Article: Organizational design for a hybrid future of work

Strategic HR

Organizational design for a hybrid future of work

A ‘Future of Work trends post-COVID-19’ study brought out key elements for leaders to focus on as they rethink organization design in the post-pandemic era. Where are employers today in this journey of organizational redesign? What organizational structures are leaders planning for in times to come? Let’s find out!
Organizational design for a hybrid future of work

A Gartner study, ‘Future of Work Trends post-COVID-19’, has highlighted, “After the global financial crisis, global M&A activity accelerated, and many companies were nationalized to avoid failure. As the pandemic subsides, there will be a similar acceleration of M&A and nationalization of companies. Companies will focus on expanding their geographic diversification and investment in secondary markets to mitigate and manage risk in times of disruption. This rise in complexity of size and organizational management will create challenges for leaders as operating models evolve.”

Gartner also noted in recent studies that smart companies can no longer just design for the most efficient way to get things done – “they have to design for efficiency AND resilience.”

Where are employers today in this journey of organizational redesign? What organizational structures are leaders planning for in times to come? Let’s find out!

The current status of organizational redesign: Flexible, fluid, experimentative, agile 

The overnight rush into remote working sent organizations into a spin, one that caused tremendous panic and accelerated the adoption of tech to minimize damage to operations, communication and in the bigger picture, business. Nine months into the pandemic, global institutions, public and private have found a temporary fix in remote working, however, going by the likelihood of safety restrictions remaining a priority post-COVID, organizations are becoming experimentative and fluid with how they approach work, working environment, expectations and employee relations. In the present day, the key words are flexibility in mindset and agility to transform and adapt.

Upon launching its new 'Agile Working Models’ policy aimed at moving towards a "trust and outcome-based working culture" and to give more flexibility to its employees, Tata Steel’s VP Human Resource Management, Suresh Dutt Tripathi, said that flexible working not only portrays an organization's intent to create a workplace for the upcoming generations but also solidifies its intent to cater to the needs of its diversified workforce across geographies. "Flexible working provides greater freedom to choose locations and make essential life decisions such as supporting families, be it ageing parents or spouses with non-transferrable jobs. This will help in retaining and enriching our key talent from across the country and attract workforce for location agnostic roles."

Sharing his organization’s approach to the post-COVID workplace design, Birlasoft’s Chief Delivery Officer, Shreeranganath Kulkarni said, “As we rapidly adapted to the new normal of remote working, we realized that a new way of working requires more work ownership to deliver seamless services to the client with no disruption."

"At Birlasoft, we have developed a governance model where large teams are shrunk into microcosms (smaller agile teams) with clear ownership and accountability of deliverables,” noted Kulkarni.

He added that the teams are balanced with feasible and achievable workloads to ensure minimal business disruption and zero downtime for customers, while also not overstressing their employees. “This model will gradually evolve to ‘work-from-anywhere’ in the future.” 

Intel India's Sr. HR Director, Anjali Rao said, "Intel’s workplace transformation is rooted in experience and backed by industry-leading technology innovation that continually focuses on the future. To successfully pivot our workforce while maintaining business operations, we made numerous changes across design site operations, supply chain, sales and marketing, human resources and finance. We have simplified workflows and added new capabilities to support remote working, fine-tuning multiple platforms to both enable and accelerate collaboration, to help employees seamlessly connect, contribute and learn."

ThoughtWorks Chief Operating Officer, Saptorsi Hore shared that clients have gradually become more comfortable in their support of remote working, and the organization sees a dramatic shift in their expectation of flexibility. "While we recognize that a complete shift to '100% remote working' will impact client relationships, our culture and our ability to attract and retain talent - we also believe there is a middle ground to be found. We see an opportunity to drive great value for our clients and ThoughtWorkers, alike by altering our engagement models to allow for more flexibility. This could be in the form of working out of client premises, in our offices and from home. Some of the principles guiding our approach include engaging with clients and employees to solicit inputs, proactively extending flexibile working options, experimenting and quickly understanding the impact of our changes and sharing our learnings."

