After roughly two years of remote work, you’d think we’d have hybrid work models figured out. However, there are numerous and intricate challenges in coordinating the work of teams dispersed across numerous locations.
In an earlier interaction with All Things Talent, Richard Lobo, EVP and Head HR, Infosys spoke about making the new way of working, work. “The whole flexible hybrid model of people coming to the office on some days and working remotely on others needs to be seamless for everyone. The biggest priority is in terms of repopulating workspaces as needed and making them functional again,” Lobo shared. Clearly, it is now imperative to ensure there are processes in place to make the new work models adhere to an organisation’s values and principles.
For recruiters, the aim is to not only boost productivity but also create great work environments for employees. Ensuring that all of this is achieved seamlessly requires new skill sets and the use of a whole new generation of technological tools, but it’s important to recognise that for all these challenges, as Vivek Jain, Sr EVP and Head, HR, Kotak Mahindra Bank, points out, “The hybrid work model is here to stay. All signs point towards this.”
Jain backs up his stance with figures cited in a recent study that reveals 44% of employees surveyed said they felt that hybrid work was better for mental health and that it afforded work-life balance, and 42% of those surveyed confirmed that they would prefer a hybrid work model with working from the office limited to twice or thrice a week.” Jain adds that any organisation that values employee morale, “which as we know, directly relates to greater productivity,” cannot ignore these facts.
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Besides, the hybrid model also opens up a world of possibilities for organisations that are struggling to attract and retain the best talent. According to a prediction from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, by 2030, almost half of the world’s graduates will come from India and China – organisations that operate with a hybrid model will have the option of tapping into these talent pools. Within national boundaries, hybrid working allows organisations to recruit talent in rural areas, which has the potential to both, provide work opportunities for many who would otherwise have been excluded and, importantly, to prevent a brain drain from rural areas. For this reason, incidentally, the Irish government has instituted a five-year plan to invest in infrastructure that will facilitate remote working. It’s just a matter of time until other nations follow suit.
Change always comes with challenges
But, as recruiters know all too well, infrastructure is just one part of the problem. “Aside from having access to the appropriate tools [for employees] to be productive at work, employees may feel detached from the organisation [as a result of working in their own homes]… Siloed work processes, lower cooperation levels, and gaps in professional relationships are some of the other problems that come with the hybrid work model,” Jain points out. That’s not all. “The hybrid model, while being inherently more conducive than working in a totally remote setting, still poses a challenge for onboarding new hires and getting them aligned with workplace culture and the organisation’s objectives,” he adds.
Although many organisations overseas were already considering the idea of shifting to hybrid work even before the pandemic struck, the speed at which the change had to be effected because of Covid-related restrictions on movement, didn’t afford organisations the time to weigh all the pros and cons and arrive at the best way to approach this model. Ramakrishna Vyamajala, CHRO, Home First Finance Company, says, “For managers, this has resulted in a number of operational challenges including in regard to monitoring the performance of team members. The hybrid model makes it difficult to coordinate resources and drive motivation, and there are also barriers in communication that many managers are still trying to find ways around.” The good news is that their experiences over the last couple of years have helped recruitment leaders identify some solutions to many of the challenges that hybrid models present.
Managing the workforce in any model, including WFH and hybrid models, is easier if recruiters can clearly communicate the goal sheet. Things get murky when goals aren’t clearly defined and measured. For instance, when defining objectives, managers frequently list things that are desirable but are not objectives. A manager might write, “I want my team to come in at 9.30 am – that is good, but what does it achieve? – Joy Banerjee, Group Head, HR, for a non-banking financing conglomerate
When in Hybrid, Goals can Motivate
Sharing that the company he works for has calibrated to provide flexibility wherever it is needed because hybrid work reduces costs significantly, Joy Banerjee, who heads human resources for a non-banking financing conglomerate, says, “If recruiters are able to articulate the goal sheet well, it [managing workforce in any model, including WFH and hybrid models] becomes easier. When goals are not clearly defined and measured, that’s when things start to get murky. Often, for example, managers will [when defining objectives] list things that are good to have, but which are not objectives; a manager may write, ‘I want my team to come in at 9.30 am – that is good, but what does it achieve? Objectives need to be defined in a clear manner and the path towards those objectives must also be chalked out.”
