Does hybrid working really improve the employee experience?

If you’re one of the millions of people around the word who used to be known as an office worker, you’re probably not anymore.

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Vinit Jha

You may work for the same organisation in the same role but you’ve probably experienced more change in the last two years in how you go about your work and the tools you use than at any point in the history of the “office”.

“It appears with greater flexibility comes greater expectation - the value proposition for the office has changed. Flexibility itself is not enough.”

The existing trend for increased use of digital technology was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And the term ‘hybrid working’ - a blend of the office and a remote location (home or somewhere else) - is now very familiar.

Of course, changing “office worker’ to “hybrid worker”is more than just a name change; behind the scenes it has created one of the most exciting and challenging periods for the technology departments of organisations like ANZ.

For the last few years, I’ve been leading the team at ANZ who have been responsible for a big chunk of the technology our employees use every day.

When I joined ANZ in 2018 I thought my biggest challenge was rolling out a modern suite of tools for our employees. Just as I felt I was getting my feet under the desk, in early 2020 the entire employee digital workplace exploded in front of me with the exodus to remote working as offices emptied around the world.

It’s been a high pressure, breathless and at times chaotic scramble to adapt to the new environment and deliver the right tools to our people to keep the company operating remotely. And it’s been one hell of a learning experience.

A silver lining from the last couple of years is we’ve proven we can work differently and adapt more quickly than we thought possible.

Moreover, according to a recent article in The Conversation, flexibility in our work arrangements is making us happier - and this is about more than wearing UGG boots under our home desks or putting a load of washing on in the middle of the day.

New research shows 94 per cent of those with the greatest flexibility, defined as control over where and when they work, said they were happy or very happy with this arrangement. This finding, from John Hopkins and Anne Bardoel from Swinburne University of Technology, was 5 per cent higher than those working remotely full-time and 23 per cent higher than those in the office full-time.

So, if working in a hybrid way makes us happier does that equate to a better employee experience from a technology perspective?

Happier…. but less satisfied?

Annual research from ANZ and Global Research and Advisory firm Information Service Group (ISG) that measures employees’ overall satisfaction with their technology experience at ANZ shows a significant jump in satisfaction over the last couple of years - when people have been predominantly remote working.

This result is an all-time high in technology satisfaction at ANZ and could be attributed to how quickly we adapted our technology experience to enable employees to work just as effectively remotely as they could when they were working from the office. 

But give or take some seasonal considerations, working from the office is becoming part of our regular working week again, as we now balance time in remote and workplace locations.

The challenge has shifted. Providing a great technical experience is easier to do when the majority of employees are in the same situation – either all in the office or all out of it.  

We now need to focus on providing the same level of satisfaction for employees whether they are working remotely or working in the office. And, for most of our teams, this means enabling a seamless experience as they switch between the two locations during the course of the working week.

Changing needs and expectations

I could be accused of exaggerating the enormity of this challenge, given it’s my job to support employees wherever they are located, but the Microsoft 2022 Work Trends Index Report backs me up showing “people who went home to work in March 2020 aren’t the same as those coming back to the office in 2022.”   

They now have much higher expectations - the value proposition for the office has changed and flexibility itself is not enough. 

According to Microsoft, hybrid working is a disruption as great as the sudden shift to remote work and understanding and keeping pace with new expectations is key to making ’hybrid work’, work. 

This is supported by ISG who recently said hybrid working can give organisations a serious technological and experiential headache, mostly through the greater likelihood of delivering a sub-standard technology experience.

Employees expect a seamless experience when they connect in the office. They expect their monitor will be like the one they have at home. They want to be able to enter a meeting with the click of a button and interact equally in a meeting whether they are physically sitting in the meeting room or at home.

They want it to be easy to be collaborative and inclusive when working with people from a range of locations and in-person. They need to feel connection.

Employee experience in a hybrid world

Hybrid work is challenging because it requires a fundamental change in the way we work and how we connect and collaborate across our devices, applications and workspaces. The change is so profound ANZ is now re-baselining the technology experience to reflect this fundamental shift.

As a technology guy people often laugh when I say one of the principles I keep at the forefront of my mind is my customers are humans. I recognise Tech heads are not always famous for placing real people at the heart of what they design and deliver.

But when you realise we humans can cope with only four different interfaces before productivity falls off a cliff, and the average employee interacts with over 68 different applications in the course of doing their job, you know you’ve got a problem.

I recognise while tools provide the foundation for hybrid working, in the end successful hybrid work is about being inclusive and putting people at the centre. That’s why to achieve a world-class employee technology experience in a hybrid world, we need to ground the experience on the workplace culture and norms - not on the technology.

We should:

  1. Invest (more) in culture and wellbeing.
  2. Inspire through being a purpose-led organisation.
  3. Involve our people in designing experiences.
  4. Embrace (and accelerate) digital.

Culture and wellbeing - According to Gartner’s Neal Woolrich, connectedness is currently in crisis: only one in four hybrid or remote knowledge workers are connected to their organisation’s culture. Organisations are urged to invest (more) in creating a connection to their company culture in a hybrid world. The technology experience has to somehow support this connection and echo the cultural experience the company wants its employees to have.

Wellbeing, both digital and non-digital, is also critical. This is simple logic - people work harder, better and faster when they are well. Digital analytics are an important piece of the puzzle - for example are people having too many meetings and not enough focus time?

These analytics help build better work habits, such as following up on commitments, taking breaks and protecting focus time in the day for uninterrupted, individual work.

Inspire through being a purpose-led organisation - As a purpose-led organisation ANZ can, and does, inspire our employees. Whether focusing on the financial wellbeing of customers, environment sustainability or being a truly inclusive and accessible company, being purpose-led helps empower employees to 'think outside the box' to create an open and connected ecosystem. 

At ANZ this ecosystem is evolving rapidly as we move away from transactional relationships with our customers to identifying, connecting and creating opportunities together.

Involve our people in designing experiences - As a large, complex, global organisation there is no “one size fits all” approach. Through regular technology experience surveys, journey mapping and workshops with our employees, overlayed with digital metrics, we identify areas of challenge and opportunity. This focus on human needs and simple, connected technology helps us deliver experiences linked to customer value. 

Embracing the future - The challenge is in uplifting the experience of our employees even as the makeup of the workforce itself, as well as the way they work, their needs, and expectations, change. ANZ is continuing with focusing on what is working and changing what is not.  To do this, we will continue to look to our data - usage, effort and experience - to guide and measure our success.

It is important to get this right – we have an extraordinary opportunity right now to reshape the future of how we work. Workplaces that don’t evolve risk losing talent and ultimately customers.  

Vinit Jha is Domain Lead, Employee Experience at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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