More than a year after the world is closed in various ways, life is slowly returning to normal in the US Vaccines are going extraordinarily well, with nearly half the American population fully vaccinated. People are ready to come back to life as we knew it. Flights return to pre-pandemic levels. Restaurants are seeing increased traffic at the gates. Overall, there is a positive energy to be free and definitely overcome the pandemic.
While many parts of the economy are returning to “normalcy,” there are some aspects that are experiencing post-pandemic change, especially in the corporate world. The possibility of many white-collar employees working from home for a year or more has created a demand for more flexible working conditions. Businesses large and small, especially in the technology industry, are thinking about both hybrid and full-time work. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, recently told CNBC that he expects up to 60% of the company’s employees to continue working from home.
Is this really the new rule?
Microsoft seems to think so. The company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said in a post on LinkedIn: “Hybrid work represents the biggest change in the way we work in our generation. And it will require a new operating model, covering people, places and processes. “
After more than a year away from the planes, I recently took my first flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco to do some meetings that couldn’t be done using Zoom. My meetings took place in a large conference room in a shared workspace, which was 90% empty. Shortly after my trip, our group needed to get together to follow up. Normally, I would do a day trip, which would cost more than $ 800 and take more than 12 hours. Instead, and without hesitation, I scheduled a free Zoom call from the comfort of my home office. This hybrid business approach allows us to do the same amount of work but more efficiently and profitably than before.
Hybrid work is the way of the future, but the model may be different for each company depending on size, addressable market, product / service offering, and geographic location. Large companies can easily design and finance an attractive hybrid model. The biggest challenge may be for startups due to their smaller budgets and more difficult schedules. They need to provide more value for less money and may not have as many resources to devote to solving the challenges of a hybrid work model.
Companies trying to solve hybrid work have the opportunity to create a new organizational structure and behavior that will far surpass traditional models. In my opinion, they can drive a new culture and efficiency much better than what we previously called normal.
To be truly successful in a hybrid model, I believe companies need to focus on three key elements: management and organizational structure; organizational behavior; and advanced technologies.
Management and organizational structure
Multilevel management structures will not work in a hybrid model. Instead, companies should focus on a flat model that eliminates leftover management layers. If companies do not yet have the position, they should also add an Organizational Behavior Manager who is empowered to help employees meet the challenges of work from home and the lack of daily personal interactions with co-workers. Beyond that, each organization will need a leader, but will need to develop a new set of plans to control the work done. For many companies, work will be based on tasks rather than employees occupying 40 to 60 hours of work.
Organizational behavior will be even more important in the hybrid work environment. Companies will need to think of new ways to train and manage employees remotely and in person, as well as how to assign responsibilities. This requires a solid human resources organization that can create a customized structure with on-demand information delivery. The Head of Organizational Behavior will play a very important role. This person should understand both psychology and organizational behavior, as they will need to lead the culture in a world where many interactions can occur through a computer. Even with technological and video conferencing advances, there is a layer of separation between employees interacting on a screen that is not there when they meet in person. Overcoming it and helping employees feel connected instead of isolated is a big challenge that should not be taken lightly. Employees should feel that they are part of the ecosystem rather than islands.
Critical technology facilitators during the pandemic were video conferencing, teamwork applications, and high-speed communications bandwidth, including high-speed fiber or cable connections, and 5G wireless technologies. Advancing, these technologies will offer even more functionality, enabling virtual connections as real as human connections. There is a lot of focus on providing the next generation of video services and the on-demand availability of these services. Virtual reality glasses promise to bring more reality to virtual work and improved collaborations between people and remote groups. 5G is also growing in availability and features. Enhanced video communication should be at the heart of the hybrid model, and companies should provide their employees with the technology tools they need to take advantage of the latest in virtual communications.
Hybrid work models will no doubt experience growing pains as we begin to accept this new normalcy for large parts of corporate America, but this model will also pave the way for exciting new technologies. Even now, Zoom and other video service platforms are adding new features to make the experience even more enjoyable. The pandemic has affected many parts of life over the past year, but the silver lining may be a future where people enjoy the extra flexibility and conciliation that working from home can provide.