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October 11, 2021

Optionality: the new workplace imperative

The new workplace is a hybrid one. Business leaders need to embrace a business culture of ‘optionality’ that fully supports employees, whether in-office or remote.

When COVID-19 forced the global workforce into working remotely, the first question most of us asked was how can we possibly innovate? That question was quickly followed by how much can we innovate right now?

More than a year and a half into the global pandemic, technology innovation has unleashed a new normal in which everything previously stuck in analog has downshifted to a digital autobahn. Remote high-speed interactions at school, at work and in all elements of society accelerated, and for better or worse, there’s no turning back.

With software engineering and collaborative technology dominating like never before, turning even the most ardent Luddites into digital savants, it’s high time we drop any notion of “new” and simply embrace our normal.

Optionality and redefining ‘normal’

As business leaders consider more opportunities to ignite change, it’s become critical to take a new look at corporate cultures and adopt a mindset of “optionality,” which places more power and control in the hands of employees, for both in-person and remote activities.

Consider the new questions raised by the collaboration platforms embraced early in the pandemic and still heavily used today:

  • Is work best done in pajamas at the kitchen table?

  • Do we put our “real” clothes on and venture back into the office?

  • How will answers to both these questions impact our ability to recruit and retain our best talent?

The answers are not necessarily rooted in technology. The fact is, it doesn’t matter if you sit in Paris, France, or Paris, Texas — the best talent doesn’t have to move an inch to fulfill their roles if we remake our culture and provide employees with alternatives that empower them and improve their experience.

The rise of culture

In the ongoing battle for talent, culture continues to grow in importance:

A vibrant corporate culture today simply isn’t possible without accepting and embracing the impact of remote and hybrid work opportunities on talent and prospects.

We’re partnering with an array of businesses, including healthcare providers, retailers and product companies to ensure they invest in not only the right technology tools to grow their business, but also the right culture and mindset to ensure a successful remote and/or hybrid work experience. The right tools foster better and quicker collaboration among individuals and communities, which, in turn, speeds time to market and produces better, evidence-based outcomes.

Operating these tools in a fun and incentivized work environment — one that encourages and rewards personal development — leads to a growth mindset that motivates individuals to improve both themselves and the business culture and environment around them.

Putting a framework around the hybrid workplace

To nurture this environment, we’ve created an operations framework born out of our post-pandemic reality. Called Studio eXPerience, the framework is designed to help our own organization, and soon our clients, to sustain optionality, reinvigorate a supportive business culture and elevate their position in the war for talent. With Studio eXPerience, employees will have more mobility and a range of destinations for working in a way that fits their needs and lifestyle, including the office, the home or a hybrid model.

Redesigned office spaces will inspire a more collaborative environment, which is critical for a workforce that’s frustrated with the old work experience. According to a study from Workplace by Facebook, more than 60% of employees aren’t satisfied with their tools and technologies, their level of autonomy or their access to data and information. Over time, this undermines corporate culture, and eventually leads to attrition.  

Studio eXPerience addresses this by not only providing employees with options for collaboration, but also putting more control in employees’ hands. For instance, colleagues who need to gather in teams to plan for a software engineering sprint can access an easy-to-use mobile app, and reserve a creative space that allows for virtual “heads-up” collaborative work, with tools like digital whiteboards and monitors.

Conversely, the app can be used to book a quiet location where people can focus on “heads-down” activities, like quality assurance work. Eventually, with the addition of more content, social connections and real-time analytics, more control will be given to employees, enabling them to curate the experiences that keep them and their clients engaged and inspired.

It’s about work quality, not just cost-cutting

It’s important to note that optionality is more than a cost-cutting exercise — it should be aimed at improving the quality of the workplace experience. Yes, enabling remote work will undoubtedly offer companies budget relief on business travel, commercial real estate and a host of other line items. But simply letting people work from home, without plans or designs to invest in new hybrid work experiences, will ultimately lead to Zoom fatigue and, eventually, a decrease in productivity and worker satisfaction.

Companies that want to win the war for talent need to embrace optionality by creating an environment that supports both heads-up and heads-down work, whether in the office or remotely. We can do both, but we have to plan and invest to make sure we provide a better experience for our teams.

Cognizant Insights Team

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