In the wake of a global wave of enforced remote working, we’re working with employers and their teams to sense-check and streamline the arrangements adopted during the pandemic.
What's in a name?
Is the term ‘remote working’ outdated? ‘Yes’, according to Matt Hancocks, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner, who argues here that,
‘as enterprises normalise working from home, concepts like distributed workplace, hybrid workforce, flexible work and work from anywhere are much more apt for the current environment.’
We tend to agree, so we’ve adopted ‘hybrid working’ to describe the tailored, flexible, fit-for-purpose suite of working arrangements we believe will help future-proof your business.
Post pandemic preferences
Let’s start with what people want. Turns out that’s varied and complex. The pandemic triggered a huge shift in how many of us think and feel about work. Quantifying, let alone qualifying the shift, has generated loads of research. And (no surprises here) results vary according to age, family and personal needs, geographic location, level of experience, personality, confidence and career stage.
Broadly though, aggregate results suggest that around 35% of people would ideally like to either work virtually or mostly virtually; 45% prefer a mix of in-office and virtual; and 20% prefer to work mostly or completely in the office. In short, hybrid working rules!
High-profile hybrid work resisters
Despite widely expressed employee preferences for remote or hybrid working, many global companies and large bureaucracies have issued edicts demanding a wholesale return to the office.
Elon Musk, CEO of Twitter and Tesla, triggered a wave of sackings and resignations by famously tweeting, ‘if you don't show up, we will assume you have resigned’.
Musk’s executives now receive weekly attendance and absenteeism reports.
Apple CEO Tim Cook met fierce resistance to a return to the office policy ‘insisting that ‘in-person collaboration is essential for the company’.
Tim Cook argued, ‘we make product, and you have to hold product. You collaborate with one another because we believe that one plus one equals three.’ Cook’s arguments mirror Elon Musk's, and while they’re highly contentious, they highlight issues and perceptions around hybrid working in ‘product-driven’ enterprises.
Musk and Cook’s return to office mandates and the contrasting stances taken by other global companies, including Facebook and Amazon, are neatly summarised in this short article from tech.co
A September 2022 Gallup survey of 8090 employees engaged in hybrid work reported the top five advantages as:
Improved work-life balance
More efficient use of time
Control over work hours and work location
According to our clients’ employees, the benefits also include:
Access to a wider pool of positions in various locations
Reduced personal costs such as travel, business attire, childcare and lunch expenses.
According to our clients, the key business advantages in a tight labour market include:
Access to a broader talent pool by hiring across geographies
Being able to brand as an employer of choice
Improved employee productivity.
Notably, in the Gallup survey, some hybrid work pluses ( e.g., relations with co-workers and development opportunities) also registered as challenges for some participants. These divergent results suggest that successful hybrid working depends on many things, including personality type, personal circumstances, access to resources, and the demands of different roles. More on this in a minute.
The pinch points
‘Complexity and communication issues’ were recurring themes in employer feedback on the downside of managing a hybrid workforce. Specifically, employers, our clients included, reported:
Difficulty in managing personalised hybrid schedules
Frustration with time spent preparing for and facilitating virtual meetings
Missed opportunities for in situ connection, networking, face-to-face training and development, and invaluable impromptu on-the-job skills transfer and coaching
According to our clients’ employees, the downsides also include:
Not having the right tools to be effective at work
Feeling less connected to the organisation's culture
Fewer opportunities for collaboration and relationship development
Disrupted work processes.
Notably, again, some employers and employees reported increased burnout risk linked to challenges of setting boundaries and regulating ‘on duty’ hours.
Hybrid working’s pros and pinch points are succinctly summarised in this blog by Maria Akhter from hybrid work platform specialists, Envoy.
A plot for proceeding
So how might your organisation make hybrid working work for everyone?
Ask the right questions
Start by seeking answers to these three questions:
How do we achieve the balance between ‘remote’ and in-office work?
How do we support team collaboration and engagement no matter where our people are located?
How do we sustain inclusion for all employees?
Consult your leaders
Identify business needs based on strategic and operational plans. Then
devise remote and hybrid work policies and procedures to match. Be crystal clear about:
Eligibility based on the requirements of roles and role families
Processes governing productivity and performance setting and review
Protocols, technologies and systems for managing virtual and face-to-face communication company-wide, within and across teams
Ensuring data security
Maintaining a vibrant, connected organisational culture. Our clients recommend face-to-face events to foster engagement and inclusion, such as cross-team strategy and social days
Protecting employee wellbeing
Consult your teams
Taking your hybrid working policy and procedures as a framework for what’s ‘remotely possible,’ support your staff to identify their ideal working arrangements.
Take account of:
Preferences for working independently and within a team
Technology skills for remote working, including gaps that might need filling
Negotiate individual arrangements that:
Honour your employee’s desires and the organisation's needs
Reflect any constraints linked to specific roles and responsibilities
Include a simple track-and-review process to leverage opportunities and identify and mitigate unintended, negative consequences.
Back to the future
As Phil Kirschner, an executive advisor on post-pandemic work practices at McKinsey & Company, reminds us here, wanting flexible work predates the pandemic. Many of us had stopped being 100 per cent office-bound long before COVID upended everything.
That said, the shift to hybrid working is set to accelerate as Gen Z, currently aged 10 -24 and making up 13% of Australia’s workforce, set about making waves and breaking traditions. By the end of this decade, Gen Z will represent a third of the workforce.
As avid, skilful users of technology, and veteran lockdown learners, many young people are confident and comfortable in hybrid, digitally driven work. For example, they readily volunteer skills and information and ask articulate questions via messaging.
Interestingly though, as this short, thought-provoking read confirms, young people share some reservations about hybrid work usually attributed to older folk. These include fear of loneliness and disconnection.
Finding what works
It can be tough to create a flexible work environment that fits your business imperatives and honours your team's pre or post-pandemic desire for hybrid arrangements.
We’re organisational designers, coaches, talent managers, team-builders and highly skilled hybrid workers.