Following the outbreak of COVID-19, working professionals fled office buildings and retreated to kitchen tables, living rooms, and home studies around the world. Business leaders—most navigating the remote workplace for the first time—reacted quickly and decisively. After all, business continuity depended on it.
As some employees continue to work from home and others venture back into the office, a transformative work paradigm emerges: the HybridHQ, more commonly known as the hybrid workplace. While the immediate threat of the virus forced businesses into a reactive stance, hybrid work warrants a proactive, intentional transformation strategy. Like any transformation, approaching the hybrid workplace requires clarity around purpose and priorities—paired with the corresponding activities needed to realize anticipated value.
This blog series will take you through the journey of hybrid workplace transformation. In the first blog, we explored what it means and what it looks like to define and align on your strategy. Here, we’ll unpack essential considerations for designing an effective HybridHQ.
You’ve decided to embark on a hybrid workplace transformation. But designing and operating this new working model is no small feat. After all, it hasn’t been done before under these circumstances or at this scale. To make the most of this transformation opportunity, you’ll need to take a strategic approach guided by the principles of design thinking – a process for creative problem solving that intentionally addresses the needs and challenges of the variety of employees that comprise your hybrid workforce.
Design thinking helps leaders put the people impacted by change at the center of their solutions to deliver on strategic objectives more effectively. With design thinking, leaders are pushed to challenge existing assumptions about their people’s preferences and needs, prioritize inclusion, take care of customers, engage employees, and think deeply about how work gets done in the hybrid environment.
For almost any organization – even those that deploy the principles of design thinking – building a hybrid workplace will involve overcoming a handful of challenges. Below, we highlight three of them related to the employee experience:
- Designing a model with equitable employee experiences. When embarking on the hybrid workplace transformation, leaders must acknowledge that different groups of employees within your workforce will experience the hybrid model in different ways. An employee who returns to the office may find that they are able to get a word in more easily during team meetings, while their co-worker, who continues to work from home, realizes they have more time and flexibility without a commute. Your organization might also contain pockets of essential workers who were required to be on-site throughout the pandemic (think retail store associates, for example). They, too, will have an entirely different experience from other groups in a hybrid model. Because employee experiences will vary, leaders must get creative and strategic when it comes to designing experiences that are fair and equitable for all. They will need to attend to both individual and group needs. They will need to reflect on inclusion and equity impact when making any workspace and workforce decisions. When designing the hybrid workplace, leaders must think through ways to transform and improve experiences, maintain cohesion and productivity, and level the playing field across employee groups.
- Accelerating progress and embracing agility. As organizations design the hybrid workplace, they cannot simply go back to the old way of doing things – especially when it comes to employee experience. That approach could create friction, misunderstanding, and inequity among your people – all of which can trickle down and impact how customers experience your brand. Instead, as Gartner writes in a recent research report, “designing a work model for this environment means maximizing the upsides of hybrid work, rather than trying to compensate for its potential downsides.” It’s about looking forward and redesigning employee experience to fit this new, hybrid work environment. It’s about accelerating progress made over the past year. According to Gartner, “organizations that take a future-focused approach this year will end up with higher-performing, more engaged employees than those that attempt to simply go back to the way things used to be.” And as you are moving forward in this uncertain environment, it will be important for leaders and employees to adopt agile mindsets that are flexible and adaptable. Every organization wants to know the "right" answer for designing a hybrid workplace, but the reality is, we’re all learning as we go, so organizations need to build the mindset and the muscle to adapt and pivot as needed.
- Revisiting psychological contracts to reshape EX for the hybrid model. It’s no secret that over the past year, employee needs, expectations, and preferences have shifted dramatically – especially surrounding what it means to be “at work.” As you prepare for the hybrid workplace transformation and design your workforce strategy for the future, leaders need to revisit and evolve psychological contracts. Unlike formal written contracts, psychological contracts are implicit, informal working agreements that develop between employers and employees. Strong psychological contracts are ones where:
- The organization and the employee are clear on what they want to get out of the relationship.
- The organization is clear about the talent and role requirements.
