Planning For The World Of Hybrid Work

As the boundaries between work and home continue to blur, companies are contemplating a range of models to keep teams engaged. While a growing number of organizations are bringing employees back to the office after more than a year at home, others have decided to continue to allow people to work remotely. Then there are hybrid scenarios—a new way of working to support the future of work that was in place long before the pandemic—that continue to give workers the continued flexibility they crave balanced with the need for in-person collaboration and connection. It’s a real-time opportunity for companies to learn how to foster a culture that’s remote and high-touch all at once.

Sustaining organizational culture has never been more challenging. People have felt isolated, and the lack of impromptu interactions means the chance to integrate and generate ideas must take on a different flavor. Yet the pandemic has also served as a road test for the policies and technology advancements and investments that have made collaborative work possible without face-to-face interaction. Our Deloitte analysis shows that at least 100 digital remote collaboration tools were released to market or enhanced in the first eight months of 2020, and according to a recent Return to Workplaces survey of 275 executives, 68% expect to implement a hybrid model of working between physical and virtual work.

When people aren’t sharing physical space, they still need effective ways to work together. In transitioning to hybrid working, leaders cannot lose sight of the value of high-touch collaboration, and there are practical, attainable ways to prepare teams and organizations for this shift.

Create work environments that promote collaboration

Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends survey shows that executives clearly see a future where multiple scenarios—including those involving both in office and remote work—are the norm. Nearly half of respondents (47%) said that their organizations planned to focus on multiple scenarios in the future, up from 23% before the pandemic. One way business leaders are doing this is by creating immersive environments where teams can collaborate effectively at a distance. For instance, there’s an emerging category of tools that aims to enable workers to connect, share experiences, and participate in simulated real-life scenarios using augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies. In such platforms, users encounter a 3D-shared environment where they can see representations of themselves and colleagues and conduct meetings.

Companies that have made investments in such technologies stand to emerge stronger in the post-pandemic recovery: 76% of executives who said their organizations had done very well at embedding advanced technologies into core business strategies to become more agile, also said they are weathering the events of 2020 better than their peers, according to a recent Deloitte survey.

In a hybrid work model, physical spaces are being reimagined to foster better collaboration and achieve outcomes otherwise challenging in a fully virtual environment. For example, office spaces are transforming to accommodate smaller office footprints, while emphasizing spaces that are geared toward networking and culture-building. This can be achieved by campus-style hubs and an emphasis on training space, where colleagues can get together and individual spaces or offices become team spaces.

The need to support high-touch collaboration for remote workers will remain even as numbers of workers return to in-person and hybrid work models. This will require much greater flexibility in workplace planning—the process of identifying and filling predicted gaps in supply and demand for an organization’s key talent—not to mention new opportunities for workers to achieve work-life integration.

Gaining ground: New skills for the workplace

Remote and hybrid environments have enabled organizations to engage with workers on far more flexible terms. The 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Report showed that nearly three-quarters (72%) of organizations that had implemented processes to easily redeploy people to different roles leading up to 2020 were better equipped to weather the circumstances of the pandemic.

In the survey of more than 2,200 C-suite executives, which examined how they’re managing this “new normal,” we asked whether they had already implemented or were planning to put in place a number of actions or programs to make their workforces more adaptable. That included implementing processes to easily redeploy workers to other roles or projects, offering training or rotational programs to enable reskilling, and providing workers with flexible work options.

Notably, adaptability was the workforce trait executives said was most critical to their organizations’ futures (54% of respondents). Technology savvy came in second with 40% of senior leaders saying it was the most important workforce trait.

Remote and hybrid work environments are enabling organizations to engage with workers on far more flexible terms. Whether your organization returns to pre-pandemic norms or looks dramatically different after the crisis, you can be assured the motivations of your stakeholders have changed. Consider how the following can help your company adapt to the shift to hybrid work:

  • Introducing new digital collaboration platforms
  • Allowing for more flexibility in how and where work gets done
  • Setting new scheduling and meeting norms
  • Identifying leadership and talent gaps that are standing in the way of hybrid work and activating a plan to address them
  • Ensuring well-being is included in the design of virtual workspaces (e.g., apps to increase mindfulness or master distractions)

The global recovery that began taking shape in the first half of 2021 has laid the groundwork for a dynamic second half of the year. Companies that listen to their employees’ needs and build balanced, hybrid work environments can be better positioned to break down siloes between physical and remote workplaces, meet market demands, and retain talent. A focus on integration and collaboration, while leading with head and heart, can allow leaders to navigate a new world of work that may be here to stay, long after the masks come off.

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