COVER STORY – Guiding Principle to a Hybrid Framework 0

Guiding Principle to a Hybrid Framework
We claim that the future is hybrid, but it is so much easier said than done. Implementing a hybrid work model is going to take more than just striking a balance between remote and office work. Kenneth Wheeler helps us understand the framework that lays the foundation for a strong hybrid working environment and the way forward.

Marching into 2021 and beyond, things have changed – fast and furious! Reflecting back on 2020, it was not just about a change in our work ecosystem but a complete overhaul of our lifestyle, way of thinking, and behaving. With employees across the globe settling into a remote work environment, a clear challenge and open question emerge on the need of re-grouping, assessing, and identifying what next?

  • Do we continue with the current work-from-home setup that we’ve gotten used to?
  • Do we look forward to deriving a model that brings about an equal split of remote and office work?
  • Which direction are the employees’ emotions tilted towards?
  • How does the situation look from the lenses of an employer, the CEOs, and the Executive Leaders?
  • Do organizations now design a work strategy more aligned to a distributed or co-located workforce?

While these questions remain, one thing is certain – how we worked will never be the same again. The World around us can change quickly but if we (as a company) can change faster, preserve through challenges with resilience – we will eventually emerge stronger than ever before!

One clear change for the future of work that is gaining popular momentum is to determine an effective Hybrid work model. Built on the foundation of this mindset, I share my vision of a framework and thinking as a stepping foundation and guideline for a successful Hybrid work infrastructure – that can sparkle brightly!

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Flexibility Holds the Key to Success

In a recent interview, one of the most influential leaders of recent times – Sundar Pichai – acknowledged the need to be more “flexible” in offering its employees a “hybrid” model that will include a blend of both remote and in-office methods of working. While organizations thinktank workout different approaches, one key factor is to be appreciative of their employee’s emotions and thinking.

A common belief is hovering around a combination of 3 days a week in the office and 2 days working as remote. This helps maintain the essence of a company’s culture cohesion and is more supportive of new employees joining the firm. However, many employee pulse surveys conducted across different organizations show the equation as 3 days remote and 2 days’ work from the office.

Many large firms are looking to operate at a 25 percent work capacity only. So, clearly, leaders will partner closely with HR to strive for a balanced approach. The balance will be weighed on several factors though:

  • Startup ecosystem where complexity, on-the-spot decision making, and interdependency is high will opt for a co-located approach with 3 days’ work from the office
  • Industry domains like healthcare and manufacturing will also opt for higher work from the office environment
  • Firms, where the dependency and work ambiguity are on the lower ask, will benefit more from a distributed workforce operating in a remote environment
  • Organizations’ financial call on real estate fund will also decide how much percentage of the workforce comes to office work on a rotational basis
  • Most importantly, the different experiences, emotions, and work aspirations of employees on what works best for them will be a crucial ask.

As we can observe, it is not a very straightforward conclusion. Hence, a mindset governed by flexibility and openness holds the key to what can and cannot work.

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A Captaincy Role of HR

Similar to the central role played by the HR fraternity in 2020, their involvement and influence in building a successful Hybrid work model in 2021 are unchallenged. So much revolves around how HR rallies with top leadership and employees to ensure the Hybrid option is promoted as a win-win for both employer and employees. HR will need to keep evolving in their thinking and execution as they battle for key elements like –

  • Recruitment, onboarding, training new hires, performance evaluation – these will continue to be challenging
  • With a distributed workforce the sense of belongingness, cultural cohesion, and purpose can so easily evaporate into thin air
  • The different generational workforce has its own unique expectation – how do you balance it all? How do you create an equal playing field for everyone?
  • Framework for enhancing leadership competencies on soft skills like emotional intelligence becomes more important
  • How to operate a design that can cater to employee’s wellness and wellbeing?
  • How do you invest in ensuring that employees and leaders alike have the right skills to navigate a continuous disruptive work future?

HR must step up if the Hybrid approach has to function smoothly. HR will continue to gain prominence and be the organization’s north star that everyone looks up to for direction and composure. The function has to be that pillar of strength and solidarity as an organization experiment with a disrupted or co-located or a little bit of both i.e. the hybrid model. So much of on-ground operations will be fragmented initially and HR will need to hold the fort together. Arguably, the most promising time for every HR professional to really create a dent in the Universe in this new work approach and mindset!