- The employee is clear about the purpose and meaning of their career experience.
When these contracts are strong, and expectations are met, psychological contracts can improve employee engagement, trust, psychological safety, and more. When psychological contracts are weak, and expectations are unfulfilled or violated, it can lead to detrimental outcomes, especially related to employee engagement and EX. Leaders and employees should leverage this transformation moment as an opportunity to modify and clarify psychological contracts to ensure they fit the hybrid working model. This exercise will help you set expectations, design the best experiences for your workforce, and understand the areas that matter most to your people (perhaps it’s inclusion and diversity or sustainability) to drive better employee engagement.
Putting design thinking to the test will help you address various employee challenges and others you may face when embarking on the hybrid workplace transformation:
Set your priorities
As with any transformation, when transitioning to a hybrid workplace, there will be a variety of competing objectives and goals at stake. You’ll need to determine which goals and objectives to prioritize by thinking through:
- What employee value proposition objectives need to be met?
- What business goals need to be met?
- What leadership, skills, and technology your organization needs to support a hybrid workforce?
- Which activities or types of work is your workforce best suited to tackle in and outside of the office?
These questions will help you plan and prioritize investment needs – in terms of people, time, and infrastructure. Importantly, you’ll need to revisit these questions often, and in a phased manner, to plan, iterate, test, and pivot as your priorities change throughout the transformation journey.
Iterate, iterate, iterate
Iteration is key across the horizons of designing a hybrid workplace. As you embark on this transformation, it’s about aiming for progress over perfection and evolving your strategy as you learn more. While it’s critical to have a plan in place – and avoid constantly straying from it – it’s equally important to make room to revisit and improve your approach as you identify what works and what doesn’t. Iteration builds flexibility and adaptability into your strategy and will help ensure you are moving forward in the most effective way possible for all your employees. No one will be able to predict what the future holds with total accuracy. But you can test things, learn, and redesign until the way forward is clearer. And your employees should be engaged in this process. To engage and include your people along the journey, clearly communicate your organization’s commitment to learning, growing, and improving throughout the transformation.
To poise your hybrid workplace for success, co-create with the people who will be most impacted by the decisions made around this transition. Co-creation is a proven strategy: 93 percent of organizations in our research said that involving employees in the design of change solutions leads to higher adoption. In practice, this may mean engaging employees for input on how their workday will look to ensure they show up for high-effort tasks when they’re at their best.
As mentioned above, different groups of employees within your workforce will experience the hybrid model in different ways. Employee A may have strong preferences towards physical boundaries and benefit from the physical separation between work and home, while Employee B has no problem working from multiple locations. Tap into empathy to better understand your employees’ individual needs and preferences. Empathy is one of the most important skills a leader or manager can learn because it allows them to see situations from multiple perspectives, which helps make everyone more productive. Leveraging conversation prompts can help you put this skill into practice. Additionally, Voice of Employee data, gathered via pulse surveys, employee satisfaction, and focus groups, can give leaders the insights they need to lead with empathy. When you understand your people’s perspective – when you know how Employee A and Employee B view psychical boundaries – you are able to identify support requirements that keep your employees engaged and productive. You can better understand shifts in employee needs, preferences, and priorities, and use that information to reshape psychological contracts for the hybrid work model.
Map customer touchpoints to build in human connection
As you are redesigning the employee experience for the hybrid environment, take the opportunity to map key touchpoints between employees and customers. This will help you think through what may need to change in the hybrid model to allow your workforce to continue delivering for customers. For example, what ways of working, systems, structures, or processes need to be modified in this model so that your employees can get to the heart of what customers still need: human connection and experience?
The most forward-thinking businesses are doing more than just going through the motions of bringing physical and digital spaces together. They're addressing this pivotal moment in their organizations' history as a meaningful opportunity to transform -- and they are designing the hybrid workplace with intention so that they move forward confidently and nimbly in what is likely to remain an uncertain business environment for years to come.
In the next blog of our series, we'll take a look at the role of technology in the hybrid workplace and explore the tools, architecture, ways of working, and delivery methods needed to cultivate collaboration.
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