No one could have predicted the dynamic forces now shaping the future of work—namely a global, yearlong pandemic that shocked the economy and threw millions out of work, highlighting and exacerbating social inequities. Within organizations, the pace of digital transformation accelerated as commutes and business travel were sharply curtailed and work shifted abruptly from the office to the home. Many assumptions we once made about the future of work and the workplace now seem inadequate or simply outdated.
Even at Deloitte, where for years work has been distributed between offices and client sites, the pivot of our U.S. workforce to nearly 100% remote work presented challenges. Our clients have also told us that the pandemic raised all sorts of unanticipated questions about where and how work gets done, the nature of collaboration, measures of business performance, and organizational culture.
The truth is, there are no simple answers to all of these questions. We can’t shoehorn everything we did pre-COVID into a post-COVID model and expect success. What we can do is understand the challenges and be intentional about the steps we take.
A GROWING CONSENSUS AROUND THE NEED FOR EFFECTIVE HYBRID WORK MODELS
In a recent Deloitte survey, we found that 68% of companies say they are now ready to move to a hybrid work model that supports remote collaboration and provides some opportunities for co-located, on-site, and in-person work. This is a trend even in sectors like manufacturing and industrial engineering, where shop floors and installation sites are being reimagined and transformed, and humans and machines are working in new combinations. Companies are not abandoning offices and other facilities, but they are taking a hard look at the real footprint hybrid work requires: 39% of the organizations we surveyed said they plan to reduce their office spaces by 2022.
THE INTERSECTION OF HYBRID WORK, TALENT, AND CULTURE
The move to the hybrid work model will change much more than real estate, office layouts, and business logistics. There is a cluster of concerns regarding talent, and an overarching sense that much could get lost in the transition to the hybrid work environment. In particular, companies are concerned about maintaining company culture. For some, it’s unclear how to reimagine talent development programs as well as the formal and informal networks of apprenticeship and mentorship that are so critical to talent development. What does leadership need to look like and how do we develop and recognize leaders in this new environment?
These are not just abstract issues to contemplate in the off hours. They are urgent priorities: Talent is restless and on the move; the talent market is hot; and organizations that take intentional steps toward building a hybrid work model suited to their business and to the changing needs of today’s talent are likely going to be much more adept at attracting, developing, and retaining the best talent.
HYBRID WORK COMPELS COMPANIES TO TRANSFORM THEIR TALENT EXPERIENCE
We’re focused on keeping client commitments front and center even as we establish new work routines for our U.S. workforce. That’s a critical balance. A hybrid work model can reduce the time we spend traveling and commuting, but still allow us to focus on being together when it matters most to the teams and clients we serve.
Even if some of your work requires on-site inventories and information gathering, there may be opportunities to introduce machine learning and automation that change the way your people work together and interact with clients. On our teams, we are trying to be more intentional and deliberate about when and how we connect. For example, we’ve found that project kickoffs and important milestones provide good opportunities to gather in person, assess progress, and plan next steps.
“Good” does not have to mean reverting to your previous ways of engaging. Nor does “normal.” Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding a new approach. For instance, the apprenticeship culture we’ve built speaks to deeply embedded values. In the hybrid work model, we can stay true to those values only if we redefine what apprenticeship might look like when role models and apprentices are often not in the same room.
In a similar vein, leadership development also calls for a new way of thinking. Companies have to recognize and develop leaders at all levels while addressing the complexities of team member work locations.
HYBRID WORK MODELS NEED TO BE HUMAN TO THE CORE
Being intentional about the shift to a hybrid work model can do more than maintain organizational culture; it can revitalize it. Companies that navigate this transition successfully are bound to realize many other benefits as well: reduced business costs, improved flexibility, higher productivity, financial growth, and movement forward on net zero commitments.
Probably the greatest opportunity we have right now is to reimagine the talent experience as human experience. This means designing work with empathy and with an eye to human well-being, developing new performance measures to match the ways people actually work, and thinking about the hybrid work model in terms of the technology-driven transformation of human work that was already underway before COVID-19 abruptly interrupted and ultimately accelerated it. Hybrid design should aim, above all, to be human-centered design. That is the surest way to build a workplace where talent wants to be.
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