Speaking of the emerging ‘hybrid workplace’ concept, Ruchi Bhalla, Country Head - India Delivery Centers & VP HR (APAC), Pitney Bowes commented, “Modern employees will not be geographically bound, so organizations that embrace the remote/hybrid workplace model, evolve internal structures to facilitate dispersed teams and successfully reskill employees are more likely to be successful in the new normal.” The organization is giving its employees the option of working from office and is focused on transcending the organization’s culture beyond the physical office space. “Backed by advanced IT infrastructure, the new model will give employees options of both physical and virtual interactions, and allow them to seamlessly work in a virtual environment while managing their professional and personal lives. Employees will be multi-faceted and will more readily adopt newer technologies like Cloud Computing; AI & Big Data Analytics; Cybersecurity; Mobile & Web Development and IoT, along with soft skills to thrive in a virtual/hybrid work environment.”

What the future looks like?

A recurring theme across organizations is that of a hybrid workplace, one that allows employees the flexibility to choose between working from home or office, or even co-working spaces and satellite offices, whatever works best for employees, ensuring no compromise on productivity and well-being. Investments are now seeing an uptick in creating ‘COVID-safe’ workplaces, and parallelly bringing in latest tech to streamline processes, and boost efficiency and effectiveness of a distributed workforce.

Speaking of future plans, Sushant Patnaik,  Head-HR at Aeris Communications shared, “Once the situation improves, we plan to look at the staggering resumption, perhaps starting with 10% of employees working from office on need basis to gradually taking cautious steps towards normalization."

"For us, employee health and well-being remain our foremost priority. We plan to have an app-based advance office seat booking facility, regular health monitoring of employees, daily office sanitization – among other measures,” Patnaik added.

Sharing her organization's vision for the future, Pranali Save, Chief Human Resources Officer, Icertis, said, “We are looking at a hybrid model that incorporates the best of Work from Office and Work from Home. We see the large “mother ship” head offices move towards a host of smaller satellite offices offering the same social and collaborative benefits while providing greater flexibility and shorter commutes, which will enable employees to spend more time with their families. Newer workspace models also mean an evolution in the ways of working.” 

Echoing thoughts of a hybrid future of work, Anjali Byce, CHRO, STL commented,  "A hallmark of our future workplace will be ‘agile’ and ‘hybrid’. Both these themes will form the fulcrum of our operating model. We envision our future working model as a combination of physical, virtual and distributed workplaces; coupled with agile teams and roles / jobs being re-defined under centers of expertise, shared services, gig, project-based or outsourced roles.” 

Abhay Singh, Senior Director – HR, Applied Materials India shared his view on what the circumstances indicate for the future of the workplace, as well as how that is shaping the organization’s approach towards hiring and culture. “Applied Materials India now has the opportunity to look beyond the big cities for hiring with the flexibility of incorporating newer, remote workspace models. We are working closely with our global teams to ascertain what the hybrid workplace of the future will look like. No matter the organizational design, we will continue to foster a collaborative culture that supports and encourages employees to stay connected."

"We are enhancing the availability of online tools and will continue innovating our IT infrastructure to facilitate effective work and collaboration,” added Singh.

Beyond flexibility and tech, Intel India's Anjali Rao emphasizes the need for collaboration. "Moving forward, we expect that workplaces will change forever and places of work will become more of spaces for collaboration. This new workplace concept will be where ideas, interactions and our work relationships can thrive. These are extraordinary times for all, and it is important that we consciously and deliberately continue to rethink how we approach our relationships with work, technology, and more importantly, the people in our lives.

Rao added, "Together with our ecosystem partners, Intel continues to explore and expand new ways of working within the evolving enterprise—from advanced collaboration, productivity, and integrated workspaces to greater recognition that people are the ultimate source of innovation. With Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence gaining more prominence in workflows, surveys across industries highlight accelerated re-skilling efforts over the next two years. There will be an increasing need for the workforce to be digitally adept with a sharp, strategic and analytical bent of mind."

A blended workforce model appears to be the way forward, stated Thoughtworks COO, Saptorsi Hore. "Our objective is to arrive at a blended workforce model with deep roots in Distributed Agile, that addresses the needs of our clients and our people. In such a hybrid future of work, some key competencies that we actively seek in our candidates are flexibility, inclusivity, accessibility, resilience, helping others grow and the willingness to widely share one's knowledge. We are constantly helping ThoughtWorkers build and grow these very capabilities and look for them in new ThoughtWorkers as well.”

