Balance in the new reality - how does one manage the challenge of the hybrid work model?

Balance in the new reality - how does one manage the challenge of the hybrid work model?

Despite the fact that work-from-home or elsewhere is not a new practice, until a few years ago so-called working holidays or working from a foreign country and virtual meetings were not a mass phenomenon. If not for the COVID-19 pandemic concepts such as the Hybrid Work Model, which is already being utilised or adopted by increasing numbers of organisations, would probably not have taken root so quickly.

Historical changes such as the Industrial Revolution, digitalisation and new technologies have changed the world and the way within it that we operate. In the same way the pandemic altered our work habits and helped to develop skills within many of us. We had to better learn to use communication technology, combine leisure and working time, manage company processes to make decisions and make effective connections now that many are working remotely.

It was extremely difficult for businesses to properly prepare for the challenges posed by the pandemic because initially it was necessary to simultaneously focus on ensuring health and safety, develop new company work policies, and establish work & operational processes. In the search for ways to best adapt to the new realities brought about by the pandemic, a hybrid model of structuring work has emerged that has been welcomed by employees.

A McKinsey survey conducted in 2021, which surveyed 5,000 respondents, found that 52 percent of respondents would like to work two or more days a week using the hybrid work model. This study is a good illustration of the need for organisations to recognise and adapt to employee expectations in order to retain and attract employees.

Few could dispute that the hybrid working plan model has a number of advantages for both employees and employers. Cost saving on the way to and from work, more flexible working conditions, the possibility to combine work and personal interests, a faster recruitment process and greater opportunities to attract talent living and working in other countries are just a few of the reasons why companies are willing to adopt a hybrid work model. However, businesses are not always able to consider and accurately assess the challenges and risks of this new structural model of work.

The hybrid work organisation model is one big experiment

One of the biggest challenges is to try to make the hybrid work model ideal. The hybrid model is far more complex than our usual work model as it requires greater employee safety, appropriate arrangements with the employee, different interaction between teams, the introduction of electronic document management systems and so on.

Just as the world once experimented and applied the concept of ​​open plan offices, so now businesses around the world are experimenting with hybrid work models. So far, no one has established what a universal ideal model would be for everyone.

Companies create and experiment with both the model itself as well as adjustments to the pay or performance appraisal processes. For this reason, it is important for everyone working within the framework to understand that the process of implementing a new work model will require time, learning from mistakes, experimenting and seeking out that which would suit each organisation specifically. Therefore, it is very important to clearly communicate to all member parties that the system will not be ideal immediately. Both the way work is structured as well as the business itself will have to continually adapt until the optimum hybrid work model for the entity is achieved.

The distance between employees and employers

A McKinsey survey of top-level executives in May 2021 showed that while executives see many benefits of a hybrid work model, and are happy regarding its effectiveness, they also have no doubt that such a work model undermines the working culture as well as the fostering of the relationship between the employee and the employer. These and many other studies reveal that changes in the work structural model should also change the arrangement of routine HR practices. The challenge of performance management systems is particularly acute as it may be more difficult to monitor the progress, growth and efficiency of employees working in a hybrid work model compared to the conventional office model.

The challenge remains for businesses that want to provide a level playing field allowing for employees to get involved, to attend meetings and to ensure that all relevant information reaches everyone, no matter where they work. The challenge is also to ensure equal benefits for employees. All employees, whether they work from the office or from home, need to feel like full members of the team, and managers need to be able to work with, support, and trust everyone, no matter where they work.

All this means that it is not sufficient for companies to simply introduce new communication technologies or equip conference rooms suitable for hybrid meetings. The most important challenge is to change the working culture of the operation itself in order to ensure the treatment of all employees as full members of the team, giving them equal working conditions and opportunity for involvement.

The importance of introducing new employees to the team

It is probably important to start with the fact that the introduction of a new employee is not just a meeting to introduce the organisation and its activities. The proper introduction of a new employee is a very important aspect as it is vital in order to ensure the successful integration of employees into the establishment. Glassdoor research confirms that only those organisations that have a comprehensive and strong recruitment process can attain up to an 82% employee retention rate. Issues become apparent when previously implemented programmes had to be adapted, initially from the remote only model, now to encompass the hybrid model as well.

One of the challenges that organisations have faced, and still face, is ignorance in how to sustain the same feel-good initial experience of a newcomer to the company when they work part-time from home and part-time from the office. The question is, how does a business carry out its employee on-boarding process in this hybrid work environment whilst still ensuring their productivity and effectiveness?

Different businesses use different approaches to address these challenges. For example, active communication with the future employee before he joins the the organisation, carrying out internal mentoring programmes and assigning an introductory friend - mentor. It is also very important for managers to maintain a relationship with the new employee to create favorable conditions for participating in various meetings, both live and virtual, to create live and virtual initial introductions as well as to ensure the sharing of knowledge and experiences. It is important to emphasise that this challenge in implementing a hybrid work model requires flexibility and the providing of a level playing field for new employees to fully participate in the dynamics of the organisation.

Focus on employee well-being

It may seem that the hybrid work model provides the conditions for more flexible work, helps the employee to save time and ensures their well-being. However, there is a growing recognition that working with a hybrid work model means that there is a requirement for peer support and that the ability of employers to ensure that the emotional and physical health of employees is one of their top priorities.

Why would this be the case? One of the reasons is the challenge of creating a new rhythm of work or, more simply, how can employees re-learn to reconcile work and private life? Another reason is the feeling of loneliness, isolation and separation that may affect some of those who work from home. When working in an office, it is easier for managers or colleagues to notice if a person works overtime or feels tired. It is easier to converse face to face and, in passing by, the opportunity is easily presented to ask them how they are doing. Therefore, it is very important to help employees to develop the right skills to organise a healthy work balance and it is important for businesses to have appropriate employee support programmes in place.

In summary, it is essential to emphasise that when a company implements a hybrid work organisation model it is important to understand that this change will require flexibility, a willingness to experiment, and a willingness to change. The answers to the following questions can help to both identify and assess the risks:

  • How will the blended work model help the operation achieve its goals?
  • How should the habits of employees change after the introduction of a mixed work model?
  • What skills will managers and employees need to successfully adapt to the new model?
  • How will the company ensure a successful new employee recruitment process?
  • How will the business help employees create a healthy work balance?
  • How will the communication of the organisation change / will not change?
  • By what means can the culture of the organisation be maintained and how can they foster the theme of community?