A hybrid work model makes a lot of sense for employers and employees. But adopting a remote model can be hard to achieve, with plenty of pitfalls. Here’s how to navigate them.
During the height of the pandemic, remote working was a necessity for many businesses. Now companies are facing another challenge—developing a long-term hybrid working culture and rolling it out across their organisation.
A hybrid work model offers numerous benefits for both the organisation and its employees—from reduced expenses to increased productivity and engagement. It also plays a part in retention. In a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers, 47% of employees said they would likely look for another job if their employer didn’t offer a hybrid work model.
But a hybrid work model can also introduce challenges. Businesses need to fundamentally transform their approach to how, where and when employees work. Many will also need to learn how to engage geographically dispersed teams and put support in place to help their workforce develop and grow the skills they’ll need to meet changing market demands.
3 trends driving the move towards hybrid work
1. Sustaining an organisational transformation
Almost overnight, companies had to fast-track plans for digitisation or make it a priority if it wasn’t already. According to Statista, digital transformation spending is projected to reach $1.8 trillion in 2022 and soar to $2.8 trillion by 2025.
The benefits to be gained from digital transformation are significant, research from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates that earnings growth for digital leaders is 1.8 times higher than for those who lag. But BCG also estimates that 70% of digital transformations fail to reach their objectives.
Here are five ways to increase your chances of success.
- Create a strong strategy. One of the mistakes organisations often make is to rely too heavily on technology as a driver rather than an enabler. An underlying vision is what gives your entire digital transformation its purpose, aligns stakeholders around common goals, and informs investments and initiatives.
- Make sure you have support at every level. While a digital transformation can be exciting, it can also be complicated and disruptive. All stakeholders—from the CEO to team managers—need to be involved in the planning and executing of any digital transformation initiative to make sure they genuinely buy into the process and its outcomes.
- Deploy the right talent in the right places. This will likely involve both leveraging the skillsets of your existing workforce and hiring new employees to fill key gaps. This applies to technical skills as well as soft skills—such as emotional intelligence, creativity, critical thinking, resilience, and collaboration.
- Be agile in your approach. Leaders need to be ready to adapt priorities to meet evolving needs and to make sure their teams are enabled and empowered to do that. This is why a strategy is so important. Even if there are bumps on the road, you’ll be able to navigate them.
- Monitor your progress. According to BCG, only 20% of organisations reported doing this adequately. It’s crucial to understand what metrics you want to monitor, how often you want to evaluate them, and where you’ll store and share the data and insights.
As challenging as it can seem, the returns that can come from undertaking a successful digital transformation can be significant. The stakes for not investing in digital-first strategies can also be high. Insights from McKinsey & Company suggest that by 2023, most organisations will need to build new digital businesses to remain economically viable.
Case Study: Colliers Project Leaders
Organizational transformation in action: Colliers Project Leaders, a real estate and project management firm, sees the superior skill level of its practitioners as a competitive advantage, so the company focuses on onboarding new practitioners quickly and providing ongoing training to keep all staff at the peak of their profession. By adopting the D2L Brightspace platform, Colliers Project Leaders can train more people and raise skill levels faster, which is critical to maintaining the service quality of a business that is growing at 15% per year.
2. Improving employee engagement and retention
Employee engagement isn’t a new issue for organisations, but it has attracted more attention during and post-pandemic. It’s not all bad news, though. Research from Gallup shows that rates of employee engagement have been steadily rising over the last decade. In 2019, employee engagement climbed to 35%. In 2020, it hit 36%, which is where it still sat in 2021.
Companies can’t rest on their laurels, however. Burnout, for example, remains a real threat. A study from McKinsey & Company shows that rates of burnout jumped from 2020 to 2021, especially among women. In 2021, 42% of women said they have often or almost always been burned out, up from 32% in 2020. A similar trend happened among remote workers. Gallup’s research revealed that in 2019, 18% of people who worked fully from home reported burnout. In 2021, that figure jumped to 29%.
Employee retention is another key issue. In a survey conducted by PwC of over 1,000 employees across the U.S., 65% said they’re looking for a new job. This is part of the Great Resignation, the post-pandemic trend in which employees left, and are leaving, their jobs in record numbers.
Five key things to remember to boost employee engagement:
- Align employees around a common mission or purpose.
- Engagement is the responsibility of all leaders – don’t make it HR-centric.
- Focus on professional development.
- Create a flexible work environment.
- Provide regular, meaningful feedback.
Case Study: Epworth HealthCare
Employee Engagement in Action: How do you transform a healthcare organisation accustomed to equating education with compliance training into one with a vibrant learning culture? That was the challenge facing Epworth HealthCare, a large not-for-profit private healthcare group based in Melbourne, Australia. Its solution was to integrate a next-generation learning experience platform with a proven track record into Epworth’s legacy eLearning system.
3. Meeting the demand for skills development
Even before the pandemic, almost 90% of executives said their organisations were dealing with skills gaps or expected to develop them within the next five years. Today, 94% of employers are reporting their workforce needs to hone new skills for their company to stay competitive.
The impacts can be staggering. McKinsey & Company estimates that 1 in 16 workers will need to find a different occupation by 2030—25% higher than before the pandemic.
