The hybrid work reality is upon us. And employees, with a year and a half of newfound remote-working capabilities, are speaking up about how they want to see hybrid work unfold.

According to a survey by jobs posting site Glassdoor, nearly nine in 10 (86%) of surveyed employees say they would prefer to continue working from home at least part of the time after offices reopen. Further, nearly one in four (23%) employees would consider quitting their job if they were required to return to the office before all employees have been vaccinated. And 17% would consider quitting their job if they were required to return to the office five days per week, regardless of vaccinations.

Who Is Driving Hybrid Work Strategies?

Who are the leaders in the workplace that will drive those hybrid-work strategies, having to consider varying degrees of employees’ desires? The easy answer is team effort. But who will it really be and what will their roles and responsibilities be?

“The worldwide shift to hybrid working models happening now is something most organizations have never had to deal with before, and we’re seeing a number of new roles emerge within our talent marketplace that are designed to address this, with titles like Head of Hybrid Work, Head of Dynamic Work and Workplace Environment Architect,” said Ben Reuveni, CEO and co-founder of talent marketplace software provider Gloat. “Unilever, Gloat’s longest-standing talent marketplace customer, has a VP of Future of Work overseeing their shift to a hybrid working model. These roles tend to focus on managing the tools and technologies that keep hybrid offices connected and addressing the complex HR, leadership and cultural needs of distributed teams.”

That said, focusing too much on the roles required to successfully transition to hybrid work risks missing the bigger picture, according to Reuveni. “Embracing new mindsets and processes around career development, skills and talent management will ultimately position businesses to succeed in a hybrid world,” he added, “and that should be your top priority as a business in 2021, regardless of what we call the leaders paving the way.”

Related Article: Active Management Needed to Make Remote and Hybrid Work Successful

Keeping a Focus on Culture and Employee Experience

Someone’s got to do the hybrid-work job, though. Adopting people-centered roles and focusing on IT is critical for organizations to pull off hybrid work successfully, according to Sam Babic, SVP and chief innovation officer of content services provider Hyland.

“Roles that focus on the overall employee culture and employee experience are vital to ensuring a smooth transition — and an equitable experience for all employees, whether in-office or working remotely,” Babic said. “To best support those roles, a strong IT team is critical to keeping communication and technology seamless between in-office and remote workers.”

Babic sees the chief people officer and chief information officer — and their larger teams — as critical in helping the workforce feel supported within the organization through the hybrid work process. By focusing on the company’s overall community, the chief people officer and his or her team help remote workers avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. Whereas, Babic added, the CIO and team’s role is to ensure the IT team is equipped to juggle the needs of remote and in-office employees without facing burnout internally.

Hybrid Work Environment Roles

What will some of these roles be responsible for in a hybrid work environment? Gustavo Gomez, CEO of low-code automation software provider Bizagi, shared what he thinks will be three pivotal roles in these new hybrid-work programs:

Chief People Officer/Head of HR

Whether it’s a new role dedicated to people and the employee experience, or a traditional HR leadership role, there’s no doubt that human resources and people operations are key to success in a hybrid workplace environment, Gomez said. Achieving high levels of performance and retaining talent will demand a focus on making sure that this culture is filtered effectively through the organization and across teams. HR leaders will be strategizing to avoid an "unhealthy us vs. them culture" between office workers and remote workers, as well as ensuring that less-visible remote workers are not neglected when it comes to their performance, happiness and progression.

Chief Operating Officer/Head of Operations

Workplace disruption has created countless process gaps and operational challenges. COOs and Heads of Operations are being called upon to identify new inefficiencies and design solutions to the business challenges that they create. Operating a hybrid workplace environment creates brand new challenges in the workflow between those that may be present in a fixed location and those that are distributed, according to Gomez.

Chief Information Officer/Head of IT

The role of the CIO was immediately elevated by the shift to working from home, and that vital work continues as organizations approach strategies for the hybrid workplace. IT leaders will be called upon as one of the most important enablers of the hybrid workplace to support the operational and cultural changes that are needed in order for the organization to succeed and not just survive, according to Gomez.

