Making hybrid work, work

Yan Jiejun

Yan Jiejun, Head of Talent and Employee Experience, Hong Kong, Mercer, on how to make the most out of hybrid working


n the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed a large-scale experiment in remote work. The result has left a telling impression, as companies in Asia adopted flexible work arrangements as the new normal. Hybrid work, as we call it, is here to stay.

Before the pandemic, executives stuck to the belief that staff needed to be physically present at the office in order to complete work, and perhaps only half of their employees could adapt to hybrid work while the other half would have struggled at the prospect of working remotely. This belief is no longer conventional.

According to Mercer’s 2021 Flexible Working Survey, the majority of employers in Asia-Pacific say that remote working did not impact productivity, collaboration or employee development. In some cases, those areas saw improvements. As such, it is not surprising that 83 percent of the respondents implemented some form of hybrid work, including allowing employees to work remotely for up to two days per week.

This trend is likely to continue in 2022. The fact that the majority of companies are implementing hybrid work arrangements as a long-term policy demonstrates not just the practical reality but the value they see in workplace flexibility. If hybrid work is the new normal, how can the needs of the business and employees be optimized? For hybrid work to work, organizations need to meet three critical objectives.

1. Ensure consistent and equitable employee experiences

Organizations must carefully define a hybrid working strategy that balances business and employee needs by being clear about who, when, how and where employees can work remotely. They should also provide sufficient flexibility so teams and individuals are empowered to make choices that optimize productivity.

Companies should take the first step by conducting an objective job-based assessment to evaluate the level of flexibility that roles and the organization can support with minimal impact on productivity. It is then vital to develop detailed guidelines for leaders and managers to communicate the boundaries and degree of autonomy that employees have. As critical pillars of support, managers need to look out for employees who perceive the boundaries to be “unfair” and seek to understand their perspectives.

2. Instill an inclusive and thriving workplace culture

While hybrid work may yield better work-life balance and productivity for employees, there can also be unintended negative consequences. To ensure a smooth transition to hybrid work, managers and team members need to upskill and have deliberate shared conversations around effective hybrid working practices. They will then need to build team norms around place, time and impact.

Place” is about setting guidelines on when to come into office to collaborate and how to communicate face-to-face. With hybrid meetings, team members working remotely may feel excluded from in-office discussions, unless the team regularly reviews how they make use of technology and actively facilitate meetings to ensure all voices are heard.

Time” revolves around expectations of working hours and communication. Half of the companies in Asia-Pacific, according to Mercer’s research, saw remote work burnout worsening among employees in 2021. Clarity around choices employees can make, such as to block out time to focus, take breaks for exercise, or spend time with family, will go a long way in supporting mental health and well-being.

When we talk about “impact,” managers must actively hone skills in digital communication and collaboration, ask for regular feedback, and create a psychological safety net for team members to make mistakes and clarify misunderstandings.

Last but not least, human resource programmes such as learning and onboarding, and performance management will need to be redesigned to support hybrid working experiences. For instance, key performance indicators have to be recalibrated to reflect objective metrics that focus on output and outcomes.

3. Use a data-driven approach to find the best fit

To find the right hybrid working model for your organization, listening to your employees is critical for success. Digital tools like pulse surveys or digital focus groups enable you to spot patterns and identify priority action areas across employee groups. In last year’s study, 40 percent of organizations noted that they increased their employee listening efforts, including running large-scale digital surveys on remote working experiences. Many organizations have since stepped up upskilling their workforce in collaboration and communication skills, and enhancing their digital productivity tools and employee experiences.

As organizations transition to hybrid work, many are redesigning their physical space to facilitate team collaboration, networking and effective hybrid meetings. Involve your employees through design thinking workshops to identify the right changes and create a workplace that energizes and inspires them.

Embrace the new normal 

Hybrid is the new shape of work that requires a mix of experimentation and iteration to refine policies and practices along the way. For hybrid work to attract and retain talent in an inclusive and thriving workplace, everyone in the company needs to work together to make hybrid work, work.

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