Rethink organisational design to maximise benefits of hybrid work
As businesses become more comfortable with remote work settings and routines, both employees and organisations are recognising that many roles can be performed just as successfully, if not more so, in flexible environments.
Implementing a hybrid workforce model requires flexibility, adaptability and shared ownership between employers and employees. The elements of organisation design (OD) — structure, workflows and role design, and networks — help operationalise these attributes.
Organisations should focus their attention on four key areas to seize opportunities for hybrid work and optimise their approach.
Most companies deploy task-based organising principles, which groups members of the workforce together based on the type of work they are doing, such as marketing, finance or IT.
In an office setting, a task-based organising principle enables organisations to centralise skills and resources and make them accessible.
An outcome-based organising principle groups employees based on specific outcomes to be achieved, such as the roll-out of a certain product. Shifting to an outcome-based organising principle can increase the opportunities for hybrid work, including segments that may have seemed ineligible in the past, by empowering employees to design their collective working schedules around the completion of a particular project.
When all employees are together in a physical workplace, businesses can insist on strict workflow approval processes knowing that an employee is able to walk over to a manager’s desk and get instant feedback and sign-off.
In a hybrid set-up, with employees working at different times and in different locations, processes and gatekeepers could slow decision making and stifle innovation.
To support hybrid work, companies should design systems that facilitate autonomy whilst maintaining quality control. Leaders can consider a host of new approaches, such as simplifying hierarchy chains, defining areas where workflows can be flexible, or reducing the direct reports to each manager.
Since the start of the pandemic, leaders have been concerned that long-term remote working would lead to a breakdown of company culture. However, the shift to a hybrid workforce is a chance to evaluate whether cultural priorities were truly supported in the first place. Our research shows that only 19% of leaders currently manage processes based on culture.
Business leaders should consider how current organisational structures can support or strengthen cultural values in the hybrid era. For example, if the company prioritises collaboration, increasing the diversity of tasks within specific roles can encourage cross-team partnerships. Similarly, if it prioritises innovation, rethinking workflow formalisation can empower creativity.
Learning and development
Leaders are also exploring how they can help employees maintain and develop key skills in a remote environment. A hybrid model expands, rather than hinders, opportunities for development by forcing organisations out of old approaches that heavily rely on co-location.
Organisations should look at how they can increase the visibility of virtual employee networks so that staff can be connected to the right people at the right time. In fact, ‘connector managers’ are particularly adept at this since they understand the availability of skills within the business and can make the appropriate connections at the right times.
Embrace the hybrid opportunity
During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have been largely successful in adapting existing roles for remote working and remaining operational during lockdowns. The hybrid workplace will require more fundamental changes but offers organisations the opportunity to rethink traditional organisational structures and redefine organisational priorities to lay a foundation for future success.
Jessica Knight is vice president of Gartner HR.