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January 27, 2022

Redesigning work for the hybrid era

Post-pandemic, employers must better understand remote and in-office work in order to attract talent.

A year and a half (and counting) after COVID-19 lockdowns spurred one of the most significant evolutions in office work since the introduction of the internet, a geographically distributed workforce is customary, whether temporarily or indefinitely through hybrid-work models.

But in the rush to remote work, many organizations fell victim to the inertia of tradition and missed the opportunity to design work to fit specific needs of the business and remote employees themselves. As hybrid-work models emerge, leadership and team members need to partner in designing how work is defined, evaluated and compensated, starting with remote work.

This begins with mapping the outcomes needed to support business operations and how that work contributes value to the organization. This exercise can bring some stability and logic to compensation models in a remote environment. Rather than basing compensation on location, organizations need to devise structures that reward team members on their impact to the business. While this can be a difficult exercise, employees will benefit greatly from not only knowing how their work generates revenue, serves customers or cuts costs, but also how much they’re valued because of that work.

Another aspect of redesigning work is to rethink what purpose “the office” serves in the hybrid era. Traditionally, offices have operated as the place for executing all the types of work needed in many job roles. This includes “heads-down” work (research, analysis, customer support, coding, documentation, training and development); “heads-up” work (ideation, knowledge sharing, networking, strategic planning); capability demonstrations; and research and development. In actuality, though, heads-down work can be performed anywhere, while heads-up work has been facilitated best by the physical presence of other people.

In a world in which workers have unprecedented access to information about and alternatives to work, leaders must reimagine the basics of the working relationship to deliver on the promise of working from anywhere. Top talent, especially, will gravitate toward organizations with the widest range of work flexibility — increasingly essential in today’s highly competitive labor market.

What follows is step-by-step guidance, based on client engagements, on redesigning work for the hybrid age.

Devising a role-specific location rating

With hybrid workplaces, it will be important to redefine what types of work and work-related events are best done where. To do this, businesses should first identify the core activities that each individual role in the organization is responsible for completing. From there, cross-hierarchy task forces can be created to evaluate the remote fitness of each of these activities by taking a look at how effectively specific job activities — not tasks — can be completed outside or inside the traditional office setting. This exercise must be completed using direct input from individual employees and their managers.

To complete this exercise, the following numerical values should be defined for each job activity:

  • Time spent: The estimated share of time that should be dedicated to each activity

  • In-office and remote ratings: Based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing the function is best completed effectively in-office and 5 representing the function is well-facilitated remotely

Organizations can then combine these values to create a location rating (Time Spent X Rating / 5) that can be used to develop a location strategy for each role. By mapping these results, organizations can start to paint a clear picture of where roles can be located based on the work they do.

By incorporating these details into job descriptions, businesses can also help potential job candidates clearly understand what will be asked of them, what resources will be available to them, with whom they will work closely, etc. (in addition to the available compensation range). Within any job description, estimates should be included as to how much of the role can be performed successfully outside of the traditional office setting.

An interesting outcome of the heads-down/heads-up model is that senior leaders — many of whom have struggled to communicate the purpose, value, urgency and details of a return to the office order — are the very people whose jobs are most focused on the collaborative, heads-up work best supported by an in-office presence. It may be that senior leaders will be most apt to be found in the office vs. the majority of other workers who will find a balance between remote work and an in-office presence.

Mapping out a healthy workday

In addition to categorizing and evaluating the activities and outcomes for each role, businesses need to assess and map how team members should work together. This assessment should include specifics on meetings: their purpose, how they can be conducted effectively, how participants can contribute productively, and when they should be scheduled. Meeting hygiene should also be detailed, including calendar blocks to protect team members from rampant over-booking.

An ideal schedule would incorporate the following key tenets:

  • Mental health protections: Taking breaks for water, nourishment, exercise/stretching and mind clearing; schedule blocks for deep work (up to four hours per day), motion-activated thinking and logging off for the day after a reasonable contribution to the business.

  • Intentionality: When bringing team members together for meetings, be clear about the purpose, the objective and any necessary pre-work. Implement a multitasking-free zone to make space for undivided attention and engagement. No more meetings about meetings. Identify specific reasons to use video calls — not every call requires people to be on-camera.

  • Flexibility: Asynchronous work is a given with distributed teams. Identify and flag activities that require simultaneous effort to make sure team members are properly supported to complete tasks and activities according to plan. Schedule appropriate heads-up working sessions to complete synchronous work. Grant team members the autonomy to schedule all other work as they see fit.

The following figure depicts what a team member’s work week could look like after completing a job activity analysis and implementing focus protections.

For a more extensive look at updating corporate strategy to attract top talent by supporting employees who — for whatever reason — wish to work outside of the traditional office setting, see “A Guide to Modernizing Talent Management in the Hybrid-Work Era.”

To learn more, visit our Information Services webpage or contact us.

Cognizant Insights Team

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