The first phase of the covid-19 pandemic during the year 2020 shifted the working model of the majority of organizations to the online mode. As things proceeded, the importance of the hybrid model that is the combination of both online and offline work mode was realized. With things getting back on track, it became necessary for the leaders and managers to handle the teams in the hybrid model. Some of the crucial tasks requiring face-to-face interactions and having less impact online are slowly shifting back to offline mode. These tasks are not only limited to support functions but also include some important tasks ranging from team building to strategic planning at the leadership positions. On the other hand, several tasks identified to be suited for the online way such as software or application development by diverse teams or remote surveillance for data security are still untouched as it is not only giving the required output but is also helping the organizations to reduce the cost on various aspects. Managers and leaders were quite conscious about the things when they shifted to online mode entirely. As the situation came back on track and vaccinations came into place, the leaders and managers also shifted their focus to hybrid mode rather than only online or offline mode. It is necessary to understand that the hybrid model, though exciting it sounds is complex to handle and implement. The challenge lies in the fact that online mode has its own set of challenges not only limited to power cut issues, mental stress among the employees, and having a lesser sense of belongingness than the offline mode in the other hand offline has its own. As half of the workforce will follow the online way, the other half requires a rigid reason to come back to the office and work under surveillance once again. When these problems combine it becomes necessary for the leaders to create a unique plan and models to manage teams at both places, collaborating with them to achieve the business objectives.
Upgrading without downgrading
The models and framework required for the offline mode earlier are now redundant as things shifted to the online way. Unfortunately, the new online model seems to be redundant again as the hybrid model is becoming the primary focus area for most organizations today. The leaders and managers now have to shift their focus on the multimode task force and make a way for collaboration imparting the same impact to both online and offline employees. In addition, leaders and managers have to focus on changing the model for learning and development for the employees with the help of gamification, simulations, and various other innovative ways. Even there is a need to change the recruitment methodologies to keep a balance of supply and demand of the workforce in this dynamic working environment as the previous offline way with a bit of automation via ATS (applicant tracking system) seems to be trivial. A change in the framework or model will require thorough research, tests, and feedback before final implementation which involves some cost that leaders have to manage, keeping a check at the revenues and ROI. Putting various non-stable factors such as employee attrition, confidence, skillset, motivation, and the dynamic business world scenarios will add to the challenge equation to the leaders and teams. Here, challenges are not only limited to the leaders but also to the teams working in hybrid models as they have to synchronize for proper functioning.
The current diegesis of hybrid work
As we are talking about the hybrid model lets, try to understand how various organizations and their leaders are tackling this issue and have planned to manage it at present. The first is the remote-first model, which means companies will try to mirror the remote working companies with some modifications, such as employees requiring the physical presence need to work from the office only. A prominent example is Quora that announced they are shifting to the same model. This means that employees can work away from the office, but the company will be open for the employees who need to work physically. Another example is Dropbox. Though it has a worldwide physical presence, they have decided to change their model.
The second model is an occasional office model, which says the employees have to come into the office only a few times a week. Unlike the remote first model, the office will blend the team collaboration with the solo work. In this model, the offline workplace will be made available in a pattern like four days a week of alternate day office work. The guidelines are different for companies and vary according to the requirement and goals. This will not only improve the collaboration of distributed workforce but will help the employees to be agile while working giving expected output. But as this model is hard to implement due to the employees’ different choices and experiences, the leaders need to make a proper plan and guidelines for the implementation robustly.
The final model is the office first model, where the office will be the central focus area, particularly for the leadership team. In this, the company will allow working remotely still, a significant chunk of the employees will be called back to work, majorly involving the work related to making the organizational culture or leadership work. This will not only improve the strategic decision-making via proper collaboration but will keep in check the old school way of keeping a check on the organizational progress.
Implementing by empathizing and innovating
The above-mentioned models are more or less prevalent and are already implemented by several organizations or in a pipeline for the implementation but the major question is how to implement them meaningfully keeping the organizational objectives intact?
The answer is not that straightforward as it seems and the implementation will depend on several factors.
- These models can be implemented based on the requirement of not only the teams but it will depend on the collaboration and synchronization requirement demanded by the particular task. The goals can be collaborative in nature but the approach required can be individualistic or vice-versa, hence it is really important to understand which model will be favorable based on the tasks rather than just goals.
- On top of it, there are various other factors such as the health status of the employees as already existing health issues can become a hurdle making the workspace more prone to the exposure of diseases. Even allowing employees with partial vaccination can be a wrong choice looking at the unpredictable nature of the diseases. Employees based on their current health status can help to prioritized for moving them towards the offline mode.
- The other factor is cost as implementing the digital solution will require more time and expertise to handle along with the additional security and surveillance solutions because of the data privacy and governance concerns. On the other hand, keeping the offline workspace will add to the cost as it was before for making the resources available to the employees. Hence to handle the teams in a hybrid way a proper policy is required with a clear focus on not just the organization but on the welfare of the employees too.
- Another way to handle this problem is to work in percentages of the workforce required per project and further classify and distribute them with the type of tasks they are managing. This will not only streamline the workforce distribution but will give a proper reason to the employees of opting for a specific option without questioning the decisions.
- The clustering structure can also become a gamechanger where teams can be divided into small clusters based on the density of employees at various regions and can be given an opportunity to collaborate at the off-line locations allocated by the organization. This will not only improve the efficiency but will allow the employees to work at different locations enabling them to collaborate and work without any hindrances. This clustering structure can also turn out to be useful when employees want to take a break from the mundane offline or online model giving them the opportunity to work via following the latest trend of “workcation”. Though there will be some cost related to this structure along with the flexibility it will focus more on the employees' work balance but will improve the employee’s retention as it can be counted under unique perks and benefits.
As there are various innovative ways that the organizations are trying to implement and currently competing to give the best not only to attract but to retain the high performing employees but everything will come at specific costs and pitfalls. The teams need to collaborate and mention the catches hence leaders and managers should be open to feedback by taking the same in the constrictive way. On the other hand, it is vital for the leaders to understand the team issues and mold the framework to be beneficial for both teams and the organizations by iteratively analyzing the output and the productivity of the teams. Easy to say than done, this requires the leaders and managers to show the fundamental skills and experience to keep the organizational output at pace, also keeping the motivation of the teams at the consideration by managing and converting the recent advancements as the brownie points. Though the covid-19 made things difficult, it has opened new doors for innovative frameworks and skills required to test the mettle of the leaders for handling and managing the teams in a hybrid way.