More than two years after the start of the pandemic, it’s clear that we’re never going back to business as usual — meaning, very few of us will return to full-time work in an office. In fact, the recent “State of the Industry: Future of Work” survey by AT&T and Dubber Corporation found that 81% of respondents believe hybrid will be the dominant work model by 2024, with 56% of work done off site.
The survey also found that 72% of businesses lack a clear hybrid work strategy. Despite the findings — not to mention the massive move to remote or hybrid work that has already taken place in the past two years — many organizations have yet to put new formal work processes in place. Too many organizations are operating under the false assumption that working from home is the same as working on-site and that as long as their employees have their technological needs met, they and the organization will continue to thrive.
This is not only a mistake but also a missed opportunity because, for many of today’s workers, hybrid work is not a perk; it’s a requirement. Implementing a hybrid work strategy can help your current employees thrive and can help you attract new talent. Conversely, organizations that fail to offer hybrid work as an option will suffer the consequences.
The elephant in the room
Before we examine why so many organizations are operating without a clear hybrid strategy, we need to look at one of the underlying causes: reluctance. There’s a tendency among leaders of organizations to follow marketplace trends even if they don’t quite embrace them, and the trend right now is remote and hybrid work. So, while many leaders tout hybrid models publicly, they are privately reticent about the “new normal” and even more reticent about publicizing their misgivings.
In June, Elon Musk faced stiff backlash when he demanded (in a leaked memo) that all Tesla employees work in the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week or face termination. Despite the uproar from some corners, I suspect there are many old-school leaders who agree with Musk but are afraid to say so.
Silent reluctance is only one reason organizations lack a hybrid strategy. Another is a lack of understanding of the cultural shift taking place. In many cases, leaders are slow to recognize and adapt to the needs and demands of workers.
Even organizations that are adopting a hybrid environment, however, may fail to understand the importance of having a strategy behind it. The reasons are twofold: They believe onsite work can be duplicated as remote work without any adjustments, and they assume that workers will thrive as long as their physical needs are met.
What these leaders fail to understand is that physical needs (such as electricity, a computer, camera, microphone and internet access) are just the foundation. It’s helpful here to think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory that proposes our actions are motivated by increasingly complex needs. According to Maslow, the five stages of needs are physiological, security and safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization.
Now let’s look at our hybrid workers. They have the technology they need to do their job, but they still need the social aspects of work. They need a sense of belonging to the organization; they need to collaborate with co-workers, and they need to feel connected to people and relationships. Looking at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, workers are looking to get their social needs met.
When organizations operate without a clear hybrid strategy, they’re ignoring the crucial social and cultural aspects of work. All too often, the attitude of leaders is, “I’ve given you the technological tools. Now, go do your job.”
Designing and implementing a hybrid strategy that incorporates company culture and a full array of workers’ needs helps ensure their success and yours. Don’t underestimate the positive effect it can have on your recruiting efforts; in the AT&T study, 100% of respondents said a hybrid model will attract young talent. And remember, a hybrid model allows you to recruit talent from anywhere in the world, meaning you have a better chance of getting the right person for the right position.
Designing your strategy
It goes without saying that security and compliance must be central to a hybrid strategy. The very thing that makes hybrid work attractive to employees also makes it a security risk. You have workers logging in from home networks or even public networks, and it’s imperative that you put measures in place to protect your data.
Start by adding virtual private networks (VPNs) to all of your employees’ devices and adopting a zero trust security model with multifactor authentication.
Culture is the second key element. Get a clear understanding of your company culture and then start to think about how to integrate it. How will you ensure that it permeates everything regardless of whether a worker is at home or on-site? How will you keep people engaged?
One way to do that is through what I call “awesome experiences.” For example, last month our sales organization spent three days together in Seattle to kick-start our fiscal year. Many of us have been working remotely for years, and the event was a great opportunity to reconnect (or connect for the first time!) with our colleagues. Of course, we were working and strategizing, but a big part of the event was socializing and bonding. These types of events can be incredibly motivating for folks when they get back to their remote routines.
Another way to keep people engaged and keep the company culture alive is to set up an internal mentor program where older or more tenured employees are matched with younger and newer employees. Much of company culture is absorbed through osmosis at the office, in the corridors, in ad-hoc conversation and during social events. When workers are coming to the office less (or not at all), it’s imperative that they have opportunities to connect with their co-workers through other means.
Next, understand the different needs of your employees. New hires in their 20s are going to have very different needs than those in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, and a good strategy will recognize these differences. This distinction is particularly important when it comes to motivation and job recognition and rewards.
Regardless of age or tenure, all new starters benefit from having onboarding processes that are visible and easily accessible online. By getting new hires up and running quickly, they can add value in record time, quickly becoming contributing members of the team.
Lastly, build in the right KPIs (key performance indicators) to measure your success. The survey found that 76% of respondents don’t have the right KPIs to support a hybrid model. KPIs will be very individualized, but some of the metrics you might want to consider are churn rate, cross-team collaboration and the hours people are working. There’s a tendency for people working at home to work longer hours than if they were in the office — and you don’t want your employees to burn out.
Establishing the right KPIs and analyzing the findings will help you adjust the strategy or policies and procedures.
No matter how well you design your strategy, there will always be pitfalls and challenges. For example, some survey respondents complained they were forced to go to the office, only to find those they needed to collaborate with weren’t there. This can be incredibly frustrating, particularly for those who have to make childcare arrangements or commute a long distance.
When designing a strategy, leaders need to be more thoughtful about how they’re creating the work schedule. If you require certain people to be in on certain days, figure out who they might need to meet with and coordinate schedules. Many organizations have adopted a model where each department is in the office on a different day. This is a great approach for reducing the amount of office space your organization needs, but it doesn’t promote collaboration unless you do it thoughtfully and intentionally.
One way to keep things running smoothly and efficiently is through digitization and automation. Capture processes so they are available to teams anywhere, anytime, and—where it’s practical—let automation drive processes so they don’t have to be managed manually. Automation can be particularly effective in scheduling people to come into the office and ensuring that there is enough space for everyone on a given day, while digitizing the process allows everyone to see who will be where, when.
Pulling it all together
To make a hybrid strategy work, start with a well-thought-out plan that addresses the various needs of your employees. Then, add the right KPIs and adjust your strategy based on your findings. Don’t be afraid to continually innovate to meet the needs of your workers and your organization. Once you get all the elements right, you’ll have lower churn, higher retention rates and happier workers. And that all leads to higher ROI.
Terry Simpson, Nintex
Terry Simpson, Senior Solutions Engineer at Nintex, has been working with SharePoint and Nintex tools for the last 13 years. Prior to joining Nintex, he spent the majority his career on the consulting services side of the business, implementing a wide variety of SharePoint and Nintex solutions. Terry’s unique, technical-yet-business-focused background gives him the ability to help users leverage technology to drive value to their businesses.