Vice President, Principal Analyst Forrester
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Hybrid working: assessing the four types of 'work anywhere' readiness

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Hybrid working isn’t something you can implement overnight – companies should adopt a long-term iterative strategy to make sure they get it right, taking in four key stages. 

24th Aug 2021
Vice President, Principal Analyst Forrester
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Over the next few months, British knowledge workers will return to offices they haven’t visited since the emergence of Covid-19. Many of these offices will look different from their pre-pandemic configurations, however. Forrester predicts that 70% of companies will move to an ‘office+ work anywhere’ hybrid office model in which at least some employees can work anywhere they want two or more days a week, while working from the office the rest of the week.

While the return to the office seems like a one-time event, it’s more of a rolling experiment. Companies need to collect data on what works for them in their own context. 

Employers must make choices about what hybrid looks like for their organisations. There won’t be a single hybrid workplace; instead, companies will employ strategies that suit their industry, business model, and the preferences of their employees. For example, PriceWaterhouseCoopers will allow its 22,000 UK-based workers to engage in a hybrid work plan that involves a mix of in-office and work anywhere, along with client site visits. Nottingham based Adtrak, a marketing agency, will ask employees to visit the office one day a week along with their teammates for collaboration. The BBC found that 43 of Britain’s top 50 employers plan to adopt some kind of hybrid work model.

Driving business benefits

Many of these organisations will embrace hybrid working to drive an array of promising business benefits. Employee experience is a key driver of engagement and productivity, and the flexibility of hybrid work fulfils employees’ desires for autonomy, trust, and work/life balance. Hybrid working promises higher levels of talent retention and better recruitment conversion rates as a result.

The benefits of ‘work anywhere’ may appear small at first, but they act like compound interest that accrues over time. Let’s say that you don’t choose to offer some flavour of flexible, hybrid work. This inflexibility leads to an increase in your employee attrition rate – and now you have trouble recruiting because other employers offer a better employee experience with hybrid working. None of this leads to an immediate meltdown, but slowly, over a period of a couple of years, your organisation’s talent base will have diminished.

If not offering hybrid work can hurt your company, however, so can embracing it more deeply than your company is ready for. While organisations adapted during lockdowns, results were uneven; one study in Harvard Business Review showed that well-run companies saw productivity gains, but poorly run companies saw a decline.

The same will be true for hybrid work. Not all companies are ready to seize all the benefits of hybrid work immediately. They operate in different verticals and employ different business models, goals, technology stacks, and cultures. So, you need a simple way to determine both how ready you are – since no company is perfectly ready – and what areas you must invest in.

Companies that benchmark their 'work anywhere' readiness will need to consider four types of readiness.

Culture hub link

1. Characterise fundamentals

These are the basic questions you must ask about your potential readiness

  • How many employees can engage in work anywhere?
  • What percentage of employees worked remotely pre-pandemic?
  • What percentage of employees could potentially work remotely long-term?
  • What's the relationship between knowledge and frontline workers?
  • How will customers be impacted?

Your answers to these questions can help you determine whether all employees are suited for long-term hybrid work and how well your fundamental business model can adapt.

2. Establish the maturity of your goals

To gain the benefits of compound interest, you need to align with the goals that will drive value in the first place. You must declare, track, and measure your progress to capture this value. Ask yourself how important each of the following goals is and whether you have metrics in place to measure, track, and understand them over time:

  • Employee experience, productivity or performance, and retention
  • Customer experience
  • Adaptiveness of the workforce
  • Ability to recruit the best talent anywhere
  • Business continuity and resilience
  • Decreasing commercial real estate costs

3. Measure the sophistication of your technology stack

For hybrid work, you need to reach a level of technological maturity around key tools. The driver here is employee experience; empowering employees not just to be remote but with hybrid solutions that make in-office and remote experiences successful simultaneously will be crucial.

Four key areas of readiness include:

  • Collaboration tools (including synchronous experiences like video conferencing and asynchronous tools such as Slack)
  • Cloud technologies and software-as-a-service
  • Employee personal technologies like laptops
  • Security and technology management technologies

4. Understand your cultural readiness

To drive a culture that supports hybrid work, you must reinforce four values:

  • Self-efficacy: employees can easily adapt to new tools, processes and values at work.
  • Organisational efficacy: employees are happy and proud to work for your company.
  • Avoiding burnout: you have programmes to help employees find balance.
  • Avoiding boredom: you have programmes to help drive engagement and avoid employees stagnating.

Go forth and iterate

While the return to the office seems like a one-time event, it’s more of a rolling experiment. Companies need to collect data on what works for them in their own context and iterate on policies, even as they invest in new technologies and physical renovations. This means there’s time to act, especially as companies will be refining their strategies for years to get this right.

We all need to start somewhere when we get back to the office, however. Organisations scoring high can consider giving non-frontline workers the latitude to work anywhere three or more days a week. Those scoring lower must build a plan to shore up areas of weakness beforehand. Understanding where you stand today is the first step to building a successful long-term strategy.

Interested in this topic? Read Refining the art of hybrid working in six steps.

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