How to design a sustainable high performance culture with hybrid working


Actual Experience

Redesigning work around sustainable high performance involves ensuring employees can show up and do their best work, not just for a day or a week, or for a sprint, but for the long-term. The advent of hybrid working, and subsequent rethinking of work policies, present a once-in-a-generation way to get the best from every employee. But, many organisations are distracted by focusing too much on the ‘when’ and ‘where’ people work - flexibility - and neglecting the ‘how’.

“People talk about hybrid working as though it's the same as flexible working but it’s so much more complex,” says Harriet Molyneaux, Managing Director of HSM, a HR consultancy. “The focus of hybrid working needs to be on performance, not flexibility. The whole concept of hybrid is getting compressed down to that one tiny question of “where people work” which is an important one, for sure, but there's a lot of unintended consequences if you don't think more broadly about redesigning work and putting sustainable performance at the front and centre of it.”

How, then, can HR/People leaders design a sustainable high performance culture to make hybrid working a success?

Define what hybrid really means for the organisation

The best place to start is by defining what hybrid really means for their organisation. Hybrid working is too often used interchangeably with flexible working. And, as Lynda Gratton notes in a recent article for Harvard Business Review, most companies think of hybrid primarily in terms of place: whether people work in the office, at home, or somewhere else. CHROs need to clarify the difference between the two.

For management, companies that thrive in a hybrid world will adopt a more holistic, joined up approach to employee experience, engagement, culture, productivity and performance - the key components of a successful workplace. “Some organisations have five people running different aspects of hybrid and they’re not communicating with each other,” says Ms Molyneaux. “If they don’t take a more holistic view, they are likely to experience real challenges.”

Get a steady flow of employee feedback on the hybrid workplace

According to our recent report, Reconfigured, less than 1 in 5 of the C-suite executives we surveyed say that they have a very good understanding of the needs of different employees. This comes as no surprise because less than half of them say they collect and analyse data about how employees work to support new decisions on ways of working. But, how can organisations design a sustainable working culture without feedback from their employees?

Consultation with the wider workforce should not just be a one-off. Ongoing feedback is required to make iterative changes as time goes on, to ensure that the ways of working work for everyone. Survey data is one way that organisations are creating a healthy feedback loop. David Green, Executive Director of Insight 222, notes that “Microsoft has a daily pulse survey which goes out to 2,500 employees per day. The insights from these surveys are used to shape the questions that are asked in the next survey to dive deeper into specific topics. They’ve used this to shape their approach to the return to office and hybrid work. Their surveys identified that the role of managers is more important than ever before, so they were able to nudge managers to book more 1-2-1 time with the team.”

Daily pulse surveys just one way to get regular employee feedback on their working experience. Others include a workplace suggestion box to collect anonymised feedback on slips of paper in the office itself, in-depth monthly pulse surveys and annual feedback sessions which could be delivered as focus groups.

Here are some key topics to consider when seeking feedback on how employees work best:

  • Where do you focus best? This may vary depending on the type of work being done, for example writing a report may require the laser focus that working from home can support
  • What work set-up makes you feel most energised? Some employees may find working in an open-plan office with a buzz of background noise exhausting, whilst others may perform their best in that environment. This may be an opportunity to either create quieter working environments in the office or suggest that employees work from home
  • What conditions help you cooperate best to get projects over the line? Technology has been a huge enabler of virtual cooperation, and this may be a preference for some. However, others may prefer the ability to approach a desk or book a meeting room for a quick chat with a colleague face-to-face.
  • What space enables you to collaborate with other colleagues best? Generally speaking, the more creative side of collaborative work lends itself well to face-to-face group meetings. However, if due care and attention is paid to avoiding ‘groupthink’, the phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people's common sense desire to present alternatives, virtual meetings can be successful
  • What extra support do you need to make you feel engaged and productive? This may include setting up more meetings between managers and the wider teams or checking in to ensure that the home working set up, including home broadband, laptops and a desk, is suitable.

Curious to know more? Read our free, ungated report ‘Reconfigured’ for insights on the future of work.