Broadening the reskilling agenda

The Gartner report spoken about above, also highlighted findings of a 2019 Gartner organization design survey, “55% of organizational redesigns were focused on streamlining roles, supply chains and workflows to increase efficiency. While this approach captured efficiencies, it also created fragilities, as systems have no flexibility to respond to disruptions. Resilient organizations were better able to respond — correct course quickly with change.”

What are the roles and skills then that will enable workflows and performance in the changing organizational paradigm? As the report states, “To build a more responsive organization, design roles and structures around outcomes to increase agility and flexibility and formalize how processes can flex. Also, provide employees with varied, adaptive and flexible roles so they acquire cross-functional knowledge and training,” the report added. 

A critical conclusion of the report was also the need to customize performance management and extend career development support. “Enable business units to customize performance management, because what one part of the enterprise needs might not work elsewhere. As organizational complexity complicates career pathing, providing reskilling and career development support — for example, by developing resources and building out platforms to provide visibility into internal positions.”

Industry leaders echo the need to reskill not just for new technologies, but also for the new workplace.

Emphasizing the need for self-starters and agile learners, Icertis CHRO, Pranali Save said, "As we continue to explore the right talent for newer hybrid models and our existing remote working project called Icertis Everywhere, we will be looking for more self-starters, self-led, agile learners. Empathetic managers with the ability to facilitate remote teamwork through a trust based culture will be assets in the hybrid workspace."

“COVID-19 has certainly reinforced the belief that change is the only constant. The future of work will be focused on ways to provide the right kind of flexible environment that fosters collaboration, growth and connections that will transcend geographical boundaries. In this new reality, the skillsets that will enable talent to stand out would be - divergent thinking, a learning mindset, emotional intelligence, and willingness to embrace new-age technologies to deliver for our customers. As we work towards what this may look like, we continue to focus on growing our community of like-minded, innovative individuals who are driven to excel and power prosperity,” said Jharna Thammaiah K, Director – HR, Intuit India.

“With hybrid and agile ways of working we expect to see an increased demand for employees building expertise in adjacent skills (more than one expertise), enhance collaboration skills and capability in critical thinking and problem solving," shared Anjali Byce, CHRO, STL.

Abhay Singh, Senior Director – HR, Applied Materials India highlighted, “One of the key attributes that will become extremely important is a person’s ability to communicate, both written and verbal. With almost all meetings now happening remotely, prospective employees need to have the ability to drive a project and collaborate with the team by communicating effectively. Employees who demonstrate the ability to work productively without direct supervision or who are capable of being independent contributors will also be sought after by companies.” 

Some of the other key skills that they particularly look for in a candidate, said Singh, are extensive technical knowledge and flexibility to take up a task or work from the office when necessary. He added, “At the supervisory level, we look for candidates who can bring in new skills that fit new ways of working. We specifically look for people who can effectively manage, supervise and engage their teams working from remote locations. Most importantly the candidate should possess the strength, confidence and empathy to handle dynamic, evolving scenarios and situations.”

Keeping tech at the core, Birlasoft’s Chief Delivery Officer, Shreeranganath Kulkarni noted, “Talent is the primary strategic asset for our success in a rapidly changing, VUCA-at-its-best world. Employees need to be skilled in new emerging technologies like AI, Cloud, ML, etc., get familiar with new technology tools, and understand the importance of continuous learning in their lives.”

While organization design in the post-pandemic era will be guided by individual organizational priorities, and culture, it will also be affected by the bent of mind and risk appetite of leaders.

The notion of returning to normal often clouds one’s thinking on the existing realities, restricting them from bringing in a fresh sustainable outlook to functioning in the present and what appears to be the future. 

It is clear from what some leaders have shared above, that the future of the workplace is indeed hybrid. How soon organizations accept, respond and execute their action plan for redesigning their organization for the now and future of work, will determine their ability to come out successful, sustainable and resilient on the other side of the pandemic.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #HybridWorkplace

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