It is no surprise that hybrid work is here to stay.
Four in five organisations that have staff working remotely expect that arrangement will continue long term, according to recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with organisations that enable remote working experiencing improved staff wellbeing (45 per cent), reduced overheads (27 per cent), increased productivity (26 per cent) and improved staff retention (18 per cent).
But just what hybrid work looks like remains hotly contested.
Many organisations have opted for one of two approaches: either they give complete freedom of choice to individual employees or they impose an arbitrary expectation on employees being in the office for a certain proportion of their work week.
While those responses were understandable during the reactionary haze of the pandemic, they are not sustainable. Indeed, flaws in relying on the individual choice or arbitrary rules approaches are already emerging.
For starters, the individual choice approach is unlikely to align with client needs, while differences in working styles and preferences can lead to tensions and inefficiencies as people reach the outer limits of technology and virtual working. And arbitrary rules can lack the flexibility required to meet the responsibilities of people and their teams.
It is becoming clear that giving all the choice to one party – organisations or employees – means denying choice to the other.
For example, some organisations are struggling to bring employees together and galvanise them into action. But to achieve innovation requires the spark that comes from informal learning across the organisation. Without providing spaces for it to happen organically, everything becomes highly structured. The challenge for leaders is to find ways to allow the natural flow of ideas to occur.
Many organisations are rushing toward the generic approaches, but few organisations have considered how their hybrid work approach contributes to fulfilling their mission.
We think there’s a better way
Like all major decisions made by an enterprise, the approach to hybrid work must be grounded in the strategy and culture that prevails in an organisation. A hybrid work approach that advances the strategy and reflects the culture is more likely to be sustained and to help the organisation realise its vision.
To this end, we have developed the Nous Hybrid Work Optimiser. The Optimiser identifies key considerations without seeking to offer a definitive answer.
This framework starts from the premise that there is not one hybrid working ‘recipe’ or approach that will produce the greatest benefits for all organisations. Instead, it begins with the question “What is your organisation’s cultural driver?” and offers six options.
An organisation’s cultural driver should be the principle that guides decision making. While organisations may relate to several of the options, there is likely one that sets it apart. For example, tempting as it may be to declare “service excellence” as your driver, it might be that your service excellence relies on expertise and it is this combination that drives success. When push comes to shove, is expertise the most important outcome, or is service excellence?
Once your cultural driver is identified, a selection of cultural hallmarks emerge. These are the practical manifestations of the organisation’s culture.
It is here, once the cultural hallmarks are established, that the considerations for hybrid working become apparent. These considerations relate to the policies, technologies and communications that an organisation needs to make hybrid work a success. They set the guardrails within which employee and organisational choice ought to operate.
We invite you to explore the Nous Hybrid Work Optimiser and see how it can benefit your organisation.
Organisations must make thoughtful decisions about future ways of working, rather than relying on generic rules that may not make sense in your context. Once established, these habits may prove hard to break.
Already, many organisations are having to make major decisions over office leasing, while employees are deciding where they live based on their organisation’s hybrid work approach. By factoring in culture and strategy, your organisation can develop a model that reflects your circumstances and avoids the considerable costs of misalignment.
Get in touch to discuss how we can support your organisation to make hybrid work a success.
Connect with Tony Fiddes and Sean Connaughton on LinkedIn. They welcome your feedback on the Nous Hybrid Work Optimiser.
Prepared with input from Phoebe Gervaise and Rachel Kemmis.