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How to Create a Sustainable Hybrid Work Model

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Image: khwanchai phanthong - Alamy Stock Photo
Flexible working arrangements, return to office resistance, DEI, quiet quitting, and high turnover: are some of the top workforce trends observed by virtual audience participants this week at Unite 22, the hybrid employee experience conference put together by intranet provider Unily. To counter the talent drain, go where the workers are – and research shows the workers tend to be where hybrid work is. Consulting firm Accenture found that 63% of high-growth companies use a hybrid model, while 69% of negative or no growth companies reject the concept of hybrid workforces.
So how do you make your hybrid work model sustainable? Tuesday's keynote, Courtney Paynter, director of organizational excellence at biopharmaceutical company AbbVie, outlined the essential principles likely to affect an enterprise’s hybrid work model, explained why employees should have choice and control over flexible working arrangements, and advised how to support managers when determining the best working arrangements for a team.
Core Values to Consider For Your Hybrid Work Model
A personal connection to values is critical, and many organizations can’t deeply connect with culture. While building its hybrid work model, AbbVie focused on enhancing representation and inclusion, environmental sustainability and global cohesion.. “Choosing the right filters delivered a model that, at the end of the day, was globally applicable for us, compelling for our leaders, and enabled us to continue to work at our best,” Paynter said. Once AbbVie agreed upon this criteria, Paynter added, “the [hybrid work] model wrote itself.”
Core values likely to influence the right hybrid work model for an organization include in-person collaboration, personal flexibility, work-life balance, a consistent policy or employee experience. Paynter says to make a decision about how those organizational values will play out at the team level or in a particular business unit.
Let Employees Choose When and Where They Want to Work
Paynter pointed out that employee choice and control impact more than the hybrid work model. Either can affect benefits, career opportunities, or how empowering the employee perceives the workplace to be.
“This trend is about employees having a significant increase in power in organizations,” she said. The pandemic shifted the power dynamic, and now employees have more say in what they want and what they expect from the organization for which they work. Ernst & Young reported that 54% of employees surveyed from around the world quit their job post COVID-19 if they weren't afforded some sort of flexibility in where and when they work.
Paynter added that managers must focus on building strong teams for two reasons: it's poor management to " put all our chips in one basket with one employee," and a strong team acts as the insurance policy against any one employee or individual leaving an organization.
AbbVie’s Recommended Steps for Success
AbbVie launched its hybrid work model with two concise sets of guidelines, one for managers and one for employees. Paynter emphasized that these guides weren’t 200 pages, “you could probably count the pages on a couple of sets of hands,” and resembled a PowerPoint presentation. She explained how these guides took workplace leaders and employees through what to think about when considering what the hybrid work model will look like for them and their teams. That could include who’s going to be in the office on which days, what the expectations are for communication on in-office and remote days, and how team members can stay connected. “What tools are you going to use? How are you going to collaborate?”
Paynter ended her keynote by summarizing AbbVie’s key learnings for attendees. First, keep an eye on the market—otherwise, you’ll get left behind. “So many trends, so much complexity is happening externally, that if you don’t keep a close eye on [the market], you’ll get passed by.”
Paynter also advised attendees to be purposeful in how and when their organization chooses to evolve. “You have to be guided by both the external and internal landscape. What matters most for your senior leaders—internally, what are they prioritizing? And what do they have energy around?”
Lastly, Paynter advised that a company “Know thyself.” Identify the core values, and build a hybrid work model that makes sense for the organization—whatever that is. From there, align everything else, from your resources to your communication strategy, to those same principles.
Paynter says if you apply this thinking to all sorts of changes you’re making—all sorts of significant evolutions, whether it’s a work model or something else in your organization—“those principles will then carry over to a number of initiatives, because it’s likely the same values that are going to be influential.”