As the world adapts to hybrid and remote work models, heads of flexible work are becoming a critical role for companies. These leaders must navigate both the benefits and challenges of remote work, and create solutions that support their organization’s unique culture and goals. To learn more about their role and inform my own consulting with clients on their return to office and hybrid work policies, I spoke with Laïla von Alvensleben, Head of New Ways of Working at Mural, Jim Kalbach, Chief Evangelist at Mural, Cheryl R. Carron, Head of Global Workplace Management Operations at JLL, and Jennifer Henderson, Head Workplace Experience at Standard Chartered Bank.
The Upsides: Unleashing the Benefits of Hybrid and Remote Work
Carron emphasized three main benefits of hybrid and remote work: reinforcing company culture, driving collaboration and innovation, and evolving with technological advancements. She explained that “a physical office reinforces culture, drives collaboration and innovation, enables professional growth all of which provide a vital link to increased connectivity and engagement.” Furthermore, flexibility can improve performance, belonging, health, and wellbeing, which all contribute to a strong company culture.
Von Alvensleben and Kalbach added that hybrid and remote work can enhance employee experience and retention, boost productivity, and foster greater agility within companies. Employees can adapt their work schedules to when they are most productive, leading to more engaged and satisfied teams.
Henderson highlighted the benefits of improved work-life balance, increased productivity, and improved communication and collaboration as the three biggest advantages of hybrid and remote work at Standard Chartered. She mentioned that flexible working practices have led to an increase in workplace pride and overall workplace experience scores.
The Hurdles: Navigating the Challenges of Hybrid and Remote Work
However, there are challenges to consider when implementing hybrid and remote work models. Carron noted that some of these challenges include the lack of consistent in-person facetime, the rapid pace of technological advances, and striking the right balance between organizational and employee needs. She also mentioned the generational and industry divides that have emerged as remote work becomes more prevalent.
Von Alvensleben and Kalbach highlighted additional challenges, such as balancing participation in hybrid meetings, fostering connection in distributed and hybrid teams, and managing unintended hierarchies favoring in-person employees. They believe that addressing these challenges requires intentionality in collaboration and dedicating time to fostering bonds between people and teams.
Henderson discussed the challenges of balancing the productivity of the team with that of the individual, investing in technology and tools to support hybrid working, and managing office peaks and workspace capacities. She emphasized the need for smaller and better-designed workplaces that support a variety of tasks and focus on collaboration, connection, and wellbeing features.
The Solutions: Collaborating with Internal and External Resources
When it comes to solving these challenges, Carron highlighted the importance of sustainability and investment in ESG solutions. She stated that organizations must be open to outsourcing specialist skills and expertise to achieve their strategic objectives around employee experience, ESG goals, and technology.
Von Alvensleben and Kalbach mentioned that Mural collaborates with external vendors for large-scale company retreats and provides access to external EAPs for employees’ mental health support. They also work with ERGs to create initiatives and events promoting cultural awareness and support for minorities, occasionally inviting external speakers and experts to facilitate conversations and workshops.
Henderson explained that Standard Chartered uses a combination of internal resources and external support to constantly evolve and support hybrid ways of working. They access external expertise and partner closely with leading experts in design and workplace management to evolve their guidelines and adopt an agile approach as colleagues’ needs change.
The Future: Shaping the New Landscape of Hybrid and Remote Work
The future of hybrid and remote work at JLL, according to Carron, focuses on building a responsible, personal, and experiential workplace. This includes an emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, sustainability, and resilience. Personalized workplaces that cater to individuals and workgroups are also a priority, as well as creating spaces that promote collaboration, innovation, and a sense of belonging.
Von Alvensleben and Kalbach believe that the future of remote and hybrid work at Mural involves more human connection and innovative methods of collaboration. They see the role of “Head of Remote” evolving into something akin to “Head of Employee Experience,” which focuses on improving employee productivity, loyalty, and retention.
Henderson envisions a future for Standard Chartered where flexible working is an integrated part of the company’s culture, central to employee experience and optimal use of office and home spaces. Successful hybrid working will continue to be a cross-functional programme where HR, Property and Technology work together to achieve the best outcomes for the employees. External experts and resources would continue to be used as needed, following typical business practices.
In Conclusion: The Pivotal Role of Heads of Flexible Work in the Success of Organizations
Heads of flexible work play a crucial role in managing the benefits and challenges of hybrid and remote work models. They must be adaptable and innovative, fostering collaboration and connection while ensuring employee wellbeing and productivity. As the landscape of work continues to evolve, these leaders will be instrumental in shaping the future of work and the success of their organizations. By embracing the potential of hybrid and remote work, and strategically navigating its challenges, businesses can unlock new levels of performance, employee satisfaction, and growth.
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Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on April 10, 2023