Hybrid, we have a problem

Maximising business value and keeping employees happy and productive in the hybrid working age means tackling many moving parts

Though some organisations have clung on to the belief that workplace models will shift back to pre-pandemic norms for longer than others, few can now contest that the pandemic has permanently impacted how people want to work. It’s impossible to ignore the demand for hybrid working among employees. Defining exactly what model to land on, however, is more complex.

Some 83% of workers told this year’s Accenture Future of Work report that they prefer a hybrid model, but a variety of factors influence what that means in practice and their ability to thrive in this new world. The stark yet simple challenge facing companies in March 2020 – enable remote working, and fast – has perhaps led to an oversimplification of the step beyond surviving a pandemic: deciding and implementing a hybrid model that stands the test of time.

Hybrid working is not just a destination companies arrive at by allowing employees to work a few days per week from home and deploying some collaboration platforms. It’s an intricate, evolving journey organisations must go through to reimagine how nearly every part of their business operates. Those that don’t begin with a broad, holistic view will miss the chance to maximise this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“Historically, it was simply an argument of remote work versus on-site work,” says Kent McMillan, managing director of talent and organisation strategy at Accenture, the global consulting and professional services company. “Now, it’s a much wider conversation than just giving you a laptop and sending you on your way. From people strategy, physical and virtual workspace and digital processes all the way through to environmental impact and cybersecurity, this is a fundamental rethink of how business is done.

“Companies need to consider the full business case of hybrid working: raising productivity, reducing costs, attracting the best talent - potentially from anywhere - and improving employee experience. 

“While they will rightly start there, they’ll very quickly face a number of big questions to make it a success. How do we lead people effectively in this model? How do we manage our real estate footprint? What work should be done where and where the talent should be sourced from? How do we keep them connected and engaged? How do we maintain our culture with a dispersed workforce? How do we manage tax requirements and cyber threats? What about health and safety when working at home? A broad strategy needs to be considered.”

Nearly two-thirds of high-growth companies have already adopted what Accenture calls a ‘productivity anywhere’ workforce model and 77% of CIOs expect significant shifts in work design, culture and mindset. But with hybrid work creating challenges across the entire workplace spectrum, companies must lay the foundations for an agile, resilient and people-centered model that addresses three core drivers: people, process and technology.

When it comes to people, companies need to do all they can to avoid any friction created by hybrid work disparity. They must also ensure they are changing behaviours within a dispersed workforce, both physically and digitally, in a positive way. Training, learning and development still have a crucial part to play, but companies need to design a blended experience that transcends physical and virtual workforces. Crucially, businesses must be able to address their employee value proposition and how they will maintain their unique culture in the hybrid work age. If they can’t, they risk losing the battle for talent.

Next to people comes the appropriate processes to ensure levels of innovation and productivity are maintained when people meet less frequently. These processes include how people share ideas and innovate, reimagining frontline worker interfaces, reinventing ways of engaging with customers and accelerating the company’s sustainability agenda. Both people and processes, meanwhile, should be supported by the right technologies and security that not only ensure people are collaborating safely and effectively but are also productive wherever they work.

With so many moving parts, it’s crucial that different stakeholders from across the business are working together to achieve the desired workplace strategy. The pandemic improved this kind of cross-departmental alignment and collaboration through sheer necessity, but organisations should work hard to ensure it continues. Who ‘owns’ workplace strategy will depend on the specific company – what’s most important is everybody is speaking the same language when it comes to redesigning how the organisation works to support the new context.

“I suspect HR leads will still be core to driving this next story and they are certainly the ones that CEOs are generally talking to about it. They can provide the resources that people need to excel in the hybrid working age, but they can’t solve this problem alone,” says Anne MacRae, Europe modern workplace lead at Avanade, the leading provider of innovative digital and cloud services, business solutions and design-led experiences on the Microsoft ecosystem. 

“From IT to line of business and beyond, and from the C-suite down, all groups need to be aligned around one holistic effort to create and execute a model that works for everybody. If they don’t, and leaders don’t support people in this environment, it’s just never going to come together.”

