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Editorial Team
20 Oct 2020

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Cracking the culture code of hybrid work models

The pandemic has necessitated remote work and hybrid work models for most companies. This new normal needs a new approach to work culture to continue on the path to success.

Remote work is at an all-time high, and workers are demanding flexible work arrangements – work from home, work away from office, flexi-timings, or other options. With many teams distributed across different geographical locations, CHROs must figure out how to keep them connected and in excellent sync, because the work cannot and will not stop!

It helps that digitalization is ticking along at a fast clip, making it a good time to go remote. For those who are saved from long commutes, or find it better to work away from a typical busy office, it is working out a lot better. But do you go the whole hog and become 100% remote, or aim for a hybrid model?

Before you even decide that, note the following:

  • Employees are struggling to be organized, given how remote work is coming in at different scales, and productivity without socialization is hard
  • Uncertainties and economic stress are testing the resilience of people during COVID-19
  • Enterprises will struggle to thrive, not just survive, given how crises tend to pull down employee performance
  • Keeping the workforce engaged and motivated is tough, especially between remote and onsite teams if any

 

Navigating this maze, it becomes apparent that the hybrid model could well be the answer. The new normal may well see some people in office while some work away from it. Fortune surveyed Fortune 500 CEOs in May, and 26% of them suggested at least some of their employees who moved to a virtual model courtesy the pandemic, could stay that way for good.

So, what exactly is hybrid? As the word suggests, it refers to a partially distributed workforce, with some part of the work happening from home and some from office. You could have some workers working fully from home, some fully from office, and some both, as the case may be. The flexibility, the option is what appeals to employees, and the choice to work away from office for at least a few days is increasingly becoming the norm – hence the nomenclature of a “hybrid” model.

Tech and online firms have been quick to snap it up, getting talented people from around the world to work for them. Such models usually have a HQ or base office, connecting with the distributed members of the team(s).

Millennials will be three-quarters of the global workforce by 2025, according to Catalyst, while Inc says Gen Z will soon surpass millennials as the most populous generation. These factors combine to create a greater push from these employees for flexible, hybrid work models, with their digital nativity and desire for freedom playing a big part. For them, remote work is actually rather intuitive, and the home is the new office.

What are the upsides of a hybrid model?

  • Greater access to talent, especially for specific roles where good local talent may be unavailable: Open positions currently stay vacant for at least 12 weeks for 60% of employers.
  • Higher productivity for small teams and individuals: Creates diversity and helps in generating new ideas
  • More flexibility for individuals: Leads to better productivity and happiness
  • Better employee experiences
  • Lower costs: Lesser onsite space and other infrastructure to be maintained

 

The move, if and when it happens, must be handled carefully. Ignore this, and you may just demotivate your workforce and lower its productivity. The new model will require a new common culture and more effort toward trust and social cohesion, all of which make for effective collaboration between employees. If in-person workers and managers dominate on the back of co-location and collaboration, remote workers could feel unhappy, disenfranchised, and isolated, especially if the former get better opportunities and more promotions. This in particular requires more attention and effort.

Getting to this point requires keen focus on certain areas:

  • Create a culture and a safe space to make mistakes, generate ideas, and speak up, along with offering support for accommodating personal needs
  • Manage time zones by coordinating team efforts such that overlap time is maximized and nobody is unduly inconvenienced, to maximize cohesion
  • Watch the mix of backgrounds and expertise in teams, and conduct proper kickoffs with new members

 

As the CHRO, there will be newer, and heavier, demands on leadership capabilities. Onsite approaches do not work nearly as well in hybrid models, and there is much to do to build trust and facilitate cohesion in teams.

  • Inspire: Socioemotional cues are dampened or absent, and inspirational leadership is of the essence
  • Interact informally: Bridge organizational silos and create stronger social networks and collaboration. Keep a part of meetings aside for open discussions
  • Be a role model: Demonstrate the behavior and practices you expect of your workforce, by – for instance – following the same mix of onsite-remote work expected of employees
  • Do not be fully virtual: Some communication is best delivered in person, in the most feasible ways possible
  • Be inclusive: Celebrate differences and encourage personal communication and interaction to humanize leadership
  • Rethink traditions: Culture will change with new work styles, so tweak team-building activities and other ways of keeping traditions alive

 

It remains important, as always, to track the effectiveness of the hybrid virtual model as implemented at the particular company. Pick the right metrics so you know if performance culture has improved, better talent is being attracted, and employees are more engaged. Select the right combination to track if the performance culture has remained intact.

It is not just a work style change – it is a whole cultural change, which is no simple or overnight task. Small steps with quick win celebrations will lead to good results, and closely monitoring and adjusting responses will make the performance and growth culture stronger than ever before!

 




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