But employers also need to be ready to drive skills development and invest in the continuous development of their workforces. This is where upskilling and reskilling strategies become especially important.
- Upskilling is the process of workers learning new skills to be more effective in their current career path, whether through internal training or external education.
- Reskilling is the process of learning new skills so workers can perform an entirely different job.
There are a number of steps organisations can take to develop training programs that meet the needs of current and future employees:
- Carry out a skills mapping initiative.
- Support employees with easy-to-access training.
- Make learning relevant and rewarding.
- Keep programs agile.
Want to learn more? Download the Engage Remote Workers with a Culture of Learning ebook
What’s changed the most over the last number of years is the proactive role companies are now playing in developing skills and providing significant educational opportunities. IBM, for example, is undertaking a massive effort to skill 30 million people around the world by 2030. The programs cover a range of topics from AI learning and cybersecurity through professional skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.
What skills will the workforce of the future need? That depends. There’s no doubt that technical, STEM skills will be needed to foster innovation and help us build advanced technologies and tools. Yet it’s crucial not to discount soft or durable skills like creativity and communication. These are the ones that will be key to helping employees add value beyond automation, operate effectively in digital environments, and adapt to changes in the way they work.
Case Study: Dematic
Skills Development in Action: As Dematic, a leading supplier of integrated automation technology, software, and services to optimise the supply chain, continues to grow it needs to ensure that new employees can quickly gain the competencies they need in order to contribute high-quality work, as well as helping established engineers to level-up by learning new skills. Working with D2L, the company has built a transparent, scalable certification program that helps engineers and managers match the right skills to the right projects.
How to implement a successful hybrid work model
1. Put in place a solid strategy
We can’t overstate the importance of strategy. Regardless of the nature or scale of your organisational transformation, strategy is the glue that holds the initiatives together and gives them meaning. In tandem with strategy, another important piece that should accompany process shifts—including changes to how employees work—is change management. Three key pillars that support change management are:
- Executive Sponsorship: Executive sponsors play a crucial role in driving alignment between specific initiatives and overall business objectives, providing resources to support the change, and reinforcing successes.
- Employee Involvement: To encourage individuals within organisations to take action, you need to generate awareness and bring them into the process along the way.
- Open Communication: When it comes to change management, you need to communicate a lot more than you might think—typically, five to seven times over the course of the initiative.
Change management, when done right, can contribute significantly to the success of organisational transformations. Research from Prosci suggests that when sufficient resources are allocated, 85% of change management projects are highly effective. When there are not enough resources provided, the same percentage of initiatives are not effective at all.
2. Understand how you can support your employees
As more organisations embrace hybrid and remote work models, a handful of common barriers tend to emerge. The first is a lack of informal communication opportunities. While video conferencing technologies have made it incredibly easy for people to connect, what’s harder to replicate virtually are those spontaneous conversations that happen when someone passes by a co-worker’s desk. Those seemingly small moments can play a big role in helping teams feel cohesive and in building a strong company culture.
The second is unequal access to learning. While 55% of employees say they value career growth over salary, only 47% of remote employees are satisfied with their employer’s professional development opportunities. The more dispersed workforces become, the bigger this problem could get—unless organisations take action to address it.
3. Set expectations around work and learning
Although the flexibility of home working can be appealing, it can come with challenges. For example, some people who work remotely may have trouble switching off at the end of their workday, which can contribute to burnout and disengagement. According to the Achievers Workforce Institute 2021 survey, 25% of employees planning to look for new jobs list a better work-life balance as their primary reason. 23% said work-life balance was also the number one reason they would stay in their current roles.
Prioritising professional development can also be challenging. Sometimes employees don’t have the time or resources to make that happen. They may also suffer from not having the cultural reinforcement they’d normally get from peers and managers in the office. It’s important that organisations take measures to make professional development accessible and educate and empower employees to use it.
4. Monitor the progress you’re making
You want to demonstrate that your organisation’s initiatives—from engagement with an individual professional development course to large-scale changes like the transition to a hybrid work model—are having an impact.
The metrics your organisation chooses to focus on will vary depending on its needs, but they could include factors such as:
- Employee engagement and retention
- Time to productivity for new hires
- Internal promotion rates
- Learning retention rates
- Usage of learning and development programs
Data points like these can help drive business decisions. Plus, they can help you better position and articulate the value of learning and development investments more effectively, so you can see strong evidence of a return on investment.
Create a vibrant culture of learning to support the hybrid workforce of the future
After two years of remote work, what we’re seeing today is a shift toward a hybrid work model, one that allows employees to connect with colleagues in an office environment while still giving them flexibility and freedom to decide what their workday looks like. It’s an approach that can bring both benefits—including reduced expenses and increased productivity and challenges. Adopting a hybrid work model may require organisations to fundamentally transform processes, policies, and attitudes around how, where, and when employees work. Companies also need to work out how they engage remote teams and provide skills development opportunities to meet evolving demands.
By following some of these steps, you can start to build your strategy and lay the groundwork for long-term change.
Kristine Clark is part of the EMEA Marketing Team with a focus on content and email marketing. Combining a love for languages and culture with over 2 decades of marketing skills.
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