Redesigning How We Work in 2023 and Beyond

Entering the fourth year of the COVID era, organisations are still experimenting with the optimal ways of working while transitioning from traditional office-based working to hybrid and remote working. One of the key strategic imperatives for senior executives across organisations is to redesign the workplace structures, practices and norms that fit with these new working arrangements.

However, less than half of the respondents in our survey indicated that they had finalized a design with successful implementation. In her latest Harvard Business Review article, Professor Lynda Gratton looks at the recent research on hybrid working and the four questions for leaders to consider during the time of the transition.

Despite the profound unknowns needed for a complete picture, there have been some intriguing findings that help leaders navigate more effectively. Beginning from what works well, researchers from Harvard Business School found that knowledge workers are contented with hybrid working, with a lower turnover and better job performance than their counterparts working full-time at the office. It resonates with an experiment carried out in 2013 when home-based call centre workers were found to be more productive than their office-based colleagues.

Nevertheless, the same experiment also showed those who work remotely share a higher level of isolation and loneliness. It is not difficult to imagine when social interactions were shrunken. This finding was supported by the study conducted by the Microsoft research team in 2022. They discovered that collaboration networks became more less efficient with fewer feedback and guidance under hybrid. Meanwhile, according to a study conducted by Columbia Business School, hybrid technology like videoconferencing could inhibit people’s ability to innovate and generate ideas at work.

Drawing on from Professor Lynda Gratton’s article, there are four critical questions that the leaders could think about amidst the ongoing transition:

1. What are your overarching values and principles? Every organisation is unique and there is rarely a one-size-fit-all solution. Therefore, this question helps define the organisational DNA and establish the foundation for the three questions below to redesign work. For example, Ascential Futures, a global intelligence company, named creativity and innovation as their 2 key values. Alternatively, Mars Wrigley, a multinational food manufacturer, highlighted quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency, and freedom as 5 principles to adhere during the transition.

2. What is special about the people we employ, the jobs we do, and the customers we serve? Aside from the values and principles, leaders could also identify what makes their organisations special in terms of their customers, people and work. For instance, Mars Wrigley acknowledged the importance of wellbeing of their associate networks while ensuring business continuity. Accompanied by their values on efficiency and freedom, the organisation introduced higher flexibility of time and place for their factory workers to achieve sustainable high performance. Redesigning work that supports these specific traits help organisations to build a positive people experience.

3. What isn’t working, and what are the problems we’re trying to solve? This question gives leaders better clarity on the existing challenges and a more targeted solution on work reconfigurations under hybrid. Company-wide and cross-functional activities like surveys can be carried out to collect employee’ feedback. For example, Transport for NSW, an Australian government transport agency, set up top leadership forums, livestream events and longitudinal weekly employee surveys to identify and address their people’s primary concerns, ranging from wellbeing needs to culture and belonging.

4. What experiments have we tried that we can share with others, and what are other companies doing that we can learn from? Leaders are encouraged to consider what they can learn within and outside of their organizations. Taking Ascential Futures as an example again, their executives interviewed the leadership teams from other organisations to discuss the challenges and principles adopted under the shift to hybrid. They consolidated the findings and sense-checked with their teams internally on what they do and do not want.

Read more about Professor Lynda Gratton’s latest Harvard Business Review article on redesigning how we work here.