Whether a hybrid work model is a good thing or a bad thing depends on who you ask, and the type of worker you are talking about, writes CIO magazine Publisher Emeritus, Gary Beach.

Hello. You have reached the voicemail of Gary Beach. My company operates on a hybrid work model, so I have decided to work remotely today. Please leave a message at the tone and I will call you back after I pick up the kids from school at 3PM. Or just leave your email address and I will respond to you after 11PM tonight. Thanks for calling.”

Two Sides to Hybrid Work

In the post-pandemic economy, many firms plan to deploy hybrid work models where employees work from a remote location, typically their home, and from corporate offices. Balancing work in two locations will be a challenge for both workers and management. Employees view hybrid work as a permanent, once-in-a-generation shift in how work gets done that leads to improved work/life balance, better job flexibility and more productivity. The C-suite perceives hybrid work as a “work in progress”, forced on the firm by the pandemic, with inherent unknowns such as managing coherent work schedules among employees, protecting corporate security and deploying new productivity measurements that prioritize worker “outcomes over output”, according to Tim Minahan, executive vice president for Citrix, writing in The Harvard Business Review .

Failure to Communicate

An April 2021 research study by McKinsey and Company, reports while “organizations have announced a general intent to embrace a hybrid work model”, communication of those plans to staff vary widely company-to-company, with 32 percent of firms having deployed “well communicated” policies, 28 percent saying they have “vaguely communicated” plans, and 40 percent stating they have “not at all communicated” hybrid work plans to employees. Those unstructured communication efforts are a key factor explaining why nearly 50 percent of workers in the McKinsey study say, “the lack of vision or plan for post-pandemic work is causing me concern, anxiety and burnout.”

Over the past 15 months, employee preferences for where they want to work has flipped. Prior to Covid-19, 62 percent of workers preferred to work exclusively in the office. Now, only 27 percent do. Before the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic, 30 percent of workers favored hybrid work structures. Now, 52% do.

Three Days a Week: The new norm

Scheduling work will be a dilemma for firms deploying hybrid work models. A pivotal question is this: how many days per week should a hybrid worker be in the office? Executives responding to a PWC study were asked that question, and 39 percent said a hybrid worker should be in the office four days per week, 29 percent said three days per week, 15 percent said two days per week, five percent reported one day per week, and six percent said three days, or less, per month. Bottom line: 68 percent of C-suite executives expect hybrid workers to be in the office at least three days a week. Which three days is left unspecified, though some firms have declared that Monday and Friday must be two of the three days hybrid workers must be on company work premises. Bye-bye long weekends for individuals working for those companies!


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Perceived Risks of Remote Work

Three days a week in the office will not cut it for Jamie Diamond, Chief Executive Officer for JPMorganChase. Diamond says he “wants people back in the office. Remote work doesn’t work for young people, it doesn’t work for those who want to hustle and it doesn’t work for the spontaneous idea generation. You know, people don’t like commuting, but so what?” Mr. Diamond worries that, “over time, remote work could dramatically undermine the character and the culture of the company.”

Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom adds, “innovation and creativity hinge on successful collaboration and the work from home movement could actually generate a worldwide productivity slump that threatens economic growth for many years.”

Hybrid Work Pros and Cons

How should technology executives manage IT hybrid work staffs? Ulas Burdak, Vice President of Engineering for Foursquare says that before fully committing to a hybrid work environment, CIOs must communicate the benefits, and drawbacks, of hybrid work to their staff. “For example, while the hybrid model affords workers greater control over their personal schedule, improved balance between work/family life issues, better time utilization (no commute) and fewer distractions from co-workers, the downsides encountered include a blurring of work/family life, worker isolation, difficulty communicating and collaborating, more distractions from family members, particularly those with young children and hinderance of career aspirations – out of sight, out of mind.”

Nuances to the Hybrid Work Model

CIOs must understand hybrid work is not suited for all workers. Before deploying a hybrid work model, the World Economic Forum recommends that firms should segment their employees into three categories: 1) “Essential” workers who must be physically at work every day in the office or the field. 2) “Remote” workers who are required to report to the office at least three days per week, and 3) “Displaced” individuals who need to be reskilled or dismissed.

The “2021 State of the CIO” research from IDG’s CIO.com offers insights into what essential IT work is. When CIOs were asked, “what areas will be of increasing importance in 2021?”, they claimed that these were most essential: 1) Cybersecurity (57 percent), 2) Data analytics (47 percent ), 3) Data privacy (44 percent), and 4) Customer experience (39 percent).



The Role of Trust in Hybrid Work Deployments

Gartner advises CIOs that another critical component of well-functioning hybrid environments has nothing to do with essential technology. Namely, trust. David DeCremer, professor of management at the National University of Singapore says, “most companies fail in building trusting work relationships in a hybrid work environment by confusing trust with control. Control is not the same as trust, and relying on control as a way to manage employees actually leaves little room for trust.” Mark Mortenson, a professor at INSEAD, adds, “an increasingly common approach to dealing with decreased trust is to counter it with increased monitoring, whether done through technology (keystroke capture) or processes (daily check-ins). These never work and any manager who thinks they can know everything their remote employees are doing is fooling themselves.”

CNN says “the pandemic forced a massive remote work experiment”. That is true. And as is the case with most experiments, there will be trials and errors as firms deploy hybrid work models. That is to be expected. What is also expected is for CIOs bring an open, inquisitive mind to the process. It will not be an easy transition, an observation referenced in this a recent Wall Street Journal headline: “If You Thought Working From Home Was Messy, Here Comes Hybrid Work.”

So, “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to hybrid work environments hundreds of millions of workers will go.” Hybrid work is not, of course, a corporate fairy tale. Rather, it is the new, “new reality” of how work gets done. Now and in the future. Companies that master it will thrive. Those that don’t? Well, let’s just say they will have a lot in common with Grumpy, Snow White’s petulant dwarf.

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