Related Article: CIO Priorities: IT Operations, Cybersecurity, Leading With Empathy

A Vote for the CISO

Brad Moldenhauer, chief information security officer of Americas at cloud security provider Zscaler, gave a nod to his own position, saying the CISO is a position that is continuously growing in importance and stature. It is a multifaceted individual who interfaces with executives, legal, compliance, technical and other line of business stakeholders to better understand the business and how they can properly manage and mitigate risk.

“The importance of this role will grow so much that I believe in five to 10 years most companies will have their CISO report directly to the CEO, and perhaps the title changes to Chief Risk Officer or Chief Risk and Trust Officer, because CISOs should be managing the full range of information-related risks within their company,” Moldenhauer said.

Learning Opportunities

Hybrid Work Model Questions to Consider

Lesley Pyle, the founder of job-postings site, doesn’t believe there is one role or solution to making a hybrid work model work. However, she shared some questions that will help determine which roles may work best for businesses moving toward hybrid work arrangements:

  • Are some teams or departments more productive when they meet face-to-face or can they accomplish the same goals virtually?
  • Are there any meetings that must be held in person?
  • Is it possible to make certain day(s) of the week fully remote working days?
  • Do newer employees need to work on-site for any period of time to get fully acclimated to business culture, training, etc.?
  • Do the employees have the equipment and technology such as high-speed internet to work from home efficiently and effectively every day? If not, will the company provide the tools needed?
  • Do some employees prefer to work from the office vs. from home?
  • Will there be opportunities for fully remote employees to participate and engage with others at certain times of the year for meetings or socially?
  • Is the employee clear on expectations and responsibilities?
  • Will there be an “open-door policy” to discuss issues or recommendations for newly structured remote positions?

Meet the Employee Connectedness Role

The deeper question about hybrid work is about connection. It can’t simply be looked at as working in the office, working remotely or a combination. Rather, it needs to be explored as a question of the type of work employees do and where and how they connect with one another, according to Tara Ataya, chief people and diversity officer at social media management provider Hootsuite. It goes beyond where and into how and why.

At Hootsuite, she found through internal surveys that 48% of employees wanted to work in the office one to three days a week, while 30% wanted to work in the office just a few days per month.

“Many of the people who are looking to have the opportunity to come back into workspaces are looking for ways to connect, collaborate and socialize with others, not to do heads down work in the office,” Ataya said. “We are currently hiring a newly created manager role focused on Employee Connectedness. This role will be a critical part of our distributed workforce strategy.”

In order to pull off hybrid work successfully, we’ll see a blend of existing roles continue to spearhead initiatives surrounding recruiting, hiring and onboarding, but we’ll also start to see the emergence of new roles, according to Ataya. She sees Chief Belonging Officers and Chief Culture Officers becoming more pivotal to hybrid work strategies.

Remote employees are working a minimum of two additional hours per day around the globe, and it has taken a toll on long-term productivity and mental health, she added.

“I believe the resilience of an organization is rooted in the psychological safety of its people and that we’ll start to see more DE&I and people-focused roles supporting the mental health of employees in the months and years to come,” Ataya said. “When employees are given the tools, resources and time necessary to look after their mental health and wellness, organizations become more agile, resilient and successful.”

Changes for Facilities, Internal Communications

Facilities teams are changing in hybrid work, Ataya added. They will have a dual focus on both the physical and virtual environments, ensuring both are always considered. At Hootsuite, the Facilities team is working on the redesign of some of its physical spaces to become hubs — which it calls perches —focused on collaboration and creativity. The Facilities team is also planning events every month to bring people together, something called “Social Slices.”

Ataya also sees the role of internal communications becoming more important in a hybrid work environment — fostering an inclusive environment hinges directly on an environment that nurtures communication, transparency and engagement.

“Communication technology implementations,” she added, “will be led by communications professionals to optimize the employee experience and focus on enhancing communication in a digital environment.”