culture.

The question is, how can today’s organizations handle these conversations well?

Basing your hybrid model on data

Any successful business will take careful consideration of its employees’ preferences. Listening to feedback, involving workers in decision making and fostering a strong company culture are all vital in creating high-performing organizations.

Importantly, these interactions can’t simply rely on subjective opinion, whether from employees or company leaders. There’s little to be gained from arguments about a role’s readiness for remote work when it comes down to gut feel and personal preference. This is a recipe for employee discontent.

Instead, as much as possible, communication around the move to a hybrid model should be based on robust data. This will help foster a shared understanding of a role’s suitability for remote work and enable everyone involved to look for workable solutions where there’s a mismatch.

Aligning business needs and employee preferences with activity data

To understand whether a role is hybrid-ready or not, you need to see in granular detail what it involves on a day-to-day basis. You won’t be able to rely on a person’s title or job description. More often than not, what an employee actually does will be quite different or will have changed over time.

Instead, you’ll need to analyze roles at the individual activity level.

This will mean accessing and combining data from multiple sources as well as using employee survey responses. This is why surveys are a key component of the Orgvue platform. They enable customers to quickly gain a detailed view of who’s doing what in the organization, where those activities are taking place and how much they cost.

With this level of insight, you can look at which activities are creating value within the company and whether they have space and time dependencies that limit where and when they can be accomplished.

Four levels of hybrid readiness

It’s likely that this data will enable you to cluster roles and activities into four main groups:

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

The first group is, by definition, hybrid ready and you should be able to quickly offer these employees the option to work where they prefer.

For the other groups, you should now have the data to have a rational discussion about whether the business can meet employees’ expectations around remote and flexible working.

Rather than an I-want-you-want debate, you can look at the specific activities within the role. For each, you can then explore which roles are already suited to remote and flexible working and which aren’t.

For those that aren’t, you can work with employees, managers and leaders to determine whether it’s possible to invest in equipment and technology to develop a hybrid design that works for everyone.

Where this isn’t possible because of space or time dependencies, you can have an open and honest conversation with employees that takes the emotion and subjectivity out of the equation.

Adjusting role design for remote work

The shift to allowing a significant number of employees to work remotely for at least some of their week represents a break from the past. A job designed for a traditional office environment may be a poor fit in a world reshaped by the effects of Covid-19. But this doesn’t mean that the role itself no longer has value.

It’s likely that, even with a degree of mismatch, most roles will be able to be adjusted to make them hybrid ready.

As with any role design exercise, this is about ensuring you are clear about what’s required from the role for the business to succeed. It’s about matching objectives and activities with skills and competencies, all within the constraints you need to work to. And it’s about enabling effective collaboration between employees and their teams, so individuals can thrive in their roles. With the right data and insights, you should be able to develop a solution that not only works for the business and its employees, but which establishes the foundations you need to compete more effectively in a post-pandemic world.

Read more about hybrid working

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

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 work strategy, and

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