Written by Sofia Fonseca de Nino, Senior Associate (Houston, U.S).
If you searched online how to make the perfect paella or the best chocolate ganache the chances are you will find various recommendations of tried and tested recipes from a number of sources – acclaimed chefs, online forums, friends and family members.
In the same way, the best approach to an effective hybrid work model depends largely on who you ask – or, perhaps more accurately, who you listen to. Your CEO? CHRO? CFO? Individual team Leads? Directors? Managers? Employees? Who really knows best when it comes to how your organization should move towards a hybrid model?
What is ‘hybrid working’?
Hybrid working creates a split between time spent working in the office and working remotely. It’s based on the assumption that organizations, teams or individuals can agree when they work face-to-face in a physical space, and when they work from home or another location.
At the root of all hybrid work policies around the world is one fundamental question: How important is it that teams come together physically to collaborate and work together – and how frequently? (OK, two questions…)
There are various ways of approaching this.
Organizations can choose to prioritize 1) the individual needs and preferences of its people, 2) the needs of individual teams and their work-styles, 3) the managerial styles of their leaders, and / or 4) the direction provided by the C-suite to create or maintain the culture of the organization.
At AWA, we believe the best recipe for an effective hybrid work model requires careful consideration and measurement of all the above. So here goes:
- The individual needs and preferences of the employees.
Employees are asked where and how they prefer to work. Based on this feedback, organizations can then create and implement effective agile solutions that match individual preferences. To be successful, managers will need to keep a finger on the pulse of employees’ changing needs and this requires trust. It will put team cohesion to the test (if individual needs trump team needs) and present challenges for real estate leaders needing to optimize space (based at both maximum and minimum capacities). But! If done right, organizations will reap the rewards of turning a culture of control into a culture of freedom and trust.
- The needs of individual teams and their work-styles.
Individual teams are given the authority to determine how best they can achieve maximum efficiency and worker productivity. To be successful, organizations would need to take a series of proactive steps to ensure team cohesion, intra-collaboration and alignment remains intact (i.e. create collaborative work spaces in the office, and implement high quality, trusted infrastructure and IT platforms that enable remote working) and equip managers with the skills and tools to manage remote teams. So again, with this approach comes trust, which in turn amplifies employee engagement and creates a shared purpose to unite, deliver and succeed.
- The managerial styles of organizational leaders.
Whilst some managers may feel at ease managing remote teams, others may prefer their teams to work face-to-face. For the first group, managers would be wise to implement a series of agile solutions (providing clear direction as to when F2F interaction is required). For the second, organizations might consider activity-based “neighborhoods” for teams to work within a boundary in the office allowing flexibility in a physical environment.
Whilst this method can be successful, creating a hybrid model based solely on a few individual leadership styles can squash employee engagement and create mistrust and resentment, forcing teams to live within the boundaries based on one individual’s preference. Progressive virtual leaders that truly understand the work-flow, create a culture of freedom and trust. It is often managers that require team members to be physically present, that do not have the skills or confidence to manage remote teams.
- Direction from the C-Suite to create or maintain workplace culture.
Rather than creating a model that serves individual needs, a one-size-fits-all model can be implemented across the board. In some cases, it might be the C-suite that sets the tone and creates the policy based on the values and company culture. This can seem the fairest and easiest approach for many. However, for other organizations, it’s the employees who set the direction from the bottom up and leaders take note and evolve processes and practices accordingly. Either way, it’s essential that leaders practice what they preach and demonstrates the organization’s cultural values.
So which approach is your organization leaning towards?
In our view, the most effective organizations will pay due diligence to all four, using science as a compass. To implement an effective hybrid model that ensures positive team cohesion and successful business outcomes, organizations must:
- Listen to the needs of both employees and managers to ignite employee engagement and positive work transformation.
- Undertake a team-by-team forensic examination as to the criticality and frequency of face to face in the same place interaction
- Balance the needs of teams and individuals to ensure successful business outcomes.
- Equip Workplace leaders with the skills to support their teams in doing their best work wherever they are.
- Implement and leverage effective infrastructure and technology to support virtual and face-to-face working.
The common thread throughout is trust. Because trust is the fundamental bedrock of organizational performance in a hybrid world. Organizations will only risk destroying that trust if leaders do not re-evaluate their existing work practices and instead return to old habits.