In the hybrid era, Accenture and Avanade’s Workplace Experience framework, which encompasses workplace technology and security, digital operations and employee experience, has become more relevant than ever. Workplace Experience – or WX – establishes the value of a holistic workplace approach, bringing IT, HR and line-of-business leaders together.

“This is going to be one of those circumstances where if you make the first steps, you’re going to create differentiation that makes your firm more attractive than the pack,” says McMillan. “Don’t expect to get everything right, in terms of a hybrid strategy, from day one, but rather embrace data and insights to proactively test new approaches, learn, adapt and respond. 

“With agility, you can fine tune your approach over time. If you’re reactive, you’re fundamentally going to lose talent in a hurry. A collaborative and holistic approach that proactively listens and evolves your workplace will ultimately set you up for success.

For more information, please visit www.accenture.com/FutureOfWork

The generational trade-off

Anne MacRae, Europe modern workplace lead at Avanade, and Kent McMillan, managing director, organisation strategy at Accenture, outline the human disparities that organisations must address to be successful in the hybrid work age

How has the definition of hybrid working matured within organisations?

AM As we come out of the pandemic, there is no doubt now of the inevitability of hybrid working going forward. There is a tendency, however, for people to talk of workforces as groups of people affected by the same circumstances and with the same viewpoints. The reality is the pandemic has also amplified the different dimensions of hybrid working experienced by different people. It means organisations need to reframe the work relationship with all employees and find a way to make it work for everybody. Collaboration is not just about connecting people to make them more productive, it’s about looking across culture, wellbeing and the whole work design to create a workplace experience and opportunity that is accessible to every person.

Can you expand on how people have experienced work differently during the pandemic?

AM A lot of it is generational. There is a whole generation, Gen Z, that has only started working during this pandemic and they’re going to be very influential as organisations define what work looks like in the future. Gen Z workers are more likely to be single and living in shared accommodation or cramped living conditions, without the ability to create a good workspace in their home. Unlike others, this generation is much keener to get to the office and embrace workplace norms. They are not getting the same support that organisations would traditionally provide new starters and graduates in an office environment to help them feel part of the culture and to maximise their productivity as they transition into work for the first time.

How do their views differ from other groups in the workplace?

KM Generally, those more established in their careers have enjoyed spending more time out of the office. Many are even relocating to places they would prefer to live, away from city centres where accommodation is expensive, to improve their quality of life. Organisations that implement a hybrid working policy that allows them to do that will be more attractive to this - often senior - talent in a way that organisations being more prescriptive about returning to the office might struggle to.

Achieving parity between office workers and home workers will depend on digitalising processes to optimise how we all work

But, equally, they need to ensure they are attracting the best young talent into their business too. Clearly a trade-off is required because the benefits of having young talent in the office – learning from and mirroring the work of their seniors, and building a network – are negated if your experienced leadership and teams are working from home. Meanwhile, there are some groups, such as healthcare workers, that just can’t work from home. Creating the best workplace experience and avoiding disparity will not just be about how to serve different groups but how to bring them all together.

How do we maintain collaboration within some employees in the office and others at home or remote?

AM All organisations will require dimensions of their hybrid work policy that are thoughtful to generational nuances. They need to approach it in a flexible, agile and experimental way, and we will support them in that journey. Innovation is one aspect. From an employee experience platform and collaboration platform perspective, we work with clients to help them think about what more those platforms need to provide. We also need to reframe how we network in a hybrid world, so people working from home get exposure to the people who are in the office, and how we learn in this environment, making it much more digitally accessible and continuous.

What will separate the winners from the losers in this new landscape?

KM Three things: talent, wellbeing and addressing the ‘hybrid divide’. The organisations that will be successful in the future will see the full business case and provide the right personal and organisational resources for their people to be productive anywhere. They will see the potential within hybrid working for increased diversity; it opens up the job market to groups that have previously felt excluded and there’s a whole talent pool waiting there to be tapped.

And they will recognise that measures of productivity must be expanded to wellness too. If managers are to support their teams, they need insights into more than just professional performance. Are people building focus time for themselves? Finally, achieving parity between office workers and home workers will depend on digitalising processes to optimise how we all work. It’s important to rethink where you want to take your organisation.

For more information, please visit www.avanade.com/wx


Promoted by Accenture and Avanade