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Implications of the Hybrid Scenario

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Brian McDonald, President of MOR Associates.  Brian may be reached at [email protected].]

Last week’s Tuesday Reading discussed what trends influencing the future of work may mean for universities and healthcare systems.  As we gradually recover from the pandemic, employees are reflecting on their ability to work from home productively and are interested in retaining flexibility and autonomy. As a result of these growing interests, retaining and attracting staff will be more challenging. As participants stated at recent MOR Associates workshops: People will look for the organization as well as the role that fits the way they want to work.
MOR Associates is projecting the interest in hybrid work will continue to evolve this year and beyond.  It isn’t too early to think strategically about the design as well as the implications.
It is helpful to focus on the opportunities and issues in proactively designing how a hybrid work system will be set up.  How do we…
1. Identify needs for on-site services and alignment with staff interests?
2. Ensure team cohesiveness?
3. Deliberately evolve the culture?
4. Best address equity and inclusion?
5. Evolve our roles as leaders and managers?
Identifying Needs for On-site Services and Alignment with Staff Interests
Leaders need to assess the services provided, client needs, and determine what may be required on site. It is also important to consider how these functions could be met while providing flexibility.  Engaging with staff to discuss these needs is critical to understand employees’ preferences and how to balance different interests. There may be jobs that require 100% in person.  Yet, does this mean each person has to be on-site every day or can there be a rotation?
As service objectives are outlined it will also be useful to engage staff in determining metrics to clarify results needed to be successful. It will be critical to the long-term success of remote work for flexibility and autonomy to be coupled with explicit metrics and practices to ensure accountability. Autonomy and accountability go hand in hand.
Strategies to Ensure Team Cohesion
There may be some people on site 2-3 days a week while others are exclusively remote. In other cases, rotating days may ensure people are equally distributed across the work week with little overlap.  In some cases, it may be desirable and feasible to have all the staff that work together come in on the same day. This provides the opportunity for team members to meet, review, and plan work while maintaining their connections.
When people are not going to overlap or meet in person, then relying on the proven practices from this past year can be refined going forward. Whether it is a Monday morning team huddle or a daily check-in, most teams found a cadence for communicating and connecting. Many people have indicated their teams are closer now than ever given they went through a difficult year together and learned as well as grew together.
It is helpful to ask those you work with what worked well this past year, what didn’t work, and what lessons to draw from these experiences will be useful to us going forward. Whatever design is selected frame this as an experiment. It will be useful to establish criteria for assessing this “pilot” after three months, leaving room for making revisions.
Be Explicit About Cultural Attributes and Norms
Universities and health systems have an enormous advantage in attracting and retaining talent. People are often motivated by meaningful work.  It turns out mission does matter. It is important to connect the work people are doing to the missions of these institutions.  Many people coming out of the pandemic are looking for more purpose in their work as well as flexibility. This is a competitive advantage for employers who are serving a greater good.
It will be a constructive step to engage the people you work with in exercises to identify what they value about the culture, the work they do, the clients they serve, and the norms they want to establish going forward.
Addressing Equity and Inclusion
Intentionally designing hybrid systems offers a starting point for establishing new processes, norms and practices that take diversity, equity and inclusion into account from the outset.  Hybrid designs could enable attracting from a wider employment pool. There likely will be opportunities to recruit from places beyond the immediate local area.
For those who have responsibilities at home with childcare or elder care, flexibility provides opportunity for people who might not otherwise be able to join the workforce. For other people, the remote option enables greater accessibility and adaptation.  The flexibility afforded by working remotely could enhance diversity.
If managers are creating and leveraging diversity then it is important to ensure inclusive processes are built in. Using inclusive conferencing along with active facilitation of meetings can ensure everyone will be able to offer their ideas.  It will take some creativity to ensure front line employees also have a degree of flexibility accorded to other more senior staff. It is possible to design coverage and work hours to offer those interested some flexibility.
Research suggests people on campus have more visibility and may therefore be recognized more readily and may be able to build their networks more easily.  Leaders need to address potential advantages and disadvantages and ensure all team members have the chance to make connections and be recognized. For those who work from home, there may be equity issues when it comes to technology, Internet capability, home set ups and ergonomics that need to be addressed.
The agility provided by remote work also enhances opportunities. Connecting virtually creates an easy pathway for building communities of practice to collaborate. The ability to leverage virtual platforms makes it possible for some people to access professional development when in the past they couldn’t attend in person sessions. It will be productive to explore ways to take advantage of the upside of this agility.
How Hybrid Is Changing Our Roles as Leaders and Managers
The historical mental model for the manager’s role is evolving along with the new work design. The image of people reporting to work and sitting at their desk for eight or nine hours was displaced by the pandemic. People also demonstrated they were able to accomplish their work and in many cases they were more productive during this long stretch under difficult circumstances.
MOR Associates would offer the following framework for the managers as they reflect on how they add value in this new hybrid work system.  Leaders needs to consult stakeholders, set direction and priorities, and communicate with clarity, focusing on the requisite results.  Managers need to align expectations and focus on outcomes as opposed to activities. This includes facilitating interdependencies, workflows, equity, and inclusion while focusing on delivering the identified results.

In our role as leaders  
Set Direction
Align people

In our role as managers
Manage expectations

What’s the Future of Work Going to Be?
There will likely be greater flexibility and autonomy in the workforce. These past fifteen months have shattered myths of people needing to spend time commuting to a workplace to be in the presence of a manager who was supposed to be responsible for performance.

People are quite capable of managing their own performance. The genie is out of the bottle and it will be challenging if not impossible to put it back in.

There is an opportunity to design work systems that meet both employer and employee interests though this will vary considerably based on the services and needs. Leaders who can see the advantage of carefully designing this next evolution will give their organizations and staff the opportunity to be responsive and innovative. This will be a competitive advantage over those reacting to the trends.