Returning to a Hybrid Workplace

Basing a whole team in an office where everyone reports daily is a thing of the past, given the lessons learned from a forced work-from-home model. Moving forward, the next logical step will be work-from-anywhere scenarios.
By Oliver Ritchie
September 9, 2021

A year and half into a global pandemic, everything has changed—including the workplace. All social norms are different, from physical environment to interpersonal expectations. The demand for hybrid models of work even as the world starts up again reimagines what the workplace could be. If executives and managers want to remain competitive, they will need to become leaders of this hybrid model. Basing a whole team in an office where everyone reports daily is a thing of the past given the lessons learned from a forced work-from-home model. Moving forward, the next logical step will be work-from-anywhere scenarios central to the hybrid discussion.

In the midst of a devastating global health crisis, companies scrambled to find ways to meet the needs of their organizations and keep their teams and workers safe. With astonishing speed, technologies were adopted to make working from home possible. Though the learning (and training and workflow) curve was steep, it became apparent that there were distinct advantages in the work from home model—enough so that hybrid models are much more about just safety and convenience.

London Business School Professor Lynda Gratton’s research found that hybrid arrangements can be “more purposeful, productive, agile and flexible.” Business analyst Raj Choudhury writes that there are many positives both to the individual and organizations. Individuals find the flexibility of hybrid models report a better quality of life (no commute, more time for people in their lives, ability to travel/live where they want), more financial security and the ability to accommodate two income households that previously might have had competing geographical work conflicts. Organizations benefit first and foremost by having a happier and therefore more productive workforce, a smaller office footprint and/or building needs, and reduced attrition.

Considering the construction is an industry with a lot of moving parts from literal jobsites, stakeholders and competing needs, the hybrid work environment might be the best fit. Elements of the hybrid model are based on two main continuums: place and time. The first thing leaders should ask is how much freedom is required in each of these continuums based on workers’ roles? This type of specificity by role or team is needed, as blanket approaches will create a bad fit in some cases. For example, project management teams may be able to meet online, communicate through messaging and email, and collaborate on the cloud, whereas design or development teams may need to periodically meet in person, trade ideas and sketch out workflows. Those on jobsites by necessity might always have to be on the jobsite or the company could invest in on site tracking technology such as robots, drones or VR/AR methods.

Understanding the drivers of productivity and what the jobs and tasks are will help determine place and timing. Another area to consider is who is doing the job and what employee preferences and workstyles are. Once these areas are in place, how the job needs to get done must be taken into account. This provides a good opportunity to overhaul and redesign workflows instead of just adding to already existing ways of doing that might not be right for hybrid models or where redundancies and incomplete practices might exist. Finally, an area of the hybrid environment that cannot be ignored are issues of inclusion and fairness. Leaders will want to make sure their teams feel that they are heard and that they are part of the co-creation of processes, as opposed to just being told what to do. Ways that leaders can be inclusive and fair include clear feedback mechanisms and response loops, company-wide activities (that go beyond team building or townhalls) and authentic transparency of information.

In Harvard Business Review, Suarez and Montes also suggest the following broad approaches for leaders.

  1. Creating organizational routines: Script work processes, develop checklists that are easy to follow and communicate chain of command or team workflows.
  2. Instituting simple rules: Create rules around decision making for instance priority clients and/or work orders, guidelines for development new and/or continuing business and reporting mechanisms.
  3. Improvisation: Be flexible (and ready) for those things that may come up unplanned. Have a “improvisation” or pivot routine in place. This approach requires identification of team members that have good instincts, are comfortable with urgency and chaos, and can execute solutions in real time.

Organizational leaders and executives are having to deal with a workforce that is changed in ways yet to be determined during this pandemic. The levels of mental health issues, trauma and loss—along with feelings of safety and health concerns—require savvier ways of supporting employees to prevent burnout and increase overall wellbeing. Among all the skills that can help leaders in a hybrid work environment, listening, collaborating and empathy are most important. Knowing what employees need, helping provide those things, creating friction-free (or as much as possible) exchanges and having grace for what employees are experiencing in the rest of the world—not just in the workplace—are some ways to lead instead of just managing this constantly changing ecosystem.

by Oliver Ritchie
Oliver Ritchie is the Vice President, Technology and Innovation at CMiC, the creator of the most advanced construction management software. Oliver is a results driven professional with expertise in product design, development and strategy of flagship technologies.

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