When companies pivoted to remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, most leaders and employees thought the shift was temporary. There was a general assumption that working from home would be a short-lived solution to a short-term problem.
As the pandemic wore on and leaders and employees both started to recognize the advantages of working from home, companies had to start thinking about making more room for flexible work arrangements in the future. Across multiple employee surveys in late 2020 and throughout 2021, workers indicated a consistently high interest in working away from the office at least part-time, and many employees suggested that they would no longer consider a job offer if it did not include the option of hybrid or remote work.
Not every company or employee wants to work remotely 100% of the time, however, and even if they do, some jobs don’t lend themselves easily to remote work. As companies start to reopen spaces across the world, how can leaders design hybrid work arrangements that both benefit employees and produce positive results for the company?
Recent research by Linda Gratton published in The Harvard Business Review sheds some light on the factors that leaders should consider when designing hybrid work arrangements.
1. Consider the jobs and tasks that drive productivity in each role, function, and department
For some roles, the key driver of productivity is focus—the ability to work undisturbed for long periods. However, some other roles or functions may be driven by collaboration or coordination, which may require more in-person or face-to-face time. Ask individuals and teams how they can best replicate those drivers. Is it through video calls, in-person meetings, or the kind of serendipitous meetings that boost creative energy? Can they focus for long stretches in an open office floor plan, or is working from home a better solution?
2. Ask the employees what they want
Some people thrive in an entirely virtual setting, while others prefer a wholly in-person arrangement. Still, others prefer some kind of middle ground. In addition, factors, such as tenure with the company, stage of career, or personal living arrangements, may influence what type of arrangement makes the most sense for employees. Employee surveys can help get a general idea of what employees want, but it may also be valuable to create employee personas to help managers and leaders design the best arrangements for their teams.
3. Look at projects and workflow
Ask leaders to consider how their teams best coordinate with each other and redesign processes to streamline projects and workflows. Increasing use of hybrid technology tools can help, but be sure not to replicate inefficiencies that existed before the pandemic in the post-pandemic environment. For example, are there recurring meetings that can now be eliminated? Can processes that previously occurred in person be automated or moved online? Can space be repurposed to maximize the work that is best completed there?
4. Pay particular attention to inclusion and fairness
Many previous attempts at creating flexible work arrangements were undertaken in an ad hoc fashion and designed based on individual manager preferences. This approach can lead to resentment and a sense of unfairness when other managers prefer in-person arrangements or when employees have jobs that don’t easily translate to remote work. As you approach flexible work arrangements for the post-pandemic world, be sure to solicit feedback from a broad cross-section of levels and functions—including those impacted the most by the new arrangements.
Unquestionably, the future of work includes remote and hybrid options. As you design your new flexible work models, these four considerations will help you create the best arrangements for your people and your company.