by Allie Meng
Co-Founder and Head of Product, BeyondHQ
One of the biggest challenges HR leaders face in light of employee demands for flexible work options is how to create a hybrid work model that appeals to employees while supporting the company’s operational goals. Solving this is not simply a matter of deciding who gets to work from home and who has to be on-site. HR and workplace leaders that consider hybrid work solely through the lens of “remote vs. on-site” need to take a bigger-picture, more strategic view of how hybrid work can improve productivity, collaboration and employee wellness and morale, among other things. Key to this is taking a flexible approach and adjusting on-site requirements as the pandemic continues to impact companies’ return-to-work plans.
Put simply, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work planning. Let’s consider office space and how a company accommodates on-site employees. If a majority of the workforce is now remote and will remain remote, physical office space may no longer be necessary. But more likely, companies are supporting a number of remote workers in broader regions, so it might make sense to open physical offices to allow employees in the vicinity to work on-site a few days a week (or more, if they prefer). Making these types of real estate and location planning decisions requires internal data about employees, collaborative needs and projects, as well as external data about costs, availability, competition and more.
Similarly, when it comes to hiring, our shift to remote work means recruiters can find candidates almost anywhere. Being able to run analyses to understand where the best talent can be found for different jobs based on factors like education and skills, cost, competition and diversity, would be useful.
Having the right technology tools can help HR leaders address these questions and come up with the right approach for their company and workforce, ultimately simplifying the creation of hybrid work models and management of hybrid workforces. Unfortunately for HR leaders and their teams, the current HR tech stack has become outdated and is unable to inform these bigger, more strategic decisions, which have become critical to today’s business environment.
So, what’s needed to modernize the HR tech stack and have access to the data analytics and scenario planning models that are needed? Below I have outlined the technology tools HR teams need to successfully manage, support and grow a hybrid workforce, with a focus on three key areas: people, places and planning:
Connectivity and Collaboration: Most companies already rely on various tools to enable closer collaboration, such as Slack, Asana and Basecamp, and emerging technologies like Remotion’s virtual office platform. And, of course, we have all come to rely on Zoom or Teams for conducting meetings online. These collaboration platforms help team members feel more connected to their peers. Video conferencing and online collaboration solutions will continue to be important as hybrid work models take hold to help optimize productivity, foster a spirit of teamwork and keep remote and on-site workers unified in their common goals, especially for employees who are in locations that are far away and prevent in-person collaboration.
The next step in these virtual meeting platforms are tools that inform team members who talked the most or even who interrupted people during a meeting. This can be useful in helping more vocal employees adapt their style to allow quieter or more timid individuals to participate in discussions.
Finding and Hiring Talent: New technologies that deliver data-driven insights and enable recruiting teams to identify geographical markets with the best sources of talent for certain jobs will be in greater demand. Such technologies will ideally allow talent acquisition staff to search for candidates in different markets, using a number of criteria including diversity, salaries and cost of living, skills and experience, as well as what competitive companies are nearby. This information arms HR teams with the insights they need to better plan where to hire and how to support remote workers.
Location of Spaces and the Hub-Spoke-Node Model: With hybrid work models and the ability to hire employees from any location, HR and workspace teams must now make decisions about where to support off-site workers with physical office space, and whether it makes sense to keep office space they already have or if scaling back the company’s real estate presence is a better option. To make these decisions, analytics platforms that inform teams about commercial real estate costs in different markets across the country, as well as space availability, co-working options and more, will be in increasing demand.
Such a platform can also help HR leaders determine if a hub-spoke-node model to serve employees across a broad area might make sense. For example, if a company has employees in the greater Cincinnati-Columbus-Louisville-Indianapolis area, Cincinnati could be the geographic “hub” where the company has a collaboration space for teams to gather once a week or where local employees could work as frequently as they like. The other locations could serve as “spokes” with co-working pods for short-notice meetings and other uses. The “nodes” are employees who reside anywhere in these metros or in the suburbs, exurbs and small towns in between.
Workspace Needs: Another important type of tech tool is one that helps companies make decisions about how physical workspaces are used. Interestingly, PwC’s January 2021 U.S. Remote Work Survey demonstrates that there is a disconnect between employers and employees regarding the purpose of an office.
Employers rate employee productivity as the top reason for office space, followed by providing space to meet with clients, enabling employees to collaborate and enabling company culture. Employees, on the other hand, said the No. 1 purpose of an office is to collaborate, followed by accessing equipment or documents securely, meeting with clients or colleagues and training and career development. Obviously, productivity is important, but for employees, productivity and the office are not intertwined. They believe that they can be productive at home and that being in the office is for work that doesn’t require deep concentration or thinking.
Understanding the purpose of office space can also help HR leaders determine what equipment and infrastructure are needed in different locations, as well as the level of flexibility that employees can have regarding time spent on-site.
Scheduling and Logistics: In the new covid and post-covid work era, the rules of on-site work have changed. Companies are now required to ensure everyone is practicing social distancing and cleanliness when sharing office space. Tools that allow for logistical planning and scheduling, as well as ensuring that certain duties and restrictions are fulfilled, will be in demand long after covid disappears, given everyone’s renewed concerns about spreading germs and staying healthy.
These are just a few key areas where the HR tech stack needs to be upgraded with newer technologies to meet the current and future demands for hybrid work while fostering inclusivity, equanimity, communication and collaboration. HR leaders can join forces with their counterparts in IT to ensure that the right tools and systems are in place to help on-site and remote employees stay connected and maintain accountability for meeting project goals and timelines, and contributing to an office space that allows for everyone’s health and safety.
Allie Meng overseas the product roadmap and leads the software development team at BeyondHQ. Connect with her on LinkedIn. BeyondHQ is a provider of digitized workforce and workplace planning solutions. Follow the company on Twitter at @gobeyondhq.