The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore a slew of challenges upending how we work and where we work thus putting the future of work in a state of unprecedented transformation. This has pushed businesses to work remotely and adopt a flexible “hybrid” work model. The article explores the challenges around hybrid workplace models and how we can be more proactive in leading this change within our organizations.
There are very few types of organizations that could move to complete virtual working and there are many that cannot. So, what used to be a part of an organization’s digital strategy as a mid to long-term roadmap has become a reality without any opportunity to run a pilot, accumulate data, analyze, and then do a wider phased launch.
December for me always has been the best time of the year… there is something different about this month as you can celebrate the year going by and look forward to the excitement and thrill of the coming new year. As we step into 2021, I don’t remember a year where it was more about the year gone by than it is about the year to come. I think one of the reasons for this is that 2020 has changed our ways of living and working in a revolutionizing way. Therefore, in my view, if any individual or organization is expecting to go back to exactly how things were, it may very well mean that they probably have not yet learnt the lessons from this pandemic.
The changes are not limited to employees working from home. The impact of this pandemic is wider – on regulatory, financials, customers, internal processes, and technology. Something has changed – for all of us! The pandemic has set a huge change in motion. Out of the many changes we are seeing and will experience in the time to come, I’d specifically like to discuss some challenges around hybrid workplace models and how we can be more proactive in leading this change within our organizations. While there can be contrary arguments, in my view a hybrid workplace is one of the most employee-centric decisions an organization can take as long as it’s driven by choice, flexibility, and a performance management framework that truly measures objectives and key results. There are very few types of organizations that could move to complete virtual working and there are many that cannot. So, what used to be a part of an organization’s digital strategy as a mid to long-term roadmap has become a reality without any opportunity to run a pilot, accumulate data, analyze, and then do a wider phased launch.
While many organizations during this pandemic have demonstrated resilience and successfully transitioned to the new world of virtual working, it has also highlighted many challenges that come with it. Many reports that surveyed organizations working from home found that their employees were able to effectively execute their individual tasks. The teams also highlighted that while it was not a deal-breaker, working remotely does have challenges around tasks that needed collaboration and teamwork. As it’s said people do business with people they like!
Communication is therefore a key factor that needs to be used well without isolating those working from home at any point in time. For example – the communication plan for meetings, celebrations, etc. needs should be merged for both sets of employees.
The human need to connect and build workplace relationships, will always remain as one of the core elements of a successful team, whether temporary or permanent. A very respectable and seasoned leader I know once said that he would observe people on the floor together especially in informal settings such as canteens, water, or coffee area. It would always give a good idea of how to bring cross-functional team members together. The chemistry mattered, he said!
Well, now after working for almost a year from home, how many of us would say that this is something you do not miss with your colleagues? As new employees join the organization, imagine the efforts needed to bond and make them feel like a part of the team, as much of an organization’s invisible culture is observed and felt when together. The values and principles of an organization come alive beyond being artefacts only when it is actually practised. Another significant challenge that surfaced during this time was about the mental wellbeing of employees as we battled stress, anxiety, and isolation fatigue. The long in-person meetings were as it is stressful and now long hours of meetings on virtual platforms! This indeed changes the playing field for leaders because now it is not enough to just focus on the physical aspects of health, safety, and well-being.
The pandemic caused a mandatory transition to work from home and an expansion in the scope of business continuity planning. The organizations realized that they can make huge savings in real-estate and infrastructure costs by directing those funds to more business-impacting areas.
The social media during the lockdown period flooded with pictures of clear blue skies, mountain ranges and even saw the movement of people from metro cities to their hometowns – because now all you needed to work with was your laptop and a good internet connection. So, imagine the opportunities it opens up for organizations to contribute to climate, environment, opening up the platform to hire and retain talent across without being restricted geographically.
Why force employees to travel for hours only to get stuck in traffic when that time can be used more proactively to work, be with family or practice mindfulness, indulge in a hobby or learn! The hybrid workplace model can encourage an organization’s D&I strategy and encourage more people to come forward and balance their caregiving responsibilities.Organizations need to rethink business models, leadership, culture, performance, hiring, reskilling as a renewed strategy apart from transforming the operational processes, policies, procedures, and systems. Click To Tweet
Organizations need to rethink business models, leadership, culture, performance, hiring, reskilling as a renewed strategy apart from transforming the operational processes, policies, procedures, and systems. Knowing that a hybrid working does not force one to be working from home as we had to during the lockdown in itself is a psychological relief.
Communication is therefore a key factor that needs to be used well without isolating those working from home at any point in time. For example – the communication plan for meetings, celebrations, etc. should be merged for both sets of employees. People Managers need to be sensitive about this and understand new ways of managing hybrid teams. These may sound like small things but if not kept in sight, may result in creating groups within teams or employees feeling biased about how their managers treat them.
A hybrid workplace model cannot be sustained without strong tech platforms and the organizations will need to continually enhance security and employee experience to avoid shadow IT taking over. This includes helping employees set up a home office with basic necessities or even exploring nearby coworking spaces. The main offices can be more of a place where wider teams can meet for collaborating, ideating or brainstorming. It really has to become productive and efficient for the organization that its employees can work from anywhere.
The fact is that there are benefits for both organizations and their employees to fully leverage the hybrid workplace model. Therefore, organizations must consciously take the best of both the worlds and bring that into hybrid workplace models. There will be resistance and challenges and it’s only fair to embrace them as this transition into the future of the workplace is about establishing newer standards of excellence. It is indeed one of the most impactful change initiatives we will be leading in this decade that can be driven and sustained by using a refreshed change management approach and strong organizational culture. If this win-win is achieved, a hybrid workplace will indeed be one of the most employee-centric decisions an organization can take! I could have not thought about this just a year ago, and now I cannot see a smart future without it. Well, here’s to a great hybrid workplace model – until the next disruption that will change the game again!