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How to design a hybrid working model that overcomes common fatigue factors

Cultivating a successful hybrid workforce is not simply about splitting employees’ time between onsite and remote working. Without the roll out of a well-designed hybrid model, there are a number of fatigue factors that could have a detrimental effect on business success.

7th Apr 2021
Editor HRZone
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As the UK gradually eases out of its third national lockdown, many organisations will be considering the transition to a hybrid working model.

As planning commences, business leaders may assume that their handling of the enforced shift to remote working last year means their transition to a mix of remote and on-site working will be relatively seamless. But, in fact, Vice President of HR Advisory for Gartner, George Penn, warns that organisations will need to reconsider everything – from employee wellbeing and cultural factors through to skills requirements and organisational structures. Hybrid working brings with it a number of fatigue factors, and if organisations don’t address these issues from the start it will have a damaging impact on the business and its people.

To uncover the key factors to consider when designing a new hybrid working model, we asked George Penn to share some of Gartner’s latest data and insights.

We can’t fall into the trap of trying to force-fit a workplace design created for the pre-pandemic office environment into a hybrid world.

What key issues do HR need to consider when transitioning to a hybrid working model as we ease out of lockdown?

While much progress was made in 2020 for hybrid work adoption, there are still major areas of focus and improvement for organisations. For example, 96% of HR leaders report they are increasingly concerned when it comes to employee wellbeing, and 93% are concerned about employee burnout. According to the Gartner 2021 Hybrid Work Survey, there are three major contributions to the fatigue organisations are experiencing:

  1. Always on: Employees in the hybrid world have a 27% higher chance of struggling to disconnect from work than employees in the on-site world.

  2. Digital distractions: Employees in the hybrid world are 2.5 times more likely to experience digital distractions than employees in the on-site world.

  3. Virtual overload: Employees in the hybrid world have a 12% higher rate of feeling they are working too hard at their jobs than employees in the on-site world.

How can HR design a hybrid working model and environment that will support both employee wellbeing and business performance?

First, organisations need to account for the fatigue factors impacting their hybrid workforce. This means giving employees more flexibility to step away from distractions, minimising the number of virtual experiences, and allowing space for employees to disconnect from work. If organisations fail to do this, fatigue levels will increase and larger workforce issues, such as degraded performance or drops in productivity and attrition, will emerge.

Organisations also need to reimagine their work environments in very different ways. We can’t fall into the trap of trying to force-fit a workplace design created for the pre-pandemic office environment into a hybrid world. Ill-fitting design will also compound or accelerate fatigue.  

In addition to fatigue concerns and work environment design, HR organisations should be focusing on:

  1. Management principles that are focused on outcomes, rather than activities or time spent. Clearly articulating a set of goals and measurable outcomes to manage employees against has always been a historical challenge for many organisations. However, for the hybrid work model to be successful, it is critical for organisations to differentiate between true productivity, rather than just activity. 

  2. Manager and leadership capabilities and mindsets. Does the organisation have alignment and consistency in how managers and leaders view hybrid and flexible work arrangements?

  3. Mental health support. To stay ahead of the fatigue factor, mental health support and education will need to become a more prominent feature in employee management and benefits programme offerings.

How could a move to hybrid working impact company culture? And what should organisations be doing to ensure their culture is embedded both in the physical office and virtual working spaces?

Interestingly enough, pre-Covid, organisations struggled with creating high performing corporate cultures. In a Gartner 2017 Future of HR Agenda Poll, only 31% of organisations believed they had the culture needed to drive high performance in the future. 

Covid-19 and the remote work experience exposed weaknesses in organisations’ infrastructure, management capabilities, human capital practices and, ultimately, culture. 

The good news is organisations have aggressively collected and analysed data on their workforces. This newfound insight is actually helping businesses identify the most important attributes of their culture and ensure those same attributes are not only talked about, but embedded into the behaviours of employees and operations of the enterprise.  

Some of the examples of good hybrid design outlined above will also help ground a consistent culture in a hybrid world. 

Culture transformation hub

Is there a potential risk that hybrid working could cause a negative impact to certain groups of employees? How can we ensure hybrid working benefits all?

It’s important to note the flexibility of hybrid work models and environments. While every workforce model has risks, it is the inherent nature of the hybrid model – flex and adaptability – that will allow organisations to better manage risks related to work locations, schedules and environment.

Interested in this topic? Read 'Hybrid teams: how to set them up for success.'

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