An Umpiring Role of Technology

The investment in technology tools that aid and promote the purpose are essential for a Hybrid model to succeed. One has to consider efficient virtual connectivity, data security and bring in different tools that can promote collaboration work smoothly.

Organizations operating on partial work and partial remote setup are likely to also invest in improving the technology used in the office space. Quality compromise on necessities like video conferencing would be difficult to comprehend anymore. The combination of the right technology and thoughtful strategic approach will ensure that working remotely can be a wonderfully seamless experience too.

One has to consider efficient virtual connectivity, data security and bring in different tools that can promote collaboration work smoothly. Click To Tweet

Decisions to understand how organizations can provide data security as well as serve the protection of employee’s digital assets becomes extremely important in a Hybrid model. At the same time, new technology and tools that make their way into the organization must also provide a great UI/UX experience. It must be simple to use, be standard across for both distributed and co-located workforce, and secure from any device and any location approach.

Technology will also play a major role in how organizations end up promoting culture and connectivity with distributed employees. In addition to the human efforts, technology just has to be the backbone and difference between organizations that do well versus those who struggle in a hybrid model.

A Coach Role of Leadership

People and team management dynamics have changed gears significantly ever since the pandemic enforced a work-from-home situation. A natural behaviour progression was observed on grounds of trust, empathy, and communication with clarity and a supportive mindset.

Also Read:  Our Tryst with Trust

For the hybrid model to succeed, leaders will continue to upskill themselves on soft skills more than ever before. Leaders will deliberately be more thoughtful in how they build rapport, build an emotional bank balance, and establish a core connect with their teams. The shift from empathy to a compassion equation will also become a more critical way of managing and understanding employees.

Leaders, in collaboration with HR, will promote a culture on the foundation of mutual trust and respect at both professional and personal level too. Leaders will acknowledge, the need to be considerate towards employees mental and emotional wellbeing. Leadership will have to be mindful that aligning employees to organizations vision and mission will be challenging in a Hybrid World.

Hence, they become such an important part of its success. They will have to take up complete ownership of the transition to a hybrid model to work smoothly. Indeed – a Hybrid world will demand new skills that are supportive of the cause.

A Third Umpire Role of Organization

The following statement by Dr Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a behavioural scientist sums up the pulse beautifully – “Organizations that have invested in building a strong culture around a deep sense of purpose are better able to cohesively design and deploy new approaches to achieve success in times of disruption. Clear purpose accelerates action during uncertainty,” and that is precisely what we need from all forward-thinking organizations.

Keeping the focus stay put on a clear purpose, establishing a connection with all employees working as either co-located or disrupted to the larger sense of accomplishment – becomes imperative. The impact of productivity and what one’s work means to them can so easily be lost.

Employees can feel disconnected and unsure of what they do and how it connects to the larger vision and purpose. One could feel compelled to ask and question their WIFMs (what’s in it for me). To flourish in this challenging influence of Hybrid model – organizations must keep the spotlight firmly intact on their purpose!

The combination of the right technology and thoughtful strategic approach will ensure that working remotely can be a wonderfully seamless experience too. Decisions to understand how organizations can provide data security as well as serve the protection of employee’s digital assets become extremely important in a Hybrid model.

To Sum It Up

I believe the math to be simple – flexible work plans favour employees and employers alike. A Hybrid model allows for the need of different employees to be heard, understood, and adopted. It does have its own challenges but in the long run, employees will tend to be happier and find a stronger association with their employers. In the post-pandemic world, the question is not about deciding between in-office work or remote – it is really about providing the employee with an option to choose either or blend in with a bit of both. Suddenly, the age-old adage ‘variety is the spice of life’ seems to be flourishing rich.

I read this somewhere – “Future of Hybrid model has arrived – it is already work in progress!” With that perspective, my organization that operates on pillars of Agility, Innovation, and Flexibility…while keeping the employee at the centre of their decision making – will carve out the secret winning mantra!

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Kenneth W Wheeler is a seasoned HR professional with 17+ years of rich learning experience spread across different industries. He is a 101 Top HR Minds (India) 2019 awardee, an NLP Coach, and a certified Happiness Coach & Trainer. Kenneth is currently the Director of People & Culture at True Fit Corporation (Mumbai). His obsession includes exploring multiple ways to build an agile L&D infrastructure, curating a culture governed by rich employee experience, and using new-age cutting technology (AR & VR, AI, ML, Bots) to boost Organizational success by nurturing future-fit employees.

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