How to Get Hybrid Work Right

June 14, 2022 5 Minute Read

Get hybrid work right

Lisa Fulford Roy has been presenting at conferences and checking in with Canada’s business leaders to start 2022 and one thing is clear:  Executives are struggling to figure out what hybrid work means to them and how to operationalize it.

“The reality is, we are still in a very experimental test and learn phase of our return to the workplace with true employee sentiment only beginning to surface. While this is an exciting time for disruptive innovation for some, many are approaching hybrid work with caution,” according to Fulford Roy.

Fulford-Roy sat down with Advantage Insights to offer thoughts on where things are at with the return to office and the multitude of challenges that remain to be solved when it comes to hybrid work.

While this is an exciting time for disruptive innovation for some, many are approaching hybrid work with caution. - Lisa Fulford Roy

How would you assess the feeling out there right now on returning to the office?

Based on CBRE’s 2022 Sentiment Survey, the return to the office has been slow and most employers are faced with adapting new ways of working to demonstrate the importance of the office to employees. In the first quarter of 2022 only 36% were underway with their hybrid or flex work planning. This is expected to rise to 77% by the end of the second quarter. This leaves 13% relegating the decision to employee discretion and another 10% remaining uncertain. 

Workers and their bosses seem to be at odds on what returning to the office looks like

We are at a crossroads with the great executive-employee disconnect. After two plus years being remote, employees have been productive and responsible working from home. They are looking to maintain autonomy and flexibility while figuring out how to restructure their routines to include partial-in office demands. For them, flexibility ranks second only to compensation.

So the real question is, how do leaders strike the right balance for hybrid work?  What we do know from pre-pandemic data, is that companies and leaders that consider employee needs and clearly communicate why the office is important to their organization are more likely to be successful effecting an engaged and sustained return to office. 

Do organizations need to redefine key performance indicators and reassess how they measure productivity in the new hybrid model?

Our surveys show that employees score higher in satisfaction, engagement and productivity within hybrid or fully remote models. Which is why simply stipulating productivity as a mechanism or measure to return to the workplace is just not that compelling to many employees. So what will compel them to want to come back into the office? And what’s really at stake for the business if employees remain remote?

Many employers and employees agree that virtual technology and working from home just does not supplant moments of serendipity, learning and mentoring, idea exchange, dynamic collaboration and cultural engagement.

Being with colleagues in person is the number one reason employees want to come in.  However, how often they want to come to the office ranges widely.

It also matters what the specific worker profile is, doesn’t it?

Exactly. Are there specific roles that are more suited to fully remote or mostly remote? And could there be a strategic advantage to several models of hybrid within one organization? Perhaps there is a mostly remote model for specific roles such as IT, data crunchers, processers and analysts, or a fully remote strategy in a new geography to access talent.

In seeking to strike the right balance long-term, organizations need to recognize that employee sentiment will continue to fluctuate based on a variety of factors such as demographics, lifestages, living conditions, commute and lifestyle not to mention stage of career.

How important is culture and in-person engagement for employees?

This continues to be the No. 1 driver for why employees want to come into the office. We also know that organizations focused on creating meaningful employee experiences by taking a 360 degree view in aligning their workplace solution to meet space, relational, and culture needs were highly successful in employee engagement and satisfaction.

What role do office amenities play?

The office as it was designed pre-pandemic often fell short on experience. Fundamentally, the experience now has to be better than being at home. How the workplace aligns with what employees and teams value when in person is shaping the new role of the office.
Some of these shifts include meaningful and plentiful amenities to promote health and wellness and community such as break spaces, work cafes, tech bars, project rooms, terraces as well as spaces that help elevate culture and engagement, such as game zones. Many of these amenities can double up as informal work points to create choice and comfort throughout the day.

But the most important amenity to employees is other employees.

What would you recommend to companies still waiting to see how things shake out?

While there is noise, flux and even unease in defining the future of work and the role of the workplace, sitting idle may be the riskiest of all scenarios. If we listen to our consumers of space and meet them where they are within clearly communicated business parameters, we have a unique opportunity to re-frame, innovate and make work a series of moments that matter and that employees look forward to.

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