by Carol White

The work from home genie is out of the bottle thanks to COVID and lockdowns. Organisations, irrespective of their previous stance on remote working, have been forced to “make it work” and largely it has, at least for knowledge workers. 

A recent study by McKinsey¹ found nine out of ten executives envision a hybrid working model, yet 68% have no detailed plan. If you aren’t already, now is the time to turn your leadership attention to the future of work. How you embrace the magic of hybrid working and make it right for your business.

It’s not a one size fits all approach. Ask yourself, what is the right mix of office based and remote working for your organisation? Are your workers predominantly knowledge workers or do you have a mix of site based and knowledge workers? Is remote working new to your organisation or has it been in practice for some time? Who should make the decision of who works remotely and when? How many days should employees come into the “office”? 

Some organisations like Apple, are mandating three days a week in the office to facilitate in person collaboration. At the other end of the spectrum Atlassian is fully embracing work from home stipulating a requirement to visit the office only four times per year. Whilst others are providing guidance and letting teams design what works best for their workgroup and those they interact with frequently. When considering days in the office versus remote working, know that employers typically desire more days in the office than employees. 

Whatever approach you adopt, start with your why – your organisation’s purpose. Peter Hawkins² advocates taking an outside-in, future-back approach allowing you to consider the long term, whilst taking steps now. After all, the emerging future is hard to predict. 

Then consider three often competing but critical perspectives – Employees, Productivity and Culture. 

Employees – There’s a war on talent and employees are seeking more flexibility. A recent study by PWC³ found that 74% of Australian workers consider their ideal work environment to be a mix of face to face and remote working.

Productivity – Research is mixed on the productivity benefits of hybrid working. A recent U.S. study by Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom⁴ suggests potential productivity improvements of 2.7 percent. 

Culture – is traditionally built face to face, so you must rethink culture in a hybrid world. If culture and values are to be embedded and resilient in a hybrid workforce you will have to ensure their place and priority: examine your onboarding, training, development, recruitment and planning practices carefully.

Watch out for the pitfalls of a hybrid model and know how you are going to respond. Not all roles flex and you may need to compensate those in roles with no choice. Not all flex is equal, and you must ensure your decisions do not exacerbate the diversity crisis – consider that women with young children and employees with a disability are more likely to want to work from home, and remote workers are more likely to be overlooked for new opportunities. 

Make sure you have the foundations in place. Learn from organisations that have been virtual since inception or have embraced remote working for some time. Fundamentals like secure IT and digitisation of key processes, performance management based on outputs not activity, an operating rhythm that caters for both deep thinking and collaboration, and leadership capability with a focus on wellbeing, have proven critical.

So, are you ready to embrace the magic of hybrid working? Are you trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle or are you and your organisation embracing the magic of hybrid working? 

Here at Leading Well we have been remote since inception, and we know it isn’t simple. If you would like to learn more about this or are in need of some help please get in touch directly or with our team to have a chat.

Carol White, Leading Well

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References 

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/what-executives-are-saying-about-the-future-of-hybrid-work McKinsey “What executives are saying about the future of hybrid work” by Andrea Alexander, Rich Cracknell, Aaron De Smet, Meredith Langstaff, Mihir Mysore, and Dan Ravid. May 2021.  

2 https://www.koganpage.com/article/forward-to-work Kogan Page “Forward to Work: How Hybrid Working Can Create Maximum Value for All Stakeholders” by Peter Hawkins. June 2021 

3 https://www.pwc.com.au/futureofwork PWC Future of Work “Changing Paces: How hybrid working is rewriting the rule book” by Jeremy Thorpe, Christina Gurgick, Toy Massaro and Evodia Alaterou. March 2021 

4 https://nbloom.people.stanford.edu/sites/g/files/sbiybj4746/f/wfh_will_stick_v5.pdf “Why Working From Home Will Stick” by Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis. January 2021