man blowing very large bubbles
PHOTO: José Fulgencio Orenes Martínez

A crisis always contains the seeds of a previously unimagined future. Before the pandemic, would any company agree to the majority of its employees working from home? Yet in astonishingly short order, the once-unthinkable has become routine. Office complexes sit empty, home offices buzz with online collaboration, employees sleep later yet get to work earlier, and energy once wasted fighting traffic now moves important projects forward.

Organizations have adapted admirably. But the next step requires lasting change.

Welcome to the Hybrid Workplace

Modern businesses have grown accustomed to mobile workers, as salespeople, executives, consultants and frequent travelers regularly move between locations. But now remote work has become the new normal for the entire workforce. As the work environment becomes a hybrid of office- or factory-centric work overlapping with remote work, how should companies design the workplace?

The easiest approach would be to let office workers return to an adapted “normal,” while remote workers carry on as they did during lockdown. This would be a mistake.

Whatever the “new normal” looks like, it will not resemble the “old normal.” The most disruptive change in the current environment has been the shift of balance from office to remote productivity. This balance will remain forever altered. Employees have developed new ways of working during the lockdown, and continually shifting between locations in the future will impact their ability to remain productive.

Companies must reconsider their office-space needs, their work-allocation and work-execution processes, and various health and safety aspects. By definition, hybrid work will — and indeed, should — have overlapping modes, so workplaces should not be optimized separately.

Instead, organizations must reengineer for how work will actually get done. They must create a hybrid work environment that builds corporate speed and agility while optimizing for long-term employee health, productivity and a positive experience.

Related Article: Will We Ever Go Back to the Office Again?

A Basic Framework: Reengineering for the Hybrid Workplace

1. Challenge Everything

Organizational workflows have slowly evolved for decades, optimizing for physical workspaces. As a result, arthritic processes and operating models have become enshrined as “how our company works.” While employees return to office environments, health and wellness will present a new wrinkle, as workers may prioritize their safety above even workflow concerns.

The shift to a hybrid workplace is a golden opportunity for leaders to shrink needlessly high costs, boost employee collaboration and productivity, ensure staff health and safety, and ultimately drive simpler experiences and agility.

2. Seize This Critical Moment, and Do It Fast

The most powerful enemy of real change is inertia. Thanks to the current crisis, organizational inertia is at an all-time low, and adaptability is at an all-time high. Whether prepared or not, companies have become acclimated to rapid change. We’ve helped companies create the fundamentals of a new digital workspace platform within 10 weeks, with additional features deployed later to increase telework efficiency by eliminating unnecessary complexity. This creates a single window that operates across all devices and operating systems to handle priority employee transactions, collaboration, insights and knowledge.

Related Article: The Pandemic Popped These Closely Held Digital Workplace Beliefs

3. Leverage Existing Tech Stacks for Speed and Cost-Effectiveness

Existing Microsoft or Google Suite stacks can be used to leverage investments in collaboration platforms and provide a “single source of truth” communication channel for transparent employee communications. This enables companies to begin measuring and adapting their operational simplicity to promote employees’ adoption of new remote-working processes.

4. Reinvent the Employee Experience and Build New Muscle

Organizations can and should begin reinventing the employee experience after 10 weeks, once they’ve deployed a minimum viable product. Successful efforts here typically save 30% to 40% of OpEx costs from back-office and shared services. Over time, companies can build:

  • A radically simplified omni-device experience, delivered on mobile, tablet and desktop with a digital concierge.
  • An experience platform that cuts across IT, finance, HR, procurement, expenses and approvals.
  • Speed, scalability and reusability within the existing architecture.
  • Ability to measure and adapt using digital change management capabilities and tools.

Related Article: Does Your Digital Employee Experience Actually Look at the Experience?

5. Push for Scalability and Flexibility

This process enables organizations to move quickly and onboard new processes and features in an agile manner without creating the “bow wave” of large, disruptive change. Once the digital workspace is built, it can be scaled quickly across the organization and accelerate the virtual assembly of remote employees.

DO DON'T 
 Reimagine from the ground up Digitize on top of antique processes
 Whiteboard process flows to root out logjams and disconnects inherited from old processes Imagine you already know how processes work, or what their ideal state  should be
 Push to enable proper work allocation and structured collaboration Assume technology alone will enable this
 Leverage existing tech stacks for speed  and cost-effectiveness Let project costs and complexity balloon
 Always consider the human element. Ask people and teams what they need Assume that better collaboration software equals better collaboration
 

New Considerations for a Permanent Hybrid Workplace

Much as the workplaces themselves will change, how organizations approach certain cultural aspects must also evolve. Some key considerations are:

  1. How will innovation work? Innovation is a messy, human process. It requires a lot of discussing, interrupting and considering conflicting ideas. A company’s best people know how to do this brilliantly and routinely in an office environment. How will this work in a hybrid environment?
  2. How will people and culture cohere? What happens when an employee’s only connection to the company is Wi-Fi? Nurturing a sense of “we’re all in this together” is harder to achieve when people are apart.
  3. How will companies democratize employee engagement? In a global bank, traders have different needs than employees in a retail environment or a processing center. A one-size approach won’t work. Management must create networks in which employees and teams can interact quickly and in ways that feel intuitive to them.

The era of purely physical organizations was already fading before the pandemic began. Building a permanent, sustainable hybrid workplace — a true digital organization that ensures the employee experience is at the heart of every decision — is now perhaps the most critical management task to get right. The time to start is now.