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Ciara D'Arcy

Ciara D'Arcy

5th Nov 2021

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Ciara D’Arcy: Leading The Hybrid Organisation

Hybrid is more than the number of days we spend on site

If there is one thing we have been able to confidently draw from the hybrid working world so far, it is that employees have been, broadly speaking, positive about it. Work satisfaction remains high and people report being happier working remotely. While there have been bumps in the road, particularly the delineation of work and home life, the experiment has mostly gone smoothly.  

For employers, the experience has been quite a different one. Hesitations remain in the post-Covid context, even as restrictions are lifted month by month, and we have observed that not all employers have pivoted at the same pace. They also want more face time with their employees. A PWC survey published in January 2021 showed that 68% of employers wanted employees on-site three days a week. 

This divergence in preferences is one that has been bubbling up for months as we adjust to the new world order. Now, it is imperative for leaders to think carefully about this dynamic and how a balance can be struck.  

Collaboration, connection and culture will be central building blocks as organisations get to grips with the realities of hybrid. Leaders must also focus on employee expectations, specifically on flexibility and providing all the supports needed for people to do their best work. 

Hybrid is more than the number of days we spend on site. It is helpful to think about it in a broader context, one that factors in the organisation’s specific profile.  

The question is this: what form of hybrid will be useful for your organisation? 

Digital transformation’s key enabler

Covid-19 acted as a digital accelerator, changing organisational perspectives and bringing forward the digital transformation agenda by a number of years. We have seen a wave of significant investments in this area over the past couple of years, with organisations devoting more time and energy to digital strategy and digital customer experience.  

Amid the rapid acceleration, a key enabler of successful digital transformation is culture; if a business has a digital culture in place – one that empowers people to deliver results faster and attracts and retains talent – it is set up to prosper. 

The five imperatives to foster a digital culture are: 

  • Look outside, not inside 
  • Prize delegation over control 
  • Encourage boldness over caution 
  • More action, less planning 
  • Value collaboration over individual effort 

We have a unique opportunity now to push the digital transformation agenda, embedding the idea of a digital culture and its associated behaviours. Implementing a hybrid model alone without this culture will be a significant limiting factor in a highly competitive business landscape. 

Organisations are increasingly ‘digital by default’, whereby their people can work from anywhere. Some organisations remain on-site by default, of course, with Goldman Sachs an example that has garnered plenty of attention. As always, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and it is context-dependent.  

A common factor that stands out, however, is that organisations have taken one approach or another largely due to their beliefs around culture and innovation.  

Setting the tone for the innovation drive

Innovation is a fundamental and critical success factor for businesses to thrive. In a hybrid working set-up, employees have asked questions around when they need to be in the office, how they will connect with their peers and so on. At an organisational level, the questions revolve around how a hybrid model can be fit in to what the business is about. This will be defined by the customer’s needs and what is right for the organisation, among other considerations. 

To stay ahead of the crowd, leaders must be proactive in their planning for optimising innovation, figuring out when to bring teams together, which teams need to work closely together and where work is best done. For example, in what situations will face-to-face arrangements be preferable to virtual ones? Investing time to think about the organisational architecture in this way will yield dividends in the long term. 

Designing a fully functioning hybrid model must include intentional work on how collaboration and innovation will work. Every organisation should have a clear narrative, with the tone set by senior leadership on the why and the how of the model in place. 

How do we enable hybrid? 

We are all acutely aware of the importance of IT capabilities in enabling hybrid. While some businesses are well established on this front, others are still in the process of fine-tuning things. As the best practices of hybrid work continue to evolve, there are several lessons to be cognisant of: 

1. Have clear goals and a strategy 

Invest in creating a set of goals that are realistic and achievable, and a strategy to back them up. Ask yourself if your leaders are capable of communicating strategic imperatives and breaking down problems to be solved.

2. Empower cross-silo teams to make decisions 

Time must be spent on team cohesion and increased delegation of tasks. Have you trained your managers to change their management style? What place does improving the quality of team-building hold in your organisation? 

3. Emphasise coaching and recognition 

Move your senior executives into mentoring and coaching roles to create micro-interactions of high value for the business. Ask yourself if your leaders have been trained to coach and whether they’re capable of empowering others to make decisions. 

4. Absorb and adapt technologies 

Getting comfortable with using the latest collaboration technology effectively is a vital skill in the hybrid world. Figure out if your people have access to the latest tools and technologies. If they have access, are they trained to use them to their full potential? 

The hybrid model is only going to be successful if we bring the culture component to the fore. If we lose focus and simply tag hybrid onto what we already know, it will not be enough to reap the massive benefits that this way of working represents. Think hard about what is sustainable for your people and your organisation, setting the stage for future success.

Ciara is a deeply experienced Human Resources Director and was formerly HR Director of Accenture Ireland, Head of HR with Google and Technical Director with IBEC.

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