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Hybrid working: a once-in-a-generation opportunity for HR

29 November 2021

Dave Page, Hybrid working: a once-in-a-generation opportunity for HR

Story by
Dave Page: CEO - Actual Experience

Dave Page, Hybrid working: a once-in-a-generation opportunity for HR

It may seem like an age ago now, when millions of us were forced to trade our commutes and conversations around the office water cooler, for both the joys and challenges of home working.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on in the remote working vs office-based divide, companies the world over are now in the midst of getting to grips with a fundamental shift in how knowledge work gets done – the hybrid working model.

We recently conducted some extensive research of European business leaders, where we surveyed and interviewed a mix of CEOs, CIOs and CHROs from across Europe, 70% of which said they’re shifting to a hybrid workplace model.

Concern through lack of understanding

What quickly became apparent was that organisations across multiple sectors are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of digital inequality on employees.

In fact, over two thirds (67%) of C-Suite representatives said they’re worried these new ways of working will worsen inequality as a result of different experiences in the digital workplace.

Workplace equality problems can and are emerging between those who have access to good digital services and those who don’t.

For example, over time, employees with poor internet connection at home could be more likely to miss targets, sacrifice bonuses and lose out on promotion opportunities.

With the majority of businesses expecting to shift to a hybrid workplace, our report, entitled Reconfigured, found there was a real lack of clarity when it came to the sorts of data employers should be getting to grips with.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents admit that they were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ effective at understanding the digital requirements of employees – less than one in five (18%) cited they were ‘very effective’ in doing so.

Similarly, only 19% said they were ‘very effective’ at understanding the link between digital tools and employee wellbeing.

Again, just shy of 1 in 4 (24%) said they were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ effective in this area.

With this fundamental shift already underway, large gaps in understanding and co-ordination across business leaders must be addressed to ensure the right recommendations and procedures are put in place.

With the hybrid model largely untested by many, failure to do so could mean the ‘new normal’ brings with it a multitude of HR headaches, as employee disconnect becomes a business-critical issue.

A shift in influence toward Chief HR Officers and People Leaders

The transition to new ways of working is the greatest management challenge that companies have faced in decades and one which is too great for any one business leader to handle alone.

In our survey, 65% of our respondents say that there is no single executive who owns the future workplace in their organisation, as the topic is simply too big.

There is a new topology in leadership teams.

They must collaborate and connect in different ways from before.

The ownership of who does what in this model is still uncertain, but it does seem clear that the CHRO sits at the centre and is the logical and natural choice to take ownership of new ways of working.

The role of the CHRO has been rising in prominence for several years and the pandemic has thrust it firmly to the forefront.

Moving forward, employee experience of the new working models will underpin the most important drivers of business success: overall business performance; purpose and ESG; and equality, diversity and inclusion.

This further elevates the position of the CHRO and is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make great changes to meet people, planet and profit objectives.

Employee Experience Driving Customer Success

The report did find a clear shift toward improved employee experience as a key driver for the C-Suite. More than one in three (36%) of our business leaders stated that a core benefit of the future workplace will be a stronger alignment between employee and customer experience.

However, this will be dependent on a greater understanding of employee requirements, both digitally and personally – 29% of respondents claim this to be one of the top challenges management faces.

While remote working brought many challenges to businesses and employees, the road to hybrid looks set to be trickier still.

Companies need to understand how and why inequalities emerge in different working models and the usage of digital tools.

This should be key to their corporate agenda and form an important part not only of their duty of care and compliance but also their entire employee value proposition.

Businesses need to apply more focus to the ‘Social’ in ESG for their employees, but also for investor relations – failure to do so will see them placed under scrutiny.

Get this right however, and companies can benefit from strengthened purpose and better alignment between the customer and employee experience, with real tangible benefits to be made.

Dave Page is the CEO of Actual Experience.

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