Hybrid working offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve employee experience, attract and retain talent, and strengthen overall business performance. Discussing the benefits of this ‘new normal’ is fast becoming old news. We know it works.
The new challenge is making sure hybrid works well, for all. If you get hybrid working wrong, a business faces threats to sustainable growth, the risk of workforce inequality, weakening cultures, and disengagement.
The link between HR and IT
Companies that thrive in a hybrid world will need to adopt a holistic, joined-up approach to employee experience, engagement, culture, productivity, and performance, involving total synergy between HR and IT functions.
With less need for office space, many companies are understandably taking advantage by reducing their office footprint and saving money
In an office setting, the working environment is homogenised. While remote employees are generally provided with a standard laptop, that’s usually where the provision of being given the tools to do their job ends.
Employee experience of hybrid working will underpin the most important drivers of business success and this is where the role of HR and IT become intrinsically linked, with an opportunity for CHROs and people leaders to act as a lynchpin within the organisation.
We conducted extensive research of CEOs, CIOs and CHROs from across Europe and found that 70 per cent plan to shift to a hybrid workplace model. Here are some key takeaways that might help you in the pursuit of hybrid harmony:
With less need for office space, many companies are understandably taking advantage by reducing their office footprint and saving money. Only 18 per cent of respondents said that they expect to make a full return to the office.
Understand employees have individual needs
When asked about the biggest challenges in migrating to new ways of working, respondents cited the impact on commercial property as their biggest concern (31 per cent). However, this was closely followed by understanding employee requirements (29 per cent). The two are closely interlinked.
Those in rural areas and localities with poor internet connectivity are naturally at a disadvantage
Many companies have jumped to the conclusion that, in a hybrid world, the office should now primarily be a place for collaboration. But this ignores the wider needs of many employees, some of whom do not have comfortable set-ups at home to work and welcome a return to the office to enable them to work more productively.
Mind the digital inequality gap
There’s a very real danger of a new equality gap arising from this now-not-so-new way of working. And this will become problematic for staff, HR or people teams and overall business performance. You see, hybrid only works if the tech does. And for many employees, the latter doesn’t. Many will be working with digital limitations which have nothing to do with job performance or personal ability.
Those in rural areas and localities with poor internet connectivity are naturally at a disadvantage. The same applies to those who can’t afford faster broadband provision or Wi-Fi booster technology. Even employees on higher incomes may struggle at home with several family members online simultaneously.
It will become increasingly important for HR and IT to work together to identify where those disadvantages lie and implement the small changes that can make significant differences to productivity, employee wellbeing, and the bottom line.
Beware the true cost
According to our data, on average, the bottom 10 per cent of a company experiencing the worst digital inequality, will spend six hours a month trying to catch-up – the best part of a working day!
It can mean increased frustration and reduced wellbeing caused by lagging load times, connectivity delays, and interrupted conversations. This might lead to falling behind or having to catch up during employees’ personal time. Deadlines and targets may not be hit, impacting performance and potentially the future of individual careers.
Daily frustrations build. Employees can become angry, disconnected, and unmotivated. And that’s never good news for a business.
Worryingly, our research found only 19 per cent of business leaders believe they have a ‘very effective’ understanding of the link between digital tools and employee wellbeing. In fact, 24 per cent said they were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ effective in this area.
Positive micro-moments might include returning to the office and having a seamless connection to technology, as well as a welcome pack from management
Businesses often stop short of settling the matter because firstly, they don’t know how to identify who is struggling, and secondly, they don’t know where the root cause sits within their broad infrastructure of digital tools. It’s understandable then that over two thirds (67 per cent) of the business leaders we spoke to are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of digital inequality on employees.
The ability to accurately measure a hybrid worker’s digital environment is critical. Most businesses have IT-level monitoring in place to analyse the technical performance of their technology. Far fewer understand the critical need to quantify the human experience of using it and the organisational-level impact that it can have.
Focus on micro-moments
In the world of customer experience, the term ‘micro-moments’ refers to small experiences customers have that play a disproportionately large role in shaping their perceptions of a brand. It’s been argued the same principle applies to employee experience, particularly as companies experiment with new hybrid working models.
Positive micro-moments might include returning to the office and having a seamless connection to technology, as well as a welcome pack from management. Negative ones might include coming to the office to find no one there or conversely arriving to find it full without space to work.
Teams need to identify these micro-moments both physical and virtual and redesign work around them, otherwise, the impact on engagement and ultimately retention and performance will be significant.
Creating a sense of purpose
Since the pandemic first struck early in 2020, companies have been vocal about expressing their broader purpose. After all, business leaders have been more accessible than ever and communicating purpose has been key to interactions with employees. This will continue to be important in helping to give meaning to work when people feel isolated and cut off from traditional work structures.
Asked about the main benefits of shifting to a hybrid model, business leaders in our survey pointed to a stronger link between employees and corporate purpose as offering the greatest potential (38 per cent agreed).
Getting new ways of working right will not happen overnight. It’s up to HR and IT to work together in synergy
Despite the challenges businesses now face in the hybrid era, better alignment between customer experience and employee experience was seen as another key benefit (36 per cent agreed).
To date, the focus of most companies’ digital transformation initiatives has been the customer. However, as digital working becomes more embedded, companies are, it seems, trying to draw on lessons from the customer experience that they can apply to employee experience.
To achieve this though, it involves thinking very carefully about employee journeys and building emotional connections with them from the moment they first engage with the organisation to the moment they leave.
This will be dependent on a greater understanding of employee requirements, both digitally and personally. 29 per cent of the business leaders we surveyed claim this to be one of the top challenges management now faces.
Getting new ways of working right will not happen overnight. It’s up to HR and IT to work together in synergy and provide the direction and means to ignite future business performance.
Interested in this topic? Read Three tips from an HR leader on the transition to hybrid working.