30 April 2021

5min

Hybridizing distance & presence: a new work experience

How will we work tomorrow? Along with the vaccine and Christmas holidays, this is one of the most discussed topics. There are many articles supported by opinion polls that demonstrate the extent to which the current crisis has accelerated our expectations at work: more flexibility, personalisation & personal development… The offered “work experience” is even more crucial today to attract & hire employees and also strengthen collective performance.

This requires designing a high-performant and different work experience, which now must combine distance and presence, while questioning places, practices, tools and work organisations. To do this, we have two certainties 

  1. It is crucial to move away from the “unitary” vision (the HRD taking care of teleworking, the IT department of digital collaboration tools, the real estate service of workspaces, etc.). Organisations need to move into a “holistic” and integrated vision. At onepoint, we stop talking about “working methods” and prefer the notion of “work experience”.
  2. The offered work experience must therefore be specific and tailor-made. Accumulating learning expeditions is in fact not enough because copying choices made by other companies is not possible! There is only one solution to move forward: embarking on a participatory design approach: understanding the corporate culture & DNA as well as strategic ambitions for tomorrow.

 

While answers that shape this new work experience must be specific to each company, questions to be asked are similar.

 

What ambition to adopt for remote work?

 

This is the question whose answer determines all the others! When it comes to remote work, the “generation leap” takes place. First constrained, we have discovered opportunities (professional & personal balance, time specialization, etc.) and risks (isolation, mercerization, loss of socio-emotional cues, etc.). We adopted new digital collaboration tools and managers have become uninhibited about this way of working, which was still raising doubts less than a year ago. The studies are again unanimous: remote work has imposed itself, and for good. However, each company must define modalities: at what pace, for whom, with what flexibility? For tertiary functions, we identify 4 possible scenarios – each company having to choose its own in order to position its ambition in terms of remote work: 1) tolerated exceptionally (20% of the time), 2) regular (50% of the time ), 3) majority (80% of the time) and finally 4) permanent (the famous “full remote”). This positioning is done according to the culture of each company and its activities – of course, subtleties can be introduced (for specific professions or profiles, for example), often in connection with the social partners. This is basically the main trade-off, according to which each company can then choose its path on the following dimensions.

 

Other dimensions to explore

Depending on the adopted remote work positioning, company’s resources and its strategic choices, ambition will then have to be determined:

“Package” offered to teleworkers: what arrangement of the home workspace, compensation or not for electricity consumption, possibilities of access to third-party workplaces, development of the responsiveness of IT support …

Proposals made to non-teleworkers: what possibilities are available for those who do not wish to telework? And of course, for companies not only employing “knowledge workers”, what discourse (or more) to expect for all those with a profession not allowing them to take advantage of the benefits of telework …

Offices: conservation of a large campus in the suburbs, return to the city center or opening of many micro hubs, sharing of work positions or nominative allocation, stability or increase in the number of spaces dedicated to collaboration & exchanges, development biophilia & nature’s invitation to the office, conviviality-enhancing devices (tactile team walls, etc.)

Mobility: depending on the location of the site and the degree of “inventiveness” possible in the mobility solutions offered (from the encouragement of carpooling or equipment with electric bicycles, to the “mobility package” replacing cars function), how many parking spaces to provide …

Catering: what future for the classic corporate restaurant, faced with a drop in attendance & the development of alternative offers, both on site and remotely (driven by new competitors such as Frichti or Deliveroo)?  How to capitalise on mobility and catering times to make them vectors of exchange & serendipity (with lunches or rotating cafes, for example) …

Practices & culture of collaboration: what tools for what uses, what criteria to decide whether a collective time is feasible remotely or in person? How to develop the knowledge base and the culture of writing necessary for remote work generalised? How to protect our brains against infobesity and the ravages of polychronism? How to recreate a “virtual meeting place”, a real digital counterpart of the office?

Time management: faced with the “reunion” generated by teleworking (+ 60% of meetings according to 2,000 teleworkers surveyed in June 2020 by Opinionway **), what are the possibilities of “disconnection” to concentrate? How to facilitate disconnection at the end of the day? A subject on which social dialogue will often crystallise within the company!

New activities or positions to be created in the company: why not hiring a coach in time management or in collective time facilitation, to prepare and streamline them, or the e-community manager in charge of maintaining the link despite the distance…

New modes of organisation to be invented in order to reap all the benefits of this new work experience: teams more empowered in decision-making, even organised, the development of self-positioning of working time for jobs with fixed hours …

The list of questions to ask yourself can make you dizzy. To answer this: associate, involve, make participate. In short: “build with”, first because the decisions taken with the opinion of the field will be more relevant, then because their appropriation will be easier.

And yet, this is just the beginning!

Well done, you have answered the above questions and designed a coherent & relevant “work experience”! There is ‘more’ to bring to life … And it is where the real fun begins.

 

Reorganisations and removals, provision of IT equipment, negotiations with social partners, deployment of new software: there are many projects! Let us put them aside here,  not because they are anecdotal, far from it, each of these crucial issues would deserve its own article … but because there is one thing that is even more so: the work culture!

Indeed, deploying a new work experience is above all a cultural transformation: from the managerial posture to the most daily reflexes. It is the entire common frame of “how to work alone and together”, sometimes frozen for years or even decades, which is called into question. A transformation of such magnitude requires colossal supportive efforts which will not be enough: if we look at it in the face, there will surely be a small proportion of people who will not be able to get on board. These will have to join other organisation whose working practices suit them better.

And if you selected scenario 2 or 3 at the first question, you are therefore moving towards a work experience combining work on site & remote work. The issue is no longer just to deploy but also to keep it alive over time, which will be a challenge! Paradoxically perhaps, making distance and presence coexist in a structural way is more difficult than choosing one side or the other. A concrete example can measure this additional complexity: organising a meeting in scenario 1 (everyone is on site) or 4 (everyone is remote) will be easier than in a hybrid mode where half of the participants will be in the same room on site and the other half distributed at home.

On a daily basis, a hybrid work experience multiplies the possibilities and requires a lot of individual & collective discipline, as well as a perfect managerial example. These efforts are worth it, considering the ability to attract, engage, collaborate effectively and retain top talent; after all, they are the ones who will make the performance of tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Emmanuel Goutallier

Partner, Asia-Pacific