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Hybrid working: a new way of planning workplace strategy

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Image source: Christina @ wocintechchat.com | Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever altered how organizations around the world operate. In the IBM Institute for Business Value’s study “COVID-19 and the future of business Executive epiphanies reveal post-pandemic opportunities,” 55 percent of respondents say the pandemic has resulted in “permanent changes to their organizational strategy.” An even larger 60 percent say COVID-19 has “adjusted their approach to change management” and “accelerated process automation,” with 64 percent acknowledging a shift to more cloud-based business activities.

In planning, one of the most important aspects organizations nowadays must tackle is workplace strategy. According to Gallup’s most recent survey on what employees want going forward, five in 10 say they want hybrid work arrangements for the future. For organizations worldwide, this means planning and managing moves to hybrid work environments. 

What is a hybrid work strategy?

Hybrid working environments are the out-turn of the COVID-19 pandemic and refer to corporate arrangements by which some employees operate on-site while others work from home. The manifestation of more flexible working conditions in times of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted employee expectations and desires greatly as far as the perceived benefits of in-person work. Consequently, organizations who do not embrace remote working conditions as part of their overall short-term and long-term workplace strategy may be at an increased risk of employee turnover, disengagement, and inability to attract and retain talent in the future.

Crafting the hybrid work strategy

One of the main aspects organizations must understand about hybrids is that there is no standard approach to it. Short-term planning will most likely imply experimenting with working schedules and juggling on-site and remote working arrangements to find the best fit for the organization. As for long-term planning, organizations will have to agree on their strategic position regarding a hybrid working model and relate it to their specific organizational context. A strategy plan that embraces the future outlook of a hybrid working environment should therefore consider the following:

  • The overall strategic position of the organization towards hybrid working as well as the development of internal policies and procedures to support that position;
  • A communication plan to share the organization’s hybrid working model with all employees and other stakeholders of the organization; 
  • An approach to the adoption and dissemination of new technology as well as reviewing existing systems and equipment for updates and renewal;
  • A plan to put in place the necessary security measures that ensure system integrity and data protection;
  • A training and development plan for managers to enhance their skills in effectively coordinating remote individuals and teams; for employees to understand the operational and legal implications of hybrid working

Performance management as part of the hybrid work strategy

As part of a hybrid work strategy, organizations generally have to adapt to increased remote working requirements. In this context, performance may become harder to observe, and managers will ultimately have to admit that they can no longer monitor every aspect of performance, nor should it be necessary for them to do so. Planning for a hybrid strategy would therefore have to consider the following:

  • The re-configuration and re-design of the performance management system and processes to fit the purpose of a remote working environment;
  • A shared organizational culture that embraces flexibility encourages presenteeism and stimulates the right remote working approaches and behaviors;
  • The re-shaping of managerial skill and aptitude to manage performance based on outcomes, contribution, and value;
  • Principles of communication that promote regular social and human connection opportunities to support employee engagement and team building

Measures introduced to ensure staff safety in the workplace

In terms of physical working place, many organizations may feel the need to proceed in a cautious wait-and-see mode while taking active steps to increase the safety of their working environments and ensure the well-being of their employees. Some straightforward actions in this respect can refer to the following:

  • Altering working space layouts by moving workstations apart and having employees work back-to-back or side-to-side (rather than face-to-face);
  • Staggering shifts – having employees start and finish work at different times – or staggering break times as a way of reducing the number of people in the workplace or taking breaks at any one time;
  • Reducing the number of meetings or the duration of such meetings as a temporary measure to maintain social distancing

Short-term vs. long-term hybrid strategy

The last question one has to answer here is: “Does our organization plan for a short-term hybrid strategy or a long-term one?”. When planning a hybrid strategy short-term, an organization must absolutely think “workplace value proposition.” This involves the benefits employees have for returning to on-site work. It’s quite clear that pointing to job requirements as the primary reason employees must return to the office will not work. In this context, organizations may need to focus on the distinct opportunities that an on-site environment creates as opposed to a remote one and find the best way to effectively communicate them. 

When planning for a hybrid strategy long-term, executives have already accepted that pandemic-related changes in strategy, management, operations, and budgetary priorities are here to stay. These are generally organizations with an international structure with employees working from different parts of the world, companies that operate through digital tech and cloud adoptions, and entities that are more project-based and service oriented, rather than product-based with intricate supply-chain networks. 

So when adopting a hybrid working model and strategy, it is mainly important that one considers the organization itself, the roles that meet remote work criteria, the interdependency level of team members, and individual comfort with work from home conditions and protocols.

References: 

CIPD (2021), Planning for Hybrid Working, Advice on how organizations can plan and manage a move to hybrid working. Available at: Planning for hybrid working | CIPD

CIPD (2020), Embedding New Ways of Working: Implications for the Post-Pandemic Workplace. Available at: Embedding new ways of working: implications for the post-pandemic workplace (cipd.co.uk)

IBM Institute for Business Value (2020), COVID-19 and the future of business Executive epiphanies reveal post-pandemic opportunities. Available at: COVID-19 and the future of business (ibm.com)

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