The clash over the hybrid workplace experience

Business leaders and employees have differing ideas about new operating models, a new Unisys/IDC report finds.

back to work with mask

Image: iStock/Anna Chaplygina

As the workplace shifts to an increasingly hybrid model post-pandemic, U.S. business leaders and their employees have opposing views on what they want, with 70% of employees ranking recognition as their most important priority compared to only 52% of business leaders, according to a new survey. The hybrid workforce reflects people working in a blended model of remote and on-site and transitioning between locations.

Work location and schedules that are conducive to family life were cited by 64% of U.S. employees as most important to an ideal employee experience, compared to only 51% of U.S. employer respondents, the IDC/Unisys study found.

In other key findings, more than 35% of employees cited fewer in-person meetings as important to the employee experience, while only 25% of business leaders agreed, the report said. Sixty percent of respondent employees also said they value frequent and open communication from senior managers—compared to 41% of business leaders.

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Further, almost 40% of business leaders cited difficulty effectively communicating with team members as the greatest challenge impacting employee productivity, while only 19% of employees thought this was problematic. One-third (33%) of employees indicated "no or few noticeable challenges," the study said.

Improving the hybrid experience

In terms of what technology employee respondents said would improve their working environment overall, there was a three-way tie: Collaboration tools, digital technology to work faster and technical support when needed.

"One of the outcomes of 2020 has been the rapid technology, process and policy adjustments that most organizations have made to support hybrid ways of working," said Holly Muscolino, research vice president, content strategies and the future of work at IDC, in a statement.

Almost 40% of the global workforce was forced to shift to remote ways of working almost overnight, while the remaining 60% continued to adapt and find new, safer ways to do their jobs, Muscolino said.

"Now we know that, for most, there will be no return to the business models of 2019. Remote employees will continue to comprise almost one-quarter of the global workforce, albeit with some variability across industries," she said.

The hybrid workforce is here to stay and the temporary changes organizations put into place throughout 2020 must become permanent going forward, Muscolino said.

Creating digital and experience parity

To optimize the employee experience of their hybrid workforce, employers should focus on "digital parity" as well as employee "experience parity," according to IDC. Digital parity refers to the requirement that all workers have secure access to the resources required to do their jobs, no matter their preferred device or location (office/remote/in the field). Experience parity means a democratized workplace, where all employees have the opportunity to collaborate, learn, develop, innovate and succeed, the report said.

The survey also revealed that 64% of business leaders indicated they plan to adopt a different operating model than they had before the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents said the shift was not only to ensure employee safety but also to offer a better employee experience and increased employee productivity.

"Businesses everywhere must place a greater priority on enhancing employee experiences, which in turn will drive higher productivity, collaboration and better customer outcomes," said Leon Gilbert, senior vice president and general manager, Digital Workplace Services, Unisys, in a statement. "Organizations that adapt to provide digital and experience parity will not only retain employees in a competitive marketplace but will also empower those employees to provide the best service possible to their organization's customers. Do it well and you drive engagement, productivity and adaptability as new workforce demands emerge."

Reimagining the digital workplace

Some of the people-related challenges in creating a resilient, hybrid work environment include:

  • Training and enabling first-line managers to be able to effectively lead distributed teams.

  • Creating learning in the flow of work for continuous upskills and cross-skill requirements, no matter the role or location.

  • Onboarding and training new employees who may be geographically remote and/or outside of an organization's core regions.

But there are other opportunities to be had in addition to greater resiliency and ensuring business continuity. They include attracting and retaining top talent in a broader geographical area, greater customer engagement and satisfaction supported by an empowered workforce and increased innovation by removing barriers to work.

Ensuring everyone is on the same page and business resiliency is successful requires a reimagined digital workplace, where leadership and policy support come from the entire C-suite, Muscolino wrote. This includes the COO, CIO, CHRO and legal teams and includes new KPIs for measuring business outcomes. Leaders must:

  • Provide all workers with an agile and time-, location- and device-agnostic digital workspace. This means providing the infrastructure, software and support for secure, frictionless digital access to people, data and applications anytime, anywhere.

  • Develop the workplace infrastructure, device support, policies and procedures for safe, dynamic, in-person access to people and resources on-premises.

  • Establish an IT and support strategy with an increased focus on employee experience, while not sacrificing security at any level. Emphasize proactive support and self-healing as well as long-term support through increased use of remote-assisted channels such as video and text chat.

  • Measure and track employee experience on an ongoing basis, and actively adjust infrastructure, policies, and processes as needed.

The findings from the new Unisys Digital Workplace Insights Report are based on a survey of 560 business leaders and 558 employees in November 2020. Respondents were from North America, EMEA, AP and Latin America, IDC said. 

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By Esther Shein

Esther Shein is a longtime freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in several online and print publications. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of Datamation, a managing editor at BYTE, and a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week)...