The future came early for Canadian businesses, as hybrid work shifted from a COVID-19 emergency response to a permanent reality. Now, some sixty-five percent of Canadian knowledge workers work in a remote or hybrid format.
And while employees across the country have embraced remote or hybrid work options, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth transition. Recent data shows that while the vast majority (89 percent) of Canadians are keen on hybrid work, fewer than one-quarter of them (22 percent) say they are thriving in a hybrid environment.
Business leaders are also left grappling with a variety of new concerns: privacy and security, IT overload, shifting work culture and emergent costs. But it’s unlikely that hybrid work is going away any time soon. So what are businesses to do?
In a recent BetaKit Live, three experts—Denis Gaudreault, the country manager for Intel Canada, Michael Almeida, a business unit leader at Softchoice, and John Trougakos, a professor at the University of Toronto—all shared their perspectives on how other companies of all sizes can get hybrid work right.
One of the key changes stemming from hybrid work, beyond location, is a shift in responsibilities. The typical expectations of what an employee is supposed to do versus an employer have been upended, with wide-reaching impacts on career prospects and organizational logistics.
A hybrid worker for his entire 20-plus year career at Intel, Gaudreault said employees have to own their own career development because, when you work remotely, you simply don’t have the random run-ins or side conversations that can help your career.
“It’s really to build that network with an intent and actively plan for that network,” said Gaudreault. “That really makes a difference for me in my career.”
“Technology should be there to support the employer and the employees’ needs, and IT is struggling with balancing all of this.”
The solution, Gaudreault said, is to intentionally make space to connect with people. One way he does this at Intel is through a “one-pager” document that explains not just what he does at the firm, but a few personal facts about him and his family outside of work. More often than not, sharing these one-pagers with someone for a couple of minutes leads to finding common ground understanding of your coworkers that you’re not likely to get in a remote setting away from watercooler conversations.
Logistics is another area with shifting responsibilities, as organizations have to think about empowering work while preserving security. Trougakos added that on top of basic security, which is always a factor for organizations, leaders now need to think about how technology empowers a seamless transition for employees between an office and any other location.
Almeida added that while security challenges exist in all working forms, it’s easy for IT to feel like they can’t keep up in a hybrid environment.
“Technology should be there to support the employer and the employee’s needs, and IT is struggling with balancing all of this,” said Almeida. “They’re trying to keep the fence up against security threats.”
Organizational leaders also have to think about the financial and environmental impacts of hybrid work. For instance, a hybrid worker not commuting into the office every day saves money on gas plus wear and tear on their vehicle if they drive into work, a huge benefit to them. For organizations, hybrid work could also mean needing far less office space, thus reducing fixed costs; at the same time, other costs like work-from-home setup stipends increase. Then there’s the question of who brings what: in the past, it was assumed an employer would provide each employee with a desk and the required technology. In a hybrid world, employees might have to navigate desk hoteling and gear—BYOK, Bring Your Own Keyboard, perhaps—on their own.
“So the employee is less concerned about the commute and the employer has to shift to be more mindful of the technology that they’re providing the employees to be creative and to generate great ideas so that the company can increase productivity, increase revenue, increase all of the outcomes that they want to generate,” said Almeida.
While many employees will tell you switching to hybrid hasn’t impacted their work, the data suggest otherwise: for some, remote work productivity is even dropping in some cases.
Almeida said he believes that much of the productivity drop is solvable with the right process and technology, rather than a problem inherent to hybrid work. But Almeida also said it’s crucial to look beyond simple productivity metrics and at the concept holistically. For example, he noted that a hybrid worker saving an hour on a commute could use that to improve their physical fitness. He also added that people typically report eating more healthily at home rather than eating out at the office.
“So perhaps productivity is down a little bit with people working remote and hybrid and technology and processes will improve that,” said Almeida. “But I think we can’t measure the quality in people’s lives and in improvement.”
Gaudreault shared his own perspective as a career-long hybrid worker and now corporate leader, noting that the flexibility of hybrid work is not just a crucial talent engagement tool but also a retention tool. He added that Intel (like other firms that adopt similar policies) can widen their talent pools to areas outside their core office locations.
You need a plan
While more organizational leaders care about hybrid work and many want to earnestly make it a success, the panel agreed that leaders need to be cautious of simply copying what another organization is doing. This will inevitably lead to problems, as someone else’s plan won’t seamlessly fit with your organizational culture. And it can lead to a return to office mandate as a knee-jerk reaction, potentially causing even more productivity and retention challenges with employees.
The solution, said the panel, is to start with your organizational context first. Look at the type of work your organization does and think about what work is best done collaboratively versus in deep work by individuals working together remotely or asynchronously. From there, take inspiration from best practices you see in the market, but customize it to what your organization needs for its size, industry, and culture.
When it comes to finding inspiration, the good news is there are lots of resources out there. Intel, for example, shares multiple resources about how the global organization transitioned to a hybrid working model. Trougakos has also conducted significant research on the human impact of work activities, such as work recovery and emotional exhaustion at work.
In the end, every organization’s approach will look slightly different because every organization is slightly different. The best plan is not one that follows a specific checklist but is the plan that aligns with both work needs and company cultural expectations.
“It’s a matter of identifying a pain point and building a solution to it,” said Almeida.