To Hybrid Or Not!

To Hybrid Or Not!

In the absence of a defined hybrid working framework, we are witnessing experimentation with different models, which perhaps is leading to frequent changes and ambiguity.

The new normal has dramatically changed the way we work. It is fascinating to see things change so much and so rapidly in the last year and a half. Early 2020, I could possibly not have imagined carrying out key HR functions online or through remote means. And yet, here we are, going about our work like this is how it has always been!


But is this truly how the future workplace will look like even when the dust settles, and economies and countries open? This is a question I am often asked during panel discussions and interviews. The views on this subject are as vague as they are diverse.


Businesses across the globe have survived and emerged even stronger in the face of the disaster owing to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The pandemic continues to bear its fangs in 2021 in the form of variants even as more and more people get inoculated. Employees are mastering the art of remote collaboration, building client relations virtually, and managing work-life balance. HR teams are not only successfully engaging with their employees, but also onboarding new ones.


Decoding the Value


It is evident that employees who were working remotely due to COVID-19 would like to continue doing so going forward as well. In the business that we operate in viz. media and advertising, the value that personal interactions and face-to-face meetings can bring is undeniable. Due to the ongoing pandemic, organisations are not in a position to mandate employees to return to the office 100%, and therefore, ‘hybrid’ working seems to be the most logical and obvious solution. This may also be the perfect way to ease everyone’s way back into office in the long run.


Employees are naturally seeing value in the hybrid framework for the flexibility it allows them, the ability to spend quality time with family and fit in aspects like chores, fitness and routines into their day which was not possible in the past.


In the given moment, the ‘hybrid’ environment looks different in every organisation and they are defining what ‘hybrid’ means for their business. In the absence of a defined hybrid working framework, we are witnessing experimentation with different models, which perhaps is leading to frequent changes and ambiguity An online portal has recently listed a few models that are emerging in the hybrid working space:


• Remote-First: Where employees will mostly and fully work remotely with the option to come to the office if the job requires their physical presence. Several tech companies have moved to this model.


• Office-Occasional: Where employees come to the office for a few days in a week. The office spaces are used for in-person collaboration and solo work. This model sits between the other two models and is used by many industries that do not require employees to be physically in the office, but, would also want to utilise office space effectively.


• Office-First, Remote-Allowed: Where the office is designated as the main place for working with a small percentage of employees working from home. Many manufacturing units are using this model.


Any new working model, though, will come with its own set of challenges and pitfalls. Hybrid working is not a risk-free environment. There is the fear of a large-scale infection if you open offices without the appropriate protocols and safety measures. Then there are questions such as:


• How do you decide who works from office and who works from home without some feeling left out?


• How are employees coming to terms with the new environment?


An online study of 3,000 UK-based remote workers conducted in March by HowNow, an intelligent learning platform, showed that more than two-thirds (67%) felt disconnected from their colleagues, while half (49%) said this sense of disconnection was having a negative impact on how they viewed their job. A similar survey from Indeed, the job portal showed that 45% of US remote workers missed in-person meetings with their colleagues, with 46% missing those work-related side conversations that happen in the office (Source: BBC. com).


In an online interview with McKinsey Talks, Bill Schaninger, Sr. Partner at McKinsey & Co. was quoted as saying that this is a rare opportunity for leaders of organisations to rewrite the rules of working and rebuilding cultures. He stated, “This is an unbelievable opportunity to remake culture. It’s rare in a leader’s lifetime to have such a clean drop for reshaping how you run the place.”


A ‘hybrid’ work environment allows employees the flexibility to work when and from where they want and to schedule work around their lives instead of the other-way-round. Most companies now have designated office-meeting days for collaborating and remoteworking on some days to facilitate individual focus. That being said, businesses in India are yet holding on to the physical spaces (offices) in anticipation of a 100% return to office.


Freedom and Flexibility


It is important to also highlight that while most employees are enjoying the freedom and flexibility of the hybrid work culture, not all of them are happy working from home. Indian households still live in small spaces which are usually occupied by large families that pose many difficulties to seamless working.


Today, offices are considered as the new ‘off-site’, a place where you come together for collaborating and making future plans. I assume that the days when people would go to the office for the sake of going are long gone, and the time has come to understand that one can be productive even at home. Going forward, HR teams need to reimagine their performance management systems to create outcome-driven goals where employees are incentivised for achieving specific objectives.


Another key element of the future workplace will be the need for managers to let go of control. In the absence of face-to-face interactions, the biggest and most difficult change for them will be to develop trustbased relations with their teams and mastering the art of remote management. Hybrid working is putting a lot of strain on managers whose responsibility it is to manage and support employees and build a culture of collaboration. This is a first for most leaders and in the face of the current scenario, it is a skill that they need to develop.


Certainly, there is a lot to think about. There is no denying though that the ‘hybrid environment’ is here to stay and organisations will define their own version which will involve best of both the worlds – the comfort of working from the office versus the flexibility of operating from home.


Vandana C Tilwani is currently the CHRO at Havas Group India. At the group level, her support extends to all the agencies that operate in the country. With over 20 years of experience in diverse roles and industries, Vandana has successfully led the HR function and large teams in several multinational organisations like GroupM, Hilton, Conde Nast, WNS and more in driving strategic objectives.


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