5 Steps For Navigating The Hybrid Workplace Maze

5 Steps For Navigating The Hybrid Workplace Maze

Robust hybrid governance requires serious thinking, consideration, and time.


Hybrid is the most talked about puzzle in the workplace nowadays, and there is no clear answer or formula for solving it. A hybrid model needs to work for both employer and employee without compromising business requirements. In recent times, some organisations have gone too fast, while others are taking time to figure out the optimal approach that will suit different industries for different kinds of talents, given their roles and contributions to organisations. In the quest to find a newfound meaning of the term, I spoke with more than a hundred professionals over the last 18 months and discovered its various aspects. Robust hybrid governance requires serious thinking, consideration, and time.


The Questions We All Have


Let me start by sharing an exciting incident. I was amazed to see a crocodile bank in Chennai in 2004 and wondered how they adapted to live in water and land so interchangeably and efficiently. It took them years to adjust and get better at this, and it was a natural process. In our current context, we are experiencing the same challenges. The old model of working in an office is getting replaced by work-from-home or work-from-anywhere.


While we adapt to the new working model, a few questions arise. First, how much hybrid to go for? How much time will it take to make this adjustment naturally? What would be the options for making these adjustments? Who will be directly or indirectly impacted by this paradigm shift?


The following are five steps to building a successful hybrid workplace:


1. Embrace hybrid as a mindset that is unique and contextual


We have all heard “business first, team second, and individuals last.” This implies that our business needs to run and thrive first, only then will all other things be sustainably affordable. With the lessons of COVID, it makes little sense to entirely revert to old ways of working or to go to hybrid in the extreme, doing away with human contact and the critical interactions and engagement needed with consumers, customers, clients, and employees. Therefore, one has to find the right balance for one’s industry and employees. We should embrace hybrid only when it helps both the business and people.


2. Get into the co-creator mode for a win-win situation


We are seeing a variety of feedback and online surveys showing that most employees prefer WFH/Flexi work while employers, to a great extent, expect employees to return to the workplace. This is a great tug-of-war going on. There must be a dialogue between the two groups, discussing matters to arrive at the right approach. If solutions are not co-created, it will have implications on inclusion, empowerment, and engagement of the workforce.


Managing a hybrid work model is more complicated than entirely on-site or fully remote work. McKinsey has beautifully brought forth these insights in its recent report, “It’s time for leaders to get real about hybrid.” This report explains that human relationships have evolved at an unprecedented pace since the 1800s industrial revolution. At one end, it drove humans from home to the workplace and now, post-pandemic, it is moving employees out of the office to work from home to a great extent. What an exciting shift! At this crossroads, employees are figuring out what they want. They are evaluating their relationship with work while employers are trying to figure out the bottom line on how to organise jobs to deliver the best result.


It is critical to understand that employees are looking for empowerment to do their best work productively and efficiently. The onus is now on the company to experiment, learn, and arrive at the right approach by taking employees into their confidence.


3. Focus on performance over perceptions/apprehensions


Earlier, employees used to hesitate to ask for leaving the office a bit early. Managers tended to start judging the commitment and ownership from the employee, leading to mistrust and suspicion. Now, the question to ask is: if the work expectations are thoroughly discussed, aligned and delivered on time, how does it matter if the employee exercises some reasonable flexibility of work at their end?


At one end, managers need to be non-judgemental and focus on the outcome, and on the other hand, there are roles/jobs that need to be done on-site. The hybrid workplace will require a higher degree of trust, empathy, and collaboration to be successful.


 4. Welcome the phygital


Most industries managed to carry on their work during the pandemic by leveraging technology and the power of the internet of things. Thanks to technology and collaboration tools, we are already beginning to see changes in the workplace in terms of workspace and travel, as well as the need for face-to-face meetings and engagement with employees, customers, and consumers. Organisations are revisiting their workplace layout and workstation allocation mechanism and enhancing the digital footprints of work processes, including automating the business value chain to make it efficient. The future workplace technologies are likely to augment and support multi-location face-to-face and remote meetings, making them more convenient and bringing in greater usage of AR and VR in our day-to-day work and interactions. It will be critical to ensure that we maintain the boundary between work and life sensitively, so they do not infringe on each other. Organisations need to support employees with appropriate tools to enable hybrid work at the office and home.


5. Let your leaders be the catalysts


Everything cannot be written in the rule book or HR policy. Managerial decision-making will be guided by what makes business sense, as well as empathy and care for employee well-being. Hybrid pro managers need to bring in an innovative approach to remain engaged with the workforce and inspire them to give their best, regardless of the place of work. They must also find ways and means to appreciate those required at the site to drive business, which is an act of balancing equality and equity. The new approach is likely to attract and retain great talent with different needs and aspirations during various career stages.


The Future Going Forward


Hybrid is here to stay and evolve in all spheres of life, from fully appreciating those required to work on-site to valuing those who work from home and those engaged in study, sports, coaching, travel, shopping, etc. Like everything, hybrid working will call for vigilance to avoid going too far or not far enough, with implications around workplace dynamics, inclusive culture and practices.


As we experiment, learn and adjust, we will get better and hopefully find the best approach in years to come. It is time to embrace hybrid carefully and purposefully. Hybrid is not a fixed working model; it needs to be fluid.


In conclusion, the world has changed around us post-pandemic, whether we like it or not. It is up to us to see it as an opportunity or as a challenge. As the famous saying goes, the wind of change has started to blow. It is up to us to either build a wall to resist it or make a windmill to work with it.


Reference: people-and-organizational-performance/ our-insights/its-time-for-leaders-to-get-real-about-hybrid

Sanjoy Shaw has 22 years of robust HR experience. He has extensively worked in the automobile, cement, glass, FMCG, and chemical industries across India and has also been part of special HR projects in markets like Thailand, Dubai, the USA, and Malaysia. Currently, he is heading HR for Givaudan South Asia’s fragrance, flavours, and Naturex businesses.


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