Lowering the tension in the hybrid world

Hybrid working is a virtual certainty for many companies in the short to medium term as they face the post-Covid environment. But a key problem is that due to the enormous amount of rapid change that has taken place over the past couple of years, there is consensus that very few organizations have deliberately designed the way they operate to maximize work. hybrid and to deal with the risks of its adoption. .

To succeed in such a redesign, organizations must not only understand how their business needs have changed, but also invest in everything from ensuring the ergonomics of home office setups to redesigning benefits and modernizing performance management processes to connect people. objectives to organizational goals.

It is now considered a truism that employers who reject widespread market trends in favor of adopting more flexible and hybrid ways of working will find it difficult to retain their staff, especially in the current era of widespread shortage. of skills and the so-called big resignation. But a report, written by the analyst firm Gartner and published in the harvard business review in January 2022, 11 trends that will shape work in 2022 and beyondanticipates that at least some employers will struggle to make this approach work.

While Gartner says more than 90% of organizations across all industries currently plan to adopt a hybrid model for their knowledge workers, it expects a small minority to change course over the course of the year. forcing them to return to the office full-time in the process.

Factors driving this decision will include poor company performance, which will be blamed on hybrid working, and higher levels of turnover among hybrid workers due to weaker social connections with co-workers and a wider geographical distribution of employment opportunities. A third issue will be the perceived damage that hybrid and remote working inflict on organizational culture.

But Graham Waller, senior vice president of Gartner, believes that the real problems lie not so much with hybrid working models per se as with whether they are “executed well or poorly”. Approaches that work well tend to have a “human-centric” bent, while those that don’t tend to be “location-centric,” Waller says.

“Location is centered when organizations are obsessed with the number of days employees should be in the office and there is often a somewhat arbitrary policy for everyone. But a human-centered approach involves rethinking work around people to focus on issues, like helping reduce burnout by giving employees as much autonomy and flexibility as possible.

The company’s research indicates, for example, that adopting a human-centered model leads to a 44% reduction in staff fatigue and burnout levels, a 28% improvement in performance and a 45% increase in employees’ intention to stay with their employer.

Take Deliberate Action

As such, Nick Gallimore, director of innovation at Advanced Software and Services Provider, believes that UK plc is currently at an “inflection point”. “Decisions that organizations make here now will have far-reaching, long-term implications and are critical,” he said.

But a key issue is that due to the huge amount of rapid change in the past two years, “very few organizations have deliberately designed their way of operating to maximize hybrid working and manage the associated risks. upon adoption,” Gallimore said.

While underlying challenges such as an aging workforce and a changing need for new skills meant that planning for change was always going to be necessary, ‘headwinds’ such as the pandemic and Brexit “accelerated the problem and brought it to the surface faster,” he adds. A good example of a company doing just that is Virgin Money with its A more pristine life initiative, he says.

Waller also agrees that it’s important to take intentional action to address these issues. A key tension that exists in many hybrid and flexible work environments, for example, is ensuring employees have a sustainable work-life balance while performing at their best, he says.

The problem here is that although performance and productivity have traditionally been used as the most important measures of employee and management success, people tend to work both harder and longer in remote and hybrid work.

Louis Asber, chief technology officer at independent marketplace Catalant Technologies – formerly known as HourlyNerd – says the lack of clear delineation between personal life and professional life that these work models often engender makes it difficult for people to fix boundaries and finding the right balance. In a digital environment, managers also have a harder time picking up on social cues that something is wrong.

Improve employee well-being

But this situation, especially during full shutdowns, has unfortunately led to widespread mental health issues, such as stress and burnout, which ultimately led to staff absence and retention issues. As a result, Waller advises adding “employee health” metrics to “employee performance” metrics to create a more sustainable way of operating. Employers who have already seen staff productivity levels increase by 17% and employees are 1.7 times more likely to stick with them, Waller says.

Other measures to improve well-being that Asber and his fellow members of the management team have introduced include closing the office once a quarter to ensure that staff have more downtime and encourage employees to go home early after big office meetings. “We try to force it a bit to make sure people unplug,” he says. “HR was also great at coming up with quick and easy to check tactics like asking everyone on the team if they had lunch, which is really important if you’re online and haven’t soft clues but want to know how the team is doing.

But this idea of ​​”rest and recuperation” isn’t just important for employee well-being, says Gallimore. As with top athletes, it is also imperative to ensure optimal performance. “Performance science clearly shows that people need quality goals, an effective coach, and access to information about their performance, but none of this is enough if they don’t have opportunity to rest and recuperate,” he says.

Translated into a work context, this means that line managers also have a vital role to play (see box below) to ensure (sustainable) high performance, especially when using continuous performance management approaches, as opposed to annual approaches.

According to Christin Owings, partner and member of the People & Organization practice at Boston Consulting Group, another important element of employee well-being involves people feeling a sense of belonging and connection with their colleagues, as well as engagement with the purpose and values ​​of the organization – something that can be tricky if they don’t spend a lot of physical time together.

“It’s a lot more difficult if they work remotely a lot, especially for young people who are just starting out,” she says. “It’s led to higher levels of employee turnover because they don’t get that fulfillment from somewhere they belong.”

What Catalant has done to help meet this challenge, says Asber, is to ensure that time is always given to teams – regardless of their location – to engage in non-transactional interaction, whether it whether it’s taking time to think or play cards together. “It’s very easy, when you’re online a lot, to fall into a transactional conversational pattern, so ‘is it done? “,” yes “and move on,” he said.

“The problem is that it erodes trust and while it’s important to recognize that there are a range of personality types that have different preferences in terms of interaction, it’s also important to make sure that people don’t feel disconnected.”

Ultimately, however, to ensure the shift to hybrid working is effective, Owings believes it’s critical to consider the “full employee experience.” This means covering everything from improving the skills of managers, to supporting and empowering their staff, to providing them with a wide range of learning and development opportunities.

Another key factor is making sure the right corporate structures, resources, tools and incentive programs are in place to encourage people to “do the right thing,” says Owings. “It’s about reconnecting the organization to capture talent potential in a more hybrid world – and there’s a lot of experimentation going on right now.”

But getting these considerations right is perhaps even more important for CIOs than for their peers, says Gartner’s Waller. Indeed, technical personnel are more in demand and seek employment more actively than other workers. They are also often better placed to work remotely.

To illustrate the point, Waller says that in Q4 2021, just under a third (32%) of IT employees were actively looking for a new position, compared to just 19% of non-IT staff. Additionally, among IT staff who changed jobs in the last year, 76% had at least two other offers in addition to the one they had accepted, compared to 43% of non-IT staff, implying a high bargaining power.

“Everyone in the C-suite has this dynamic going on, so it’s not just CIOs who are struggling to hire,” he says. “But it seems CIOs have more to gain or lose than most in a hybrid world.”

Norma A. Roth