Hybrid is here to stay
Companies everywhere are asking fundamental questions about the nature of work. After enforced remote working for more than a year, they are about to embark on a second major shift - this time to a hybrid model. In our survey of business leaders, 70% expect hybrid working to become the norm for their business, with only 18% expecting a pre-pandemic full return to the office. A report from the World Economic Forum estimated that as much as 44% of all future work will be remote.1
1 Future of Jobs report 2020, World Economic Forum
In six to 12 months’ time, what do you expect to be the main model for your office workplace?
A silver lining?
Done well, hybrid offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve employee experience, attract and retain talent, and strengthen overall business performance. Get it wrong, however, and companies face confusion, the risk of inequality, weakening cultures and disengagement.
What do you think could be the main benefits of getting the future workplace right?
Stronger link between employees and corporate purpose
Better alignment between customer experience and employee experience
Better employee experience
The benefit of purpose
Asked about the main benefits of shifting to a hybrid model, business leaders in our survey point to a stronger link between employees and corporate purpose as offering the greatest potential. Since the pandemic first struck early in 2020, companies have been increasingly vocal about expressing their broader purpose. Business leaders have been more accessible than ever and communicating purpose has been key to interactions with employees. This has helped give meaning to work when people feel isolated and cut off from normal work structures.
A shift from CX to EX
Better alignment between customer experience and employee experience is seen as another key benefit. To date, the focus of most companies’ digital transformation initiatives has been the customer but, as digital working becomes more embedded, companies have shifted this to the employee and sought to draw on lessons from customer experience (CX) that they can apply to employee experience (EX). This involves thinking carefully about employee journeys and building emotional connections with them from the moment they first engage with the organisation to the moment they leave.
Performance, not flexibility
Delivering these benefits will depend on having a clear understanding of what hybrid means. As Lynda Gratton notes in a recent article for Harvard Business Review2, most companies think of hybrid primarily in terms of place: whether people work in the office, at home, or somewhere else.
“People talk about hybrid working as though it's the same as a location based flexible working policy but it’s so much more complex,” says Harriet Molyneaux, Managing Director of HSM, a consultancy. “The principal focus of hybrid working needs to be on performance, not flexibility. The whole concept of hybrid is getting compressed down to that one tiny question of “where people work” which is an important one, for sure, but there's a lot of unintended consequences if you don't think more broadly about redesigning work and putting sustainable performance at the front and centre of it.”
Companies that thrive in a hybrid world will adopt a more holistic, joined up approach to employee experience, engagement, culture, productivity and performance. “Some organisations have five people running different aspects of hybrid and they’re not communicating with each other,” says Ms Molyneaux. “If they don’t take a more holistic view, they are likely to experience real challenges.”
2 How to do hybrid right, Harvard Business Review, May/June, 2021
Nudge and lead
Technology company Softcat has a front row seat when it comes to understanding the pros and cons of hybrid working. “We’ve got 10,000 customers who are embracing and accelerating moves to cloud digital transformation and the ability to work remotely in a hybrid environment,” says Graeme Watt, CEO of Softcat. “So we see 10,000 different people struggling with this challenge and many different approaches.”
For Softcat itself, Mr Watt is now adopting an approach he calls “nudge and lead”. “It’s important to set an example of what you expect in the business and to provide guidance to each other around how much we expect to be in the office, and what the role of the office should be,” he says.
“We genuinely want people to get the best of both worlds: all the benefits of being in the office and all the benefits of being at home, but to use both settings in the right proportions and get that balance right. We want our employees to be motivated and engaged, but it's also got to be right for their colleagues, team and managers, and the wider business.”
CEO of Softcat
Actual Experience (Actual) works with people leaders to help build a digital workplace that works for everyone, everywhere, all of the time.
Through always-on people analytics and consulting, Actual helps to create a level playing field in the workplace. By revealing opportunities to reduce digital inequality and improve efficiency, Actual empowers employees in their choice of when, where and how they want to work.
Based on years of patented academic research, Actual enables organisations to constantly ask their employees: how is your digital workplace working for you? What is holding you back? What is causing frustration? All insights are generated with no need for employee surveys.