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Written By Anthony Ingles | Microsoft Teams Alliance
Business executives operating in most industries are now clear – hybrid working is here to stay. Yet, creating a clear vision for how it will work in practice isn’t as straightforward. Striking the right balance between remote working and time in a physical workplace is a conundrum that even the most forward-thinking leadership teams are struggling with.
It’s important to note that hybrid working doesn’t mean working from home. Only around a third of the working population are able to work from home, with sectors such as Education, Manufacturing and Emergency services all needing to be on-site to perform their duties. So hybrid working really means how work is carried out, while people switch between remote locations and physical places of work.
In this scenario, leaders are still facing some big decisions, all of which need careful consideration – such as ultimately deciding what needs to be done with existing office real estate. These issues are also impacting decisions around the necessary future investments needed to mobilise hybrid working for the longer-term.
Compounding the issue further are the significant trade-offs that will impact the optimal mix of hybrid working. These include productivity versus commuting time. Culture and wellbeing versus isolation. In-person relationships versus virtual communication and collaboration.
Nevertheless, executives can no longer kick the proverbial can down the road and continue with short-term, temporary fixes. Employees are getting restless. They want certainty on their role, their working environment and their obligations. Your customers, suppliers and entire ecosystem are also embracing hybrid working, so if you’re inflexible, your organisation is going to become difficult to work with.
This blog will stress the urgent need for organisations to create a vision for hybrid working and what that process might look like. It will also examine why a dispersed organisation will inevitably require the workplace to be more digitised than ever before.
Accelerating the inevitable
One silver lining of the global pandemic was the intensifying impact it had on digital transformation. The mandatory lockdowns meant businesses had no choice but to rely on a more digitised, virtual workplace – accelerating the inevitable change that most felt would happen more slowly.
Post-pandemic, workforces are now grappling with a very different set of issues – such as a cost-of-living crisis, extreme weather and rail strikes. In the face of these challenges, the flexibility afforded by hybrid working becomes even more advantageous. Out of necessity, most organisations have put in the necessary remote working tools to make it work, even if it was originally intended as just a temporary solution.
However, unforeseen events and ongoing socio-economic challenges are a constant, which means hybrid working should be too. Temporary, ‘sticking plaster’ remote working approaches are not going to be acceptable to employers longer-term. A more rigorous and permanent approach to hybrid working is now required, which seamlessly integrates virtual and physical office environments.
Building a thriving hybrid workplace
According to McKinsey research, nine out of ten executives are fully bought into a hybrid model moving forwards. However, most have at best a high-level plan for how to implement it – and nearly a third say their leadership teams can’t agree on their long-term vision. While another third of organisations are more united in their vision, McKinsey says only one in ten organisations have begun communicating and piloting that vision.
The following high-level steps should help create greater leadership alignment and get you closer to a more detailed plan for hybrid working.
Step 1: Create a clear vision
It’s important to envision what hybrid working will look like for your business, not just now but into the future. It’s going to look very different to any other business, even your closest competitors, so there’s no template you can leverage to create your vision.
You might want multiple, national collaboration hubs for regional teams to meet and brainstorm in person, you may want to stick with one centralised HQ, or you may want to go fully remote to save on office rental costs and attract a global pool of talent.
Start by considering the fundamental strategic changes in both the short and long-term. These could range from minor developments that are more operational in nature, to a complete reinvention of your organisation’s business model. Some organisations were born in the pandemic, so hybrid working for them may be quite an easy adaptation. For others, it may be more far-reaching.
The next step is to imagine what your new operating model will look like in a fully hybrid environment. Which employees should work remotely and when? Which employees need physical access to specific equipment in the office? What are the levels of productivity you need longer-term across the workforce, and how will this be impacted by hybrid working?
These are all factors that will vary tremendously based on your company’s goals. However, you’ll first need a high-level framework to guide you, before embarking on the next steps.
Step 2: Experimentation and learning
Hybrid working can take many different forms, which gives you the opportunity to experiment, test and learn, before making lasting decisions and committing serious investment.
A good place to start is on the redesign of the processes that will need to change most in a hybrid environment. If this is approached in an iterative way, processes can be adapted through trial and error to find the optimal way of working. In the same McKinsey survey, they found that productivity leaders are more likely to continually edit their processes as the context shifts.
Undoubtedly, the less risky way to find the right hybrid balance is through trial and error. Whether you leave decisions to department heads, or implement a standard approach across all functions, finding your hybrid working ‘sweet spot’ will take time, and multiple iterations based on the wider context of your business.
Step 3: Leverage data and analytics
Through a test and learn approach, important information can be also gathered to help decision-makers make even smarter choices. There are many data points to consider from the hard, human capital-related performance metrics, to the softer ‘signals’ that will provide insights into employee sentiment and cultural change.
Businesses that are constantly listening to their workforce to garner information from every possible touchpoint will truly understand the impact of hybrid working – and are therefore more informed. These are the businesses who are using analytics to make effective decisions, within the context of how hybrid affects all parts of their organisation.
Through this approach, you’ll be able to work out how different groups of people are being affected by hybrid working, and how new decisions would make things better, or worse, over time.
Step 4: Identifying the right enabling technology
Building an effective hybrid working model to support a distributed workforce will inevitably rely heavily on technology. So, the first priority is to ensure you put in place solutions that remove the frustration often caused by inadequate technology, ensuring your employees can stay productive and collaborate with their colleagues easily.
Longer-term, you’ll want to make sure you choose the best tools for the job – empowering your employees to connect from home, along with the right solutions in place for when they are in the office. These tools will need to enable seamless collaboration for teams, as they switch continually between these different working environments.
This is the vision of a digital workplace – a virtual and physical world in which work takes place, enabled by a unified technology experience.
For those that implement a hybrid working model, building a sustainable digital environment for your workforce is essential. This means investing in a range of technologies that facilitate productivity, effective collaboration and wellbeing as employees work and connect from any location.
It may take time to find the right formula for hybrid working and there are clearly some major decisions to be made that will have a long-lasting impact on your workforce. The four steps outlined in this article can be used to continually assess your progress and support you on your own journey.
When thinking of your hybrid working vision, it’s also valuable to learn the lessons and experiences of others, across different industries. SCC has helped many different public and private sector organisations implement their hybrid strategies, and we can bring this knowledge to bear to help you shape your long-term hybrid vision.