Thoughts and tips for successfully designing hybrid work models
Purely present, hybrid, or strictly remote? The new world of work has many faces. In recent months, many companies have asked themselves how they will organize work in the future and how they will adapt it to the changes of our time. The home office in Constance – study According to two-thirds of all respondents want hybrid working, while 21 percent only want to work from home, and 12 percent only want to work in the office. The number of those who wish to work hybrid or purely remotely rose sharply compared to similar surveys during the first wave of the pandemic. Many companies respect these wishes and allow 2-3 days of work from home per week or leave it to employees, ultimately themselves. Cloud technologies are the basis for this freedom. It’s good that the Cloud Monitor 2021 from KPMG, in cooperation with the industry association BitKom found that “only three percent of companies are not yet dealing with cloud computing even in the corona pandemic, but most companies have long been pursuing a cloud-first strategy.
To avoid lines of conflict when it comes to who can work mobile and when guidelines within a company stipulate flexible working for all employees are elementary. The Brussels think tank Bruegel writes in a recently published policy paper that remote workers in many work environments before the pandemic were at high risk of falling out of organizational workflows or being displaced. To prevent this, companies have to pay attention to four areas:
- Bricks: The office as a physical space has to be rethought.
- Bytes: Teams must have the right tools at hand to be able to work well together virtually.
- Behavior: The corporate culture must be based on trust and be inclusive.
- Blueprint: Company-wide guidelines regulate the “how” of different teams working together.
The 4B formula of the new way of working: Bricks, Bytes, Behavior, Blueprint
Bricks: Think Of The Office As A Social Space
As long as knowledge work was based on physical media such as paper, it made sense to create central locations for work in the form of (open plan) offices, which, however, often resembled “intellectual batteries” . The internet-fueled by the pandemic – has successfully displaced the office as a place of industrial knowledge work and instead has given it the meaning of social space. Because various studies and surveys show that you can work at least as concentrated in the home office as in an office in a company building. Suppose you think of the office as a social space. In that case, you can do without desks in the (shared) workspaces of the New Normal and instead offer employees cafes, seating, and of course, conference rooms and whiteboards with options for hybrid video conferences or their video conference rooms for fully distributed teams. If some of you have already questioned the usefulness of permanently rented open-plan offices, now might be the right time to rely on coworking spaces, the furnishings of which can be flexibly adapted.
Bytes: The Right Tools – And How To Use Them
No question about it: We have all come to appreciate the advantages of video conferencing over the past few months. But did we use these tools correctly? Many companies replaced synchronous, face-to-face communications, such as meetings, with synchronous digital communications during the lockdown – with the result that most of the day was filled with video conferencing.
A simple way to reduce the number of – virtual and real – meetings are our “three-D” test: A meeting makes sense when it comes to “decisions” (decisions), “debates” (strategic questions), and “discussions” (such as brainstorming, feedback discussions, etc.). All other meetings, such as status updates, could take place asynchronously.
To avoid getting stuck in non-dynamic meetings or feedback loops, we have recently released the new “Capture” tool, an all-in-one tool for visual communication via screen recording. Lengthy e-mails and documents are replaced by short video messages that enable faster, more positive contact with the team. The personal statements provide context and a stronger bond.
Behavior: Make The Corporate Culture Digitally Tangible
In the study cited above, the think tank Bruegel describes a company’s culture as an iceberg: some elements are visible, but many are invisible. They only become apparent through observation and cooperation with colleagues. In a digital environment, these implicit rules and norms are even more challenging to identify. Flexible work, therefore, requires a different understanding of management that is based on trust and autonomy and explicitly includes employees working from home. Studies show that employees in the home office are promoted less often than their colleagues in the office.
Blueprint: Flexible Work According To Clear Guidelines
The most decisive rule probably concerns the expectations of availability and reaction time of employees in remote phases. Because the advantages of flexible work can only be fully exploited if companies proactively create time for “deep work” , that is, undisturbed, concentrated work. One idea for realizing deep concentration times is separating daily working hours into phases for focused individual work and other steps for focused team collaboration.
We succeeded in doing this by introducing so-called “core collaboration hours”: four hours a day that should be used for synchronous work such as regular meetings, video conferences, and check-ins so that the rest of the day is as accessible as possible from conferences and video conferences. Other companies have introduced meeting-free days or “virtual office hours” where employees can book time for discussions with executives – hybrid equivalents to an “open-door policy.” In essence, it is about consciously creating a (time) space for exchange and encounter!
In addition, it was essential to us to grant our employees time autonomy, i.e., the most significant possible determination of the division of their working day outside of the core collaboration hours. Here is a clear piece of advice: create conscious times for inaccessibility! Because exactly where work and private life merge entirely, there is a risk of exhaustion and burnout. In France, for example, there has been a “right to be unavailable” for employees since 2017; In Germany, some companies have introduced similar rules through company agreements. An excellent example is “unplugged PTO.” On working days for which an official vacation request has been approved, all notifications are automatically switched off for the entire time of absence. My recommendation is that “working from home” does not become “living at work,” employers and staff should agree on the inability to be reached!
Presence, Hybrid Or Virtual: A First Conclusion
Despite the changes that the working world has made due to the experience with the pandemic, it still seems too early to be able to make well-founded predictions about which forms of work will prevail. We will even continue to adapt our chosen “Virtual First” approach to the dynamic developments in the coming weeks and months. A few rules can, however, be noted:
Hybrid work, in which some of the employees work in the office and some in the home office or a coworking space, harbors the risk of unintentional disadvantage for employees who are not constantly present. Companies must prevent systematic biases to the detriment of home office employees (especially when it comes to promotions) and ideally design their processes in such a way that they can be done from anywhere (“remote first”).