As enterprises cement return-to-office plans, most leaders agree that hybrid work will become the norm, allowing organizations to balance their workforce's desire for flexibility and autonomy with the benefits that face-to-face collaboration can bring to culture and innovation.
There are two primary opportunities in designing hybrid work models. The first is to ensure that meetings, workshops, and spontaneous ideation can include the voices of in-office and virtual attendees. The second is to make sure that everyone has a unified experience regardless of location, and that the information they need to work moves with them. While most people think about perfecting the experience for the first, I’m equally as interested in how organizations plan for the second scenario.
Designing a hybrid work experience presents risks and opportunities. If implemented well, hybrid work can promote innovation, engagement and inclusivity, and boost employee retention. However, poorly implemented hybrid work can result in broken workflows, misalignment amongst teams, and loss of business momentum.
Despite the importance of succeeding in hybrid, I’ve been surprised to find that many companies have failed to delegate the task of designing the hybrid workplace with the clarity it deserves.
Hybrid work relies on technology, but it isn’t just IT. It requires people process, but it isn’t just people operations. It requires retrofits to the workplace, but it isn’t just workplace operations. Ensuring the success of hybrid strategies requires a deeper level of partnership between these departments than many enterprises are used to forging. Here’s how each team should approach its part:
Information technology: Bridging online and offline experiences
Long before the pandemic, CIOs and their teams have been tasked with deploying software tools that (ideally) allow distributed teams to collaborate as effectively as co-located ones. But hybrid requires a bridge between virtual and physical spaces and a seamless experience across the board.
To make it work, content on meeting room displays should be easily accessible in-room and remotely. Software should allow you to source inputs quickly on projects regardless of where your team is located. It requires hardware and software tools that enable teams to work in real-time, continue synchronously, then reconvene to present the material. Our mindset needs to shift from technology tied to a location, to technology connected to a project and capable of supporting asynchronous and synchronous work seamlessly. IT must put the user experience first and create systems that are reliable, fast, and easy to use for spontaneous ideation and collaboration.
Workplace: Reimaging collaborative spaces for hybrid work
Workplace designers should rethink collaborative spaces to make sure they maximize the connectedness created by technology. Furniture, lighting design, and decor can all make a difference in how people interact, so the sky's the limit to reimagining shared spaces. For example, a customer who works in employee experience design shared how her team partnered with IT to design hybrid-friendly conference rooms. They found that lowering video displays to eye-level and replacing rectangular conference tables with half-moon-shaped ones helped create an egalitarian feel for virtual attendees in meetings. She designed a demonstration room and invited employees to test drive it and provide feedback before scaling the design. This allowed for quick iteration and fostered ownership and inclusion.
People: Creating cultural rituals and embracing hybrid culture
People teams can help ensure that hybrid work plans have the buy-in from employees to be embraced across the organization. Working with business functions to understand each teams' rituals and preferred ways of working can help determine which aspects can be fully remote, fully in-office, or some mix of the two -- and help to design the experience to pull them off.
People teams can also design cultural rituals that are inclusive and interactive for remote employees. At our company, we host virtual icebreakers at our all-hands that are enabled by technology but designed by people teams to drive participation, measure the temperature of teams, and create opportunities for people to get to know one another. People teams can support in developing best-practices for hybrid work such as “No Meeting Days.”
They also shape the onboarding experience and could define welcoming rituals like ensuring team members are in the office to meet employees when they begin. These examples illustrate the people team working with workplace and IT to enable best practices.
Using Agile to build hybrid models
Hybrid work shouldn’t be a top-down initiative. Employees should be involved in designing it and their needs should be the stories that your hybrid model solves. With each change, you should test, collect feedback, and iterate to be sure that your technology and practices are meeting their needs. IT, people, and workplace teams should have a continuous dialogue to share knowledge and data about what’s working and what’s not.
Success is in everyone’s interest. To make it work, people, IT, and workplace teams need to form a close partnership to enable and execute hybrid strategies that work.