HybridHQ: From Challenge to Opportunity (Part One)

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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. First, we’ll explore the importance of defining and aligning on your strategy. From there, we’ll unpack essential design considerations across employee experience, culture, technology, and I&D.

As soon as COVID-19 hit, employers had to design for employee needs that didn’t exist in the pre-pandemic world. And fast. Today, the working world is quickly approaching another inflection point: the hybrid workplace. Because the nature of work has forever changed, there are no “rules” for hybrid work. Without a doubt, hybrid work will bring unforeseen scenarios—but, when understood and approached intentionally—create a meaningful transformation opportunity.

For any transformation, the first steps are to define your strategic direction and align the entire business around the activities to prioritize. In this blog, we’ll explore how you can turn hybrid work’s challenges into the foundation for a meaningful transformation. 

New challenges in uncharted waters

Most businesses are entering uncharted waters when it comes to hybrid work. Yet, a well-defined purpose and clear priorities can help leaders keep a firm grasp on the ship’s wheel. Once you’ve determined which employees to bring back (and when), you’ll then need to focus on defining (and refining) your hybrid workplace strategy within the context of your culture, operating model, and ways of working. To enable these strategies, employee experience, workforce productivity, and digital tools are considerations that organizations must approach differently in a hybrid work context. Particularly as agile, cross-functional ways of working become more commonplace, it will be critical for leaders to use technology to increase collaboration across work settings. We’ll address all of these considerations—and more—throughout this blog series.

Defining how you’ll show up in the world of hybrid work

Today, your business is uniquely positioned to define how it wants to show up in the world of hybrid work by devising a thoughtful strategy—one that brings physically disparate employees together through a shared focus and collective picture of the value that the business is driving toward.

Explore how you might reimagine your workplace for success in a marketplace landscape that’s been redefined by new customer behaviors, workforce expectations, and operational imperatives. For example, at the outset of the pandemic, suppose that a business wanted to reduce costs, so it scaled back and reconfigured its physical office space. It also eliminated individual offices in favor of a more collaborative, open floor setup. Now, those who have returned to the office are more often interacting with their remote colleagues via video calls, making the new office setup distracting in the context of hybrid work.

This business has an opportunity to reset on what it’s trying to achieve, and determine its priorities accordingly. By defining and aligning on its ultimate purpose—whether to create more a practical working space, a more collaborative culture, or a careful mix of both—it will have clarity on its next moves.

Moving from “why” to “what”

Once you’re clear on the “why” behind your hybrid workplace strategy, you’ll need to define where to focus. Assuming you want to create a positive environment for employees, invest in the right activities to move the needle toward that vision—whether it be keeping employees engaged, offering flexibility in work environment, or enhancing digital tools.

In doing so, look at multiple perspectives of value—not purely cost takeout or operational efficiency. For example, consider how investments in collaboration tools can improve employee engagement, helping you accelerate toward your company’s vision. Or, suppose you’re offering employees greater flexibility with a four-day work week option. Thinking holistically, consider whether this improvement to the employee experience will come at the expense of customer experience.

As you’re evaluating potential investments for a hybrid workplace, consider all your employee personas; for example, avoid assumptions like “all employees want to work from home.” Research proves the contrary: 67 percent of employees are craving more opportunities for in-person contact and collaboration as we emerge from the pandemic. Personas can help you consider investments that meet the needs of different employee groups across work locations. For instance, consider the experiences of younger employees working in small apartments. This group may prefer a physical office setting to help them stay motivated and offer the in-person interaction that’s so critical early in their careers. Indeed, 60 percent of the Gen Z group (ages 18 to 25) say they’re “merely surviving or flat-out struggling” during this time.

Getting started

When defining your direction and a value-based case for hybrid work, what are some fundamental considerations for the journey ahead?

  • Think sequentially: Start at the highest level with your organizational strategy, goals, and priorities. From there, identify the workforce skills and roles you need to deliver on your strategy in both remote and on-site settings. Supplementing your focus on skills, consider opportunities to embed learning agility, which can help employees navigate and thrive in unforeseen work scenarios. Finally, consider what all this means for the workspace—what are the environments, office locations, collaboration tools, etc. that will best support those workers based on where they choose to work and what they need to achieve their business goals?
  • Start with empathy: In today’s war for talent, consider how your return-to-work transformation is also an opportunity to differentiate on employee experience and attract and retain top workers. Before anything else, consider how employees want to work, recognizing the needs and challenges of different employee groups. For example, a mom might have had trouble working at home during the height of the pandemic, juggling childcare responsibilities. The hybrid workplace gives businesses a chance to understand and intentionally address the challenges, preferences, and needs of different employee segments. The working mom, for example, may opt to return to the office now that her kids are back in school. However, she may need to adapt her office hours based on school hours. While work flexibility may be appreciated, it may also trigger concerns about not being included in key decisions because of missed afternoon meetings. True empathy accounts for these more complicated nuances.
  • Equip managers for a hybrid setting: As you’re setting your strategic direction, use this time to equip middle managers to lead high-performing, hybrid teams. This will be critical, no matter where your strategy ultimately points you. Use this time to upskill and reskill managers to coach, motivate, and engage employees from the office breakroom to the kitchen table. For example, your management team might train up on empathetic leadership, giving leaders the techniques —both virtually and in person—to gather employee feedback and make decisions based on needs across work settings. Similarly, I&D conversations are no longer the domain of HR.  Are your managers prepared for potentially sensitive conversations about social and political issues impacting employees personally?

Will we ever get to a place where the home office and corner office feel next to one another? That remains to be seen. There’s no roadmap or playbook to guide the way, either. The answer to this question begins with you. But with the right strategy, the HybridHQ can be a galvanizing, transformative force—one that moves all employees, no matter where they’re working—toward your organization’s collective picture of the future.  

In the next blog of our series, we’ll dive into more specifics of designing your hybrid workplace.

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