Extending on this, Vyamajala advocates in favour of “over-communicating rather than under-communicating”. He says, “Team leaders should use every tool at their disposal – from WhatsApp, emails and digital noticeboards to company social networks and so on – to ensure that messages reach every professional they are aimed at.”
Strategies for successful communication
“Communication is key,” Vivek Jain adds. “Effective communication leads to team members getting a shared understanding of how to support one another under trying circumstances and it helps team members stay aligned to the company’s mission and vision. In the hybrid mode, the right mix of face-to-face and web-based platforms (like Teams and Zoom) needs to be determined to enable prompt and efficacious communication”.
Jain considers open communication and trustworthy knowledge sharing to be two fundamental principles of high productivity. According to him, “these were the hardest hit during the initial days of lockdown,” and “technology has evolved at lightning speed to provide collaborative, interactive tools and channels — while some of these existed earlier, they have now become the preferred mode of interfacing,” progressive businesses have since found an opportunity in this adversity.
“Backed by real-time knowledge archives and directories, the flow of information exchange is almost seamless now. MS Teams with an underlying MS Sharepoint directory is the perfect example of this ecosystem” says Jain, who also feels that the value of team lunches and collaborative events cannot be overstated. “These are more relevant than ever [in hybrid models] to build and sustain camaraderie among team members and to build team spirit”.
Aside from adopting tools to make sure employees can do some of their work from locations outside the office – whether from home or on a bench in a garden – many organisations are also re-thinking job roles entirely so that some part of their workforce can work almost entirely from home – Ramakrishna Vyamajala, CHRO, Home First Finance Company
Work on building team spirit
Getting a team to work well together even though employees aren’t working together, i.e., from the same venue, is one of the biggest challenges for recruiters. But, Jain says there are ways to get around even this. “Studies have shown that team spirit is directly proportional to the communication flow and the transparency in an organisation. Collaboration and teamwork are a direct offshoot of the quality and frequency of engagement among team members,” he says.
Vishnu Domkondwar, Team Lead, Human Resources at Hexaview Technologies, couldn’t agree more. Jain and he also place great value on rewards and recognition programmes. “Well instituted, these can play a huge role in lifting morale and fostering team spirit,” says Domkondwar.
New ideas for a new era
Logistical problems, on the other hand, can be better managed with technological tools, says Vyamajala. For instance, ‘hot-desking’, where employees are not allotted designated desks but may utilise desk spaces when they work in-office, can result in overcrowding on certain days – but simple tools like Google Sheets / Excel can be used to organise this better.
“There are also many apps available now that recruiters can rely on to ensure that the organisation’s resources are not overstretched or underutilised,” Vyamajala says, adding that while most jobs previously required coming into the office, this is changing as a result of new ways of working. “Aside from adopting tools to make sure employees can do some of their work from locations outside the office—whether a professional wants to work from home or while seated on a bench in a garden – many organisations are also re-thinking job roles entirely so that some part of their workforce can work almost entirely from home,” he says.
Effective communication helps team members understand how to support each other in difficult times and stay aligned with the company’s mission and vision. In hybrid mode, the right mix of face-to-face and web-based platforms (like Teams and Zoom) is needed for quick and effective communication. – Vivek Jain, Sr EVP and Head, HR, Kotak Mahindra Bank
Banerjee, too, believes that pragmatism will save the day. “It’s up to recruitment teams to strike a balance between flexibility and productivity. For example, while we have rules governing when meetings can be held online, we also allow for exceptions if approved by business heads. When business heads allow for such exceptions, HR has to go back to the business head to see the number of exceptions she or he has approved of. Initially, a lot of managers worried that making room for this may have a bad impact on discipline, so we brainstormed to define discipline: is discipline limited to punctuality, or is the idea behind it to make the person most effective, and will start a meeting at 9 a.m. on the dot then make a person most effective? The fact is that some rules may produce no result, so it’s time to question whether those rules must be carved in stone.”
Hybrid work is thus an experiment that will yield a number of models, but recruitment teams that are able to find the right fit for their organisations will surely be rewarded with a spike in productivity.