Chapter 1
25 MIN READ

Why is Hybrid Work the Future?

The covid19-Pandemic has accelerated a development toward "new work" that already existed before the pandemic. The discussion about the "Future of Work" is in full swing, as the BDA's recent "Future of Work" conference also showed. While the pandemic is slowly entering a new, more manageable phase, facts are being created. Banks and large groups are downsizing office space on a massive scale, and surveys and studies among employees and employers paint a uniform scenario in which employees spend around 50% of their working hours in home offices.

Some numbers

The last months have been rich in terms of studies on remote and hybrid work. A couple of highlights:

Accenture found that 83% of employees want a hybrid work model.  
9 out of 10 companies will combine remote work with in-office presence, according to a survey of CEO's conducted by McKinsey.  
According to Kate Lister of Global Workplace Analytics, "...a typical employer can save about $11,000/year for each person who works "remotely" half the time.  
BUT just under 70% of companies surveyed by McKinsey have, at best, a rough vision of how hybrid working will be implemented in their organization.  
There are plenty more impressive numbers (see also the links to the studies the box), but the few ones above should be sufficient to make the general point: hybrid work is here to stay!

A win-win-win: People, Planet, Profit

Almost daily, more voices join in the "There is no going back" chorus, which has meanwhile become a veritable thundering echo.   Why is that so? The reason for this is simple. Hybrid work isn't only win-win, it's triple win: - People: the benefit in terms of flexibility is huge and employees have started to appreciate not only the opportunities to reconcile career and family but also less commuting, less stressful travelling etc.- Planet: With ESG reporting driven by the popularity of the UN's SDG's environmental and social impact moves into focus: the move to hybrid work can result in significant carbon footprint reductions as well as progress in the field of social participation, inclusion and diversity- Profit: Estimations about savings potential from moving to hybrid are huge: Less office space, less business travel for (at least internal) meetings as well as less commuting-related cost (e.g. vehicle fleet). Against the background of these perspectives it becomes clear that for once controlling, workers council and ESG representatives are very much in line. On top of this, HR is behind hybrid work as well: Flexibility of workplace has become an important criterion when considering whether or not to stay with the current employer. Hybrid work has become a prerequisite in overall employer attractiveness considerations. To summarize and put it crystal-clear: a return to full in-person work turns out to be a fantasy that puts competitiveness and employer attractiveness of a company at stake.

Experiences from the last 18 months

An overwhelming majority of statements regarding experiences with remote work forced by the Covid-19 pandemic drew the same conclusion, which - very much shortened - is: It works! To be distinguished between: "I was opposed to / not a fan of remote work and I'm surprised how well it worked." and "We've been practicing remote before, so no surprises". However, research conducted in parallel showed that much of the Heureka-like success of remote work was achieved on the back of the employees. "Zoom call at 10 pm? I'm home anyway, so what?" This is in particular true for companies that didn't have experience with remote work before. Employees literally went the extra mile to keep performance up during the difficult moments the pandemic has brought to all of us. With employees partially coming back to office, experiences change as the following quote from Michael Peachey, vice president of global user experience, design, and research at the communication software company RingCentral points out nicely: “In March of last year, we had this level playing field, where everybody is remote and on Zoom. It was fair, because everybody got sent home. Now that we’re coming back in this hybrid space, Zoom isn’t enough and we’ve got to think about how we use these tools.” The quote points to specific challenges that arise with the hybrid work scenario - the scenario that according to the vast majority of respondents is the most probable scenario for the future of work. Therefore it's important to know and understand the specific challenges, address them, and develop solutions that are tailored to your company's needs. Below, we briefly describe these challenges. All of them will discussed in more detail in the coming chapters.

Specific challenges

Office organization

One of the most crucial questions is how to organize work. Some companies have adopted a model of "office days" and "remote days", others have adopted a completely flexible approach, others again opt for asynchronous collaboration the meet the hybrid work challenge. There are many upsides and downsides which we'll discuss in the hybrid work models section of this eBook.

Managing hybrid teams

In a hybrid work scenario, managers must rethink their approach to leading teams. Physical location can no longer serve as an anchor for a team's culture and "home base" - managers need to rethink their approach to leading teams and find effective ways to create practices that ensure office-based employees are aligned with those who work from home, and also build fairness and flexibility into your workflow.  

Dissolution of work-leisure boundaries

The great success of telecommuting during the pandemic did not come at zero cost. Many studies show that the constant accessibility of home office workers led to burnout and fatigue. There is a consensus that the future of work cannot be successfully built on work practices that promote burnout. In particular, the "unhealthy" fusion of work and leisure known as "always on" is not sustainable. Therefore solutions that effectively address the dissolution of boundaries between work and leisure must be found

Social collaboration

There is still no satisfactory solution for "social collaboration" and thus for the social inclusion of employees who frequently work from home . Many companies have tried to mimic office interactions in the digital space and played with virtual afterwork drinks, water-cooler conversations and more. The problem about those is simple: socializing is a spontaneous, not a planned activity. A "scheduled" or forced water cooler conversation isn't a true watercooler conversation.  

Identity and team spirit

The physical location, in which companies have invested heavily in the form of "corporate campus" concepts, can no longer serve as the sole anchor for an organization's culture and identity, either for employees or for external visitors or cooperation partners. Being invited in a Zoom call feels like being invited to a business meeting at a hotel or a serviced office space: anonymous and empty. You're leaving your companies identity at the coat check. Most current solutions offer no way to charge the "virtual office" with the same identity-creating power as a physical office.  

Hybrid meetings

One of the most challenging situations are hybrid meetings with some participants sitting together in a meeting room whilst other come in remotely. According to a 2020 Cisco survey of executives and employee experience experts, 98% of all meetings going forward are expected to include at least one remote participant. Sidetalks in the meeting room are toxic, remote participants get the feeling of being marginalized. Since the meeting, in all its different manifestations, will continue to be an effective means of collaboration, the hybrid meeting challenge needs to be addressed urgently.

Tools

One of the very frequent feedbacks especially from the non-digital-native employee perspective was the number of tools introduced. We're using Tool A for asynchronous collaboration, tool B for chats, tool C for synchronous meetings and tool D for content collaboration, whereas tasks are managed with yet another tool. Especially during the pandemic, teams were given a lot of freedom to try out and test tools with the result of an uncontrolled proliferation of tools. In a Cornell University Study 57% of respondents agree to the statement: "I'm not certain all departments use the same online tools/apps and communication platforms."  43% of people report spending too much time switching between different applications, and losing up to an hour a day in the process. Context switching drains cognitive function. The problem about all of this is, that technology is more important than ever in a hybrid work scenario.

Without hybrid, there is no work-from-anywhere

It's a no-brainer: The "Anywhere" in WFA includes (as opposed to WFH) the office. A true WFA strategy therefor must be "inclusive" for employees preferring to work partially or fully in the office. A part of the workforce in the office by definition leads to a hybrid work scenario.  

If we can successfully make the transition to an anywhere, anytime model, the result will be work  that is more purposeful and productive and in which work isn’t any longer about where you go but it's about what you do. In this series of posts we'll cover what we have found to be the most important areas to be mastered when transforming to hybrid. We will publish the chapters online over time and eventually merge them to an eBook.

Structure of following chapters

The coming chapters will go into more detail in areas that are crucial for making hybrid work function:  

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