How to embrace the new world of hybrid work

Hybrid plans should be an opportunity for 'future-forward design,' not just a 'return to work,' says HR Tech keynoter Josh Bersin.
By: | July 20, 2021

Even as concerns over the Delta COVID variant continue to rise, many organizations are confident the worst of the pandemic is behind us and are rapidly planning for the long-awaited “return to work.” While some CEOs are expecting that to mean a return to the traditional office setting, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that many companies are going to be adapting to a “more flexible, forgiving work environment,” according to a new report by the Josh Bersin Academy.

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“CEOs and their very top executive teams are accustomed to having face-to-face interactions with people, so their expectation is that the recovery from the pandemic will be a big reentry into the offices,” says Josh Bersin, founder and dean of the Josh Bersin Academy and a keynoter at the upcoming HR Technology Conference who will explore the future of hybrid work in a free webinar on July 21. “Employees are saying, ‘Wait a minute, I was very productive during the last year-and-a-half and I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing,’ so there’s a bit of a tug of war going on.”

Once considered code for “not working,” Bersin says, the pandemic broke the stigma of working from home and taught employers that it can work. As the job market grows more competitive, employers are having to reevaluate their attitude toward remote work. Already, points out Bersin, the second-most-common “location” for job postings on LinkedIn is “remote.”

Yet, not all organizations are sold on the idea of an entirely remote workforce. Consequently, many are looking to a hybrid work environment where employees work in the office on certain days and remotely on others. In the Hybrid Work Playbook, researchers write that there’s no clear model for this new world of hybrid work. However, simply “repurposing legacy policies on remote work” is unlikely to be sufficient.

“Before the pandemic, remote work or work-at-home days were considered a bit of a joke,” says Bersin. “Now, it’s much more mainstream. We’ve learned a lot of good things about remote work during the pandemic and, as companies look to shift to a hybrid work environment, they should look upon it as a future-forward design opportunity, not a return-to-work exercise.”

As HR leaders seek to formulate their company’s hybrid work strategies, Bersin recommends they operate in cross-functional teams, bringing in senior leaders, IT, facilities, safety, legal and management. They should also involve employees in the design and implementation. After all, he says, they are the customer of hybrid work.

McLean, Va.-based Mars Inc. established a team focused solely on the future of work. According to Nuno Gonçalves, global head of strategic capabilities building, the team has been “listening and interviewing and conducting focus groups and surveys to understand where we are collectively and to co-create this future.” Because the global food and pet care company operates in approximately 50 countries, the timing of its transition to a hybrid work environment is going to vary based on vaccination rates in each location, according to Gonçalves. In Portugal, for example, where he lives, just 20% of the population had been vaccinated as of mid-June. With vaccination rates in Spain having recently topped 50%, Gonçalves will soon be traveling to Barcelona to meet his boss for the first time. By September, the company hopes to officially begin operating under a hybrid work arrangement.

See also: Bersin-8 factors to remember when creating a hybrid plan

“We are encouraging somewhere around a 50/50 presence in the office/remote, but we are also providing guidance on what type of work is better done face-to-face and what type of work is better done remotely,” says Gonçalves. “We are going to be continuously monitoring our performance as a company and listening to our associates to determine if this is the right strategy or not.”

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The ability to experiment, learn what works and continuously improve will be crucial for success, says Bersin. Companies can’t afford to get stuck in “an endless pursuit of perfection,” he says. “Instead, we must adopt agile techniques, such as co-creation, rapid deployment of flexible solutions and sensing and responding quickly to change.” While he concedes that the world of hybrid work feels uncertain, Bersin points out that HR executives are in a far better place as they plan the transition to a hybrid work model than they were at the beginning of the pandemic when they had to pivot on a dime to a largely remote workforce.

“During the pandemic, most companies went remote through a very rapid design process in which they didn’t have a lot of choice,” says Bersin. “HR people now have the opportunity to very purposefully design what the hybrid work experience is going to be like, soliciting feedback along the way—so the company lands in a spot where everyone feels comfortable.”

Click here to register for HRE’s free July 21 webinar with Josh Bersin: Hybrid Work-Planning for What Comes Next.

Julie Cook Ramirez is a Rockford, Ill.-based journalist and copywriter covering all aspects of human resources. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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