READ the September 2021 issue of our magazine: The Great War For Talent
As vaccines roll out, business leaders are starting to emerge from their pandemic hideaways and prepare to go back to the office. This may require some people to re-learn how to wear a necktie or heels as we re-engage in corporate office life. As businesses across sectors start to ramp up initiatives and growth activities, new waves of hiring and quests for talent are already in full gear. In many countries, we see pent-up demand for career changes or job shifts that were put on hold during the pandemic. Thus, it appears that we are on the verge of a post-pandemic talent race!
How do we prepare for this talent race and what must we do to retain and attract the talent we need for our organisation? First, we consider the new work patterns that may be offered as part of the employee value proposition. Second, we evaluate how we manage a hybrid workforce to ensure future success.
Identifying new work patterns
Rather than rushing back to the same work patterns and practices, many might suggest that firm leaders have an opportunity to rethink the assumptions for how, where, and when is done. There are several considerations when evaluating new work patterns.
- Not available to Everyone - While this may be true in some cases, many work environments such as manufacturing and consumer services require a physical presence. In other cases, the capital expense of real estate, equipment, or access to resources would naturally limit the portability or flexibility of work.
- Alternative Locations - However, some firms will have the luxury to rethink work practices. In these cases, likely knowledge work and back-office processing work, firms do have the opportunity to reimagine work in some ways. This might include moving to more distributed locations such as satellite clusters in suburbs or more flexibility to live in alternative locations with occasional travel to the office or client sites.
- Fewer Travel Requirements - Many businesses will have the opportunity to rethink business travel. For professional services firms and many multinational organisations, the cost savings of business travel has been a hidden help during the pandemic. While video meetings may not entirely replace in-person gatherings, reducing travel costs and time can provide significant business benefits.
- In-person Innovation - Collaboration and casual interactions from in-person experiences have been shown to support innovation. New ideas are often fuelled by the socialization of people in clusters that are comprised of diverse groups. We note that new ideas build upon other ideas or adjacent concepts as people explore challenges or new tools. Most modern offices foster collaboration and teamwork, which can open doors for diverse ideas and opinions. Of course, office places with closed doors and isolated workspaces would not likely be conducive to idea generation or innovation.
- Differences in Global Location - As new work practices emerge, we can expect that there will be variations in this based on regulatory and cultural expectations around the world. For example, Asian countries with cultures that place a high value on relationships and hierarchy are more likely to continue with practices of coming into the office. On the other hand, some European countries with a culture that values task orientation and direct communication may be more inclined to have people work from home. It is also important to note that the local housing infrastructure may also be a factor in some urban locations (i.e., workers living with their families in small apartments in Hong Kong or Tokyo may be eager to work from a desk in an office building).
Managing the hybrid workforce
Some experts argue that the focus on the hybrid work model is a bunch of hype and that we will be back to our old patterns of commuting and office work soon. However, there are two key factors that we must consider: First, the duration of the pandemic disruption which has allowed enough time to shift behaviours and expectations, and second, the global reach of this disruption which has created what we call a “Cohort Experience” in the current generation of the workforce around the world. While we may see some of the old patterns of office work re-emerge in the future, the evidence suggests that new flexible work models are here to stay. Therefore, it is likely important for most businesses to determine how to make hybrid work. In a review of these work practices, five key management actions emerge:
- Enabling Tech and Process – perhaps it is obvious, but enabling offices with facilities that allow seamless connections between onsite team members and those working remotely is a critical first step to making the hybrid model work, in the long run. If meeting spaces are not conducive for hybrid meetings, then companies will likely revert back to everyone coming to the office for meetings – or taking up the rule that all meetings are done individually (Zoom from your desk) to create an equal participation level. For example, several tech firms are allowing people to come into the office, but require all meetings to be done individually to ensure equality and inclusion.
- Creating Higher-level Social Engagement – as people begin to head back into the office, many will sit at their desks all day and wonder why they made the trip when they could have been working from home. To capture the benefit of hybrid working, companies must arrange and encourage social interactions on the days that people are in the office (and potentially encourage common in-person office days). Hosting coffee breaks, social interactions, cross-functional meetings, and other types of engagement are needed to make the in-person time at the office meaningful in the hybrid work model. Consulting firms have been doing this for years as consultants work on client projects four days a week and then come into the office on Fridays for networking, meetings, learning and social engagement.
- Ensuring Employee Well-Being – the pandemic has been difficult for most of us, and returning to offices may also pose challenges. While working from home, we often found ourselves getting to know our colleagues in new ways as we were talking to them in their living rooms or watching them juggle kids or pets while on camera. As firms move to a hybrid model, the challenges associated with family obligations, the stress of balancing commitments, and the changes associated with our work day should not be under-estimated. Spending time to understand employee challenges, providing space to get accustomed to the new patterns of hybrid working, and creating an environment of learning together how to make it work can be important. Many firms are now frequently surveying employees to gather feedback and check in to understand how the work models are affecting well-being.
- Practising Inclusive Leadership – in the hybrid work model, the time together in offices is abbreviated and may not allow managers to check in with all of their people regularly. When in large meetings (either remote or hybrid), the group dynamics may allow some people to dominate and others to feel left out. Inclusive leaders will work to ensure that everyone has a voice and is valued. Inclusive leaders will also check in with others, hold occasional skip-level meetings and work to make sure that people feel connected with leadership.
- Fostering Psychological Safety – many organisations are considering a hybrid model to provide flexibility for employees while also having the benefit of in-person interactions that can foster innovation, ideas, and learning. While this is a great intent for the in-person interactions, people must feel comfortable and confident in asking questions, sharing ideas, or providing alternative perspectives. Psychological safety, feeling free to openly contribute without fear of criticism or retribution, can be a challenge in some organisation cultures and team environments. Organisation leaders can help set the tone and expectation when it comes to valuing diverse opinions and alternative perspectives. Fostering psychological safety is an important prerequisite to finding value in the hybrid work model.
In most businesses, the events of the past year have been taken a toll on managers and HR leaders as organisations have worked tirelessly to adjust to the changing events around the world. As we plan to emerge from our pandemic battles, we are likely to face an escalating talent race. Those who have taken the time to reflect on our learnings, consider the emergence of new work patterns, and plan for managing a hybrid workforce will likely be out in front.