He explores how CEDEP’s sociological research into the impact of the pandemic on organisational structures is helping to identify challenges and design bespoke hybrid work models for our members – incorporating the necessary soft skills training required for ongoing success.
As global organisations continue to adjust to a new normal pandemic world and employees head back to the office, many leaders are struggling to meet a shift in employee expectations when it comes to how and where they work. The once-dominant pre-pandemic command-and-control approach of managing teams is now almost irrelevant or ineffective in many workplaces.
As a result, the implementation and success of hybrid work models – where employees work partly in the office and partly remotely, either at home or from another workplace – needs to be elevated from a line management responsibility, where an ad hoc approach to remote work was previously common, to a business-critical issue requiring organisation-wide leadership.
According to Sébastien Olléon, CEDEP Programme Director and business consultant, creating a sustainable hybrid work model post-lockdowns is proving to be highly challenging for many global organisations.
“Various dynamics are occurring within organisations. Some are moving back to pre-pandemic ways of working with everyone back in the office, some are struggling to increase hybrid work to the right levels, and others are successfully shifting and implementing real new ways of working,” he says.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing this ongoing struggle between allowing employees to have more autonomy to get the job done and still holding on to the notion that you can’t trust them to get the job done.
“What’s clear though is that standardised hybrid work processes are ineffective. Instead, organisations must define and then train people in new ways of working with the right technologies and the right soft skills to go with them. Leaders can be given general guidelines, but for hybrid work to be successful, it needs to be tailored and linked to the context of each team within an organisation.”
As part of a team lead by organisational sociologist François Dupuy and his consulting partners, Sébastien has spent the last two years engaged in studies on the impact of the pandemic on organisational structures, involving thousands of interviews with leaders, managers and team members, and both white-collar and blue-collar workers in several industries.
As a result, CEDEP is bringing solid academic research on the future of work to its members and is developing ways to create and implement high-performing and sustainable hybrid work environments.
“At CEDEP, we understand why cooperation and collaboration are different in our increasingly digital world. So we’re looking at how the sociology of organisations can help leaders and companies identify the critical challenges around creating successful hybrid work models,” explains Sébastien.
“We’re using our research findings, based on real-life situations, to tailor-make hybrid working models for our members. Our research is not based on opinion or basic surveys – it’s based on long-running multi-company studies into new ways of working and the future of work. In short, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
Before and after: the impact of the pandemic
Before the Covid pandemic, there was often a general reluctance from senior management teams to encourage remote working. As a result, employees were usually allowed to work remotely, but only on a case-by-case basis, and the dominant management practice was command-and-control.
“Employees worked in the same place simultaneously to ensure they were present and working. Looking back, this is a bit of nonsense. Just because people work in the same building doesn’t mean everyone works together. Although this was the dominant pattern, this approach doesn’t automatically create a high-performing organisation. It just gives the impression that this is the case,” says Sébastien.
“When the initial lockdowns occurred, some employees switched immediately to full remote working, and others had to continue in their roles, despite the health dangers. These roles such as rubbish collection, hospital work or infrastructure maintenance obviously couldn’t be carried out remotely. However, during this period, employees unequivocally demonstrated the capability to get the job done. In short, we learnt employees can work autonomously and still be very efficient.”
CEDEP’s sociological studies confirm what became evident during the pandemic: some roles can be carried out very effectively remotely and even better than working in the office. But other roles are less effective when working remotely. This imbalance is why hybrid work models need to be created and implemented on a team by team basis.
“The reality is that the more bureaucratic a task, the easier it is to be completed remotely. And by this, we mean the situation where you expect employees to carry out a series of functions independent from one another or follow a chronological process. We call this a segmented and sequential way of working,” says Sébastien.
“For example, when you grant credit to a client, there are several segments. And there are employees in charge of each segment who have to coordinate, not collaborate. These roles work very well remotely. Employees don’t even have to be in the same country or time zone for this type of organisation to be highly efficient.”
But if you need to create new products, understand market trends or solve unexpected problems such as managing a crisis, these tasks cannot be defined in advance and need unexpected and improvised interaction with others to be successful.
“Organisations launching a new product or marketing campaign often struggle to do this remotely. So they face two options – either muddle through using remote technologies in a degraded way or reintroduce a command and control approach which can stifle creativity,” he says.
“These creative activities are the more complex ones. And in our extensive experience, you cannot facilitate improvisation, manage unexpected events or be creative without extensive training on how to do that.”
The trap many organisations are falling into is creating one set of rules for bureaucratic roles by encouraging hybrid work and another set of rules for creative roles by enforcing time in the office – with unintended negative consequences.
“If you take autonomy away from creative people and reintroduce command-and-control, they will leave to join another organisation that will re-empower them with the trust they need to get the best job done. And that’s what we’re seeing,” explains Sébastien.
For hybrid work models to be relevant, accepted, high-performing and sustainable, organisations must truly understand their team structures and what their employees are doing each day. In addition, managers who are more used to a command-and-control approach need to be trained in the soft skills required to manage talented employees working autonomously.
“We talk a lot about the great resignation and employees wanting to move from one company to another to find more autonomous ways of working. In our view, organisations that create successful, high-performing hybrid work environments with high levels of trust will attract the best talent and, in doing so, will gain a huge competitive advantage,” concludes Sébastien.
To find out more about Sébastien Olléon here
To find out how CEDEP can assist with your future of work business challenges or for more information on how to become a valued CEDEP member, please contact Mohsen Fattah, International Business Development Director at firstname.lastname@example.org