Beat Burnout and Innovate in Your Hybrid Workforce Model

Community Blog
Written by Jason Larson

MAY 2021

In recent weeks we’ve seen a short-list of major corporations solidify and publicly announce their future-of-work plans. Working at Spotify means you can work from anywhere. Target, Ford, and Salesforce are abandoning office space, including re-seeing the real estate and purpose of their headquarters, in favor of hybrid workforce models. GM leadership told its employees to “work appropriately.” 

This first wave of organizations (and surely there will be many more to come) are responding to a radical shift in employee expectations — and a new war for talent. According to Gartner research, 67% of employees agree that their expectations for working flexibly have increased since the pandemic, and 55% of employees agree that whether or not they can work flexibly will impact whether they will stay at their organizations. The pandemic brought upon a grand experiment in remote work and there is no going back. Once WFH-leery leaders have converted to WFH engangelists as they saw employee engagement scores and productivity increase in virtual environments. Early research suggests hybrid workforce models yield greater returns in team collaboration and innovation as well.   

But not lost on HR leaders is the cost to employee well-being and burnout. While productivity may be up, employees in the hybrid world are 1.12 times more likely to feel they are working too hard and 1.27 times more likely to struggle with disconnecting from work than employees on-site, per Gartner’s 2021 hybrid work employee survey. This data reflects the challenges we see for many CHROs in Evanta’s communities. Many are shifting to a holistic approach to well-being (financial, social, emotional, mental, etc.), and the new world of remote is threaded throughout their questions and concerns. As the HR leader of a F500 engineering firm put it: “What are the new ways of looking after your employees given that we are going to continue to be remote? We’re not close to people to observe them, to see any changes in their behavior, so how do you practice HR? How can you manage your employee health and well-being in this context?”   

Unfortunately, for many organizations, the grand experiment didn’t really come with a hypothesis. Rather, the move to remote was a matter of necessity, of survival, and in the midst of massive change and disruption, businesses big and small transposed their in-person existence onto a virtual environment. The cart came before the horse, as they say, and employees and managers had to make do in a new working environment without a new working model to support them. The effects are particularly stark for those large, legacy enterprises who had little practice with remote work at scale.   

What this means is HR leaders, with the best of intentions, overcompensated for their new reality and even exacerbated employee fatigue. Their organizations introduced new tools for virtual meetings and collaboration. They encouraged more peer-to-peer and manager check-ins. They significantly increased the volume and frequency of communication. And many struggled to combat the “always-on” mindset felt by the majority of their employees, which is a common byproduct of virtual work cultures, especially those in their infancy. The culmination of these digital distractions, virtual overload, and evaporation of work-life boundaries has played a significant role in employee burnout. 

Many of these issues stem from not having the opportunity to rethink and apply organization design (OD) to the hybrid model. As Gartner defines it, “a hybrid workforce model is one of flexibility, adaptability, and shared ownership on the part of employers and employees,” and as CHROs prepare their organizations for the future of work, they must turn their HR questions into OD opportunities. A stronger OD foundation in a hybrid world will enable a workforce model where flexibility, adaptability, and innovation is part of the plan as opposed to a patchwork of ad hoc — and sometimes misguided — solutions.   

First and foremost, HR leaders must challenge their assumptions and imagine a different and more accurate reality for the business. For example, “What roles in my company would be viable in a remote setting?” is a question driven by the assumption that preexisting roles and structures must be maintained. This is a status quo question, when in reality organizations can alter roles and structures to better suit their needs. An HR leader who finds the OD opportunity in this question would rethink roles and organization structure through the lens of hybrid work. 

Most of the questions about hybrid can be re-seen in this way. Questions around quality of work, productivity, preserving culture, skill development. What assumptions are embedded in these questions and what is the reality? Do in-person interactions drive cultural norms or the people and processes, regardless of physical or virtual space? What might be the advantages of on-the-job training in the virtual space? Does oversight really drive productivity?

This degree of OD exploration is exactly how the CHRO of a multinational financial institution is going about their future-of-work vision. In conversation with them, they noted that 600 people in the organization have never worked in a physical office. This would have been unimaginable pre-pandemic. They learned that they can operate a sophisticated financial institution with most people working from home. For them, the grand experiment is an opportunity to propel the firm’s workforce forward and ask why at every turn. And pushing senior leadership into workforce innovation is an opportunity this HR leader simply can’t pass up.


Jason Larson headshot

Jason Larson

Director, Content at Evanta, a Gartner Company


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