Sundara Sukavanam, Chief Digital Office, Firstsource
The demand for remote and hybrid working policies has seen a 329% increase in remote-job postings in the UK, with search figures skyrocketing by 790%. Companies that fail to offer their employees flexibility risk losing them to more progressive competition. Tesla experienced this recently after ordering employees to return to the office full-time. In response, Scott Farquhar, said he would be happy to poach Tesla’s employees for his software company Atlassian and allow them to work from anywhere.
Hybrid working is clearly in demand but getting the setup right isn’t easy. Rather than trying to predict the future based on the past, businesses should focus on testing what could work, then learning from the results. One way to approach this is to consider the short, medium, and long-term requirements – and impacts on the business – while testing different working models.
Short, medium, and long-term factors to consider
Short-term factors include the obvious suspects – data security and tech capabilities for core business processes. While cloud makes remote processing a reality for most companies, heavily regulated sectors such as banking may find it imperative to keep certain processes on premise.
When key systems remain on premise (for now), this needn’t mean the entire operation has to be office-based. Technologies to support remote teamwork, such as virtual desktops and collaboration tools, have been available for many years.
Emerging technologies offer further possibilities and have evolved to support hybrid working models. These include automation, process refinement and AI-powered productivity assistants. As new tech continues to emerge and evolve, arguments for fully on-premise operations to become increasingly redundant.
Medium-term factors relate to training and recruitment. Learning and development are critical components for employee success. Whether the company is adapting an office-based, remote or hybrid approach, it must ensure the right tools are in place to support employee learning.
Training does not have to mirror the working environment. In instances where initial orientation and training are better done in-person, while the job itself can be done remotely, then both are valid approaches to bake into a single model. In other cases, the role might be fully or partially office-based while the training is remote – this is especially likely when building new capabilities across geographies.
A non-replicable upside of in-person training is the rich taste of company culture. Additionally, office environments allow for watercooler moments and ‘random chats’ that build personal bonds and can even spark breakthrough ideas.
This leads us to the biggest challenge of adapting different workplace models – the long-term impacts on company culture.
When trialling working models, it can be tempting to gauge effects by looking only at measurable factors – efficiency, error rate, turnaround times and more. But your company culture is the main long-term factor to consider.
As the company evaluates a working model, success must be validated through employee feedback. Simply relying on a questionnaire during a particular phase won’t cut it. You need numerous check-in points to ensure employees can share their thoughts in full. Often employees have great ideas for tackling issues and challenges that might otherwise be overlooked.
When team members feel listened to and supported, they are more likely to trust the process and feel participants in a journey. The company will also learn faster when something is not working and will get feedback on ‘why’. For culture, this can be more beneficial than an apparent success.
A hub and spoke approach
At Firstsource we’re embracing a new hub-and-spoke working model to address these short, medium, and long factors. It works like this. We establish a core operation – the ‘hub’ – and support this with remote working environments – the ‘spokes’.
This approach resolves short-term security and technology capacity issues. For example, by tackling initial IT and security set-up onsite this ensures consistency across the ecosystem.
Another short-term benefit of this model is speed-to-effectiveness. Smaller hubs make it easier to find appropriate space for operations for a quick start. And opening a hub where availability of talent is higher is ideal if when there is a need to get going really fast.
The hub and spoke approach also ensures there is an option for people to come to the office without changing their life to do so. It is still in the realm of working from home but with a nearby office available when needed.
Our model also addresses the medium-term challenges by allowing training face-to-face, so new starters can soak up our culture in person. And there is the added benefit of minimising cultural and operational dilution within the organisation.
Perhaps most importantly, the hub and spoke approach gives a fresh view into how company culture is evolving. An example of this is looking at whether people are reaching out for support? If you’re in the office, it is easy to walk to someone and say “I don’t get this. Can we chat?”. But in a remote environment asking for help can seem daunting. As working models change collaboration, support structures and response to failure are important culture elements to keep in focus.
Finding the best solutions for your talent
Hybrid working is not just about two days in the office and three days on site etc. It is about giving employees the freedom and flexibility to meet their needs.
There are also two important distinctions when it comes to flexibilities.
First, the flexibility of location. Ensuring your talent have a choice of whether they are working from home or on site. Without being too stringent on how many days are spent where.
Second, are the working hours. This is relevant for work that isn’t bound by shift hours, or when project work can be impacted by deadlines.
To gauge flexibility, it is best to look at the task at hand. For example, on technology project compartmentalising different tasks might be preferable. Programme managers need to consider – can this project be broken up into smaller, faster sprints? Or is this best managed at a slower pace?
Finally, implementing a new working model and understanding its impact on workplace culture takes time. The business reality is that there is no perfect solution.
To remain relevant, companies need to be willing to challenge and refine existing processes. This means experimenting with emerging technologies that support various working models. Ensuring the right training and support is available for everyone – no matter what.