Though the culture of a flexible workplace isn’t new to the world, the hybrid working culture only took a major leap after the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, which is why it has become an ideal workplace model for employees. Here’s how you can use design thinking to effectively implement a hybrid working culture for better management of your business. 

Researchers say that the hybrid working culture is going to stay here for long and we aren’t surprised! A workplace model that offers employees the flexibility to work in-office and remotely, a hybrid model gives its employees more autonomy and achievable work-life balance; something that employees have always wanted! It is a model that allows organisations to empathise with their employees, which in turn benefits employers to build a more productive workforce—could it get any better?

The hybrid working culture is the future of the workforce.That is why organisations are keen on designing a hybrid work model that allows better employee retention and better business operations. Design thinking, a human-centred approach to creating solutions for complex problems, can help in developing an effective hybrid work culture. 

“Success in a hybrid work environment requires employers to move beyond viewing remote or hybrid environments as a temporary or short-term strategy and to treat it as an opportunity.” 

– George Penn of Gartner

Managing A Hybrid Working Culture: Where Design Thinking and Hybrid Culture Converge 

The transition to remote work in 2020 was sudden and was a retroaction to the shock that the pandemic gave to the world. However, today businesses have the opportunity to be more deliberate about how they work. The goal of the hybrid workspace, according to Forbes, is to maximise productivity without compromising our employees’ capacity to manage their time or personal lives. 

As appealing as it may sound to both parties (employers and employees), developing and managing a hybrid workplace can be challenging. For an employer, it could pose serious security risks with employees using their own networks and devices. It can also lead to poor management if there is a lack of communication between employees and employers. For an employee, a hybrid working culture can also create a situation of overworking or burnout. Taking a strategic approach towards developing a hybrid workplace can help organisations. This is where design thinking comes into the picture. 

Design thinking is a hands-on approach to problem-solving that consists of strategic stages, which involves empathising, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing solutions. In reference to designing a hybrid working culture, design thinking principles will help organisations strike a balance between satisfying employees’ needs and helping employers get a  high yield in their business. 

Before we dive deeper into how design thinking helps manage a hybrid workplace, let’s understand why the hybrid workplace model requires design thinking in the first place:

  • With design thinking, organisations can foster a better understanding of what their employees seek from a hybrid model.

Today’s generation of employees concentrates on the issue of fostering connections. They seek to create settings that would help them build closer relationships, particularly with leaders. They desire leaders who would relate to them better, speak with them more frequently, and be more approachable. They wish for team leaders to be genuine members of their team and be honest and transparent while communicating. They want leaders to be connected with employees on a more “human” level in a hybrid environment. 

One of the very principles on which design thinking works is empathy. Therefore, while designing a hybrid working culture, leaders can actually take the initiative to understand how employees want to work and what will be the best way for both parties to work efficiently. Some of the most commonly used practices amongst organisations to foster human connect between managers and team members are:

  • Taking stand-up meetings daily to keep the team connected.
  • Creating WhatsApp or MS team groups for effective communication and collaboration among team members.
  • Keeping Friday calls for informal chats with no work related conversation to create a different bond outside of work. 
  • You could experiment as much as needed to develop the most effective hybrid model with design thinking.

While you empathise with your employees to learn what they want from a hybrid working culture, you will receive many different insights. For instance, a large number of members on the team may emphasise reporting to the office as per the employee roster model while others might want to work on only Mondays and Fridays. Some may even emphasise on having only one face-to-face meeting in a month while others may prefer weekly catch-ups. 

There may be more than a dozen distinct hybrid work arrangements that come out after in-depth discussion with the team. Design thinking can help organisations in creating an effective hybrid workplace by allowing organisations to experiment and create prototype models until they find the best one. With limited resources, this may be one of the most effective ways to design your hybrid work strategy. Furthermore, committing to experimenting demonstrates to your staff—past, present, and, most importantly, future—that you base your judgments on research rather than intuition or aversion to change.

Hybrid Working Culture: 4 Design Thinking Tips for Managing a Hybrid Workplace

managing a hybrid workplace with design thinking

  • Foster a culture of positivity and engagement while concentrating on employee experience.

Design thinking works on a core principle, which is empathy. To manage a hybrid workplace, one must focus on putting employee experience at the heart of the whole management. However, in doing so, organisations might come across a lack of transparency from employees’ side. Employees might try to take advantage of the time they spend remotely and might not do their work properly. To keep away from such situations, organisations should focus on creating an atmosphere where employees feel motivated to do their jobs. You must engage with them regularly and understand where they need to be more pushed. Here are a few tips which can help you manage your hybrid workplace better: 

  • As team leads and managers, placing trust in the team members is of utmost importance. Trust your reportees with smaller tasks that can take your organisation towards achieving the north star vision and then help them excel at it. You must engage with them regularly and understand where they need to be pushed more. With such goal-settings, you can actually witness employees pushing their own limits even harder to give you results. 
  • As team leads and managers, a part of your job is to make sure that your reportees are able to deliver desired results. Instead of micromanaging the team members on how much time they are taking to deliver the tasks, allow them to take time to give you desired results. Tracking time might be seen as if you don’t trust your team members and may create a toxic environment. Also, it might be a poor indicator of productivity as an employee giving more hours to complete a task doesn’t necessarily mean they are working more than someone who has worked for lesser hours. The assessment should be based on what quality of work they are putting on the table. 
  • Team leads and managers may also want to connect every day virtually with team members and at least one weekly face-to-face video conferencing or in-office meetings to know how well or unwell things are going. This will not only help you make a bond with the team members but also help you understand where your inputs are required. 
  • Team leads and managers can also provide training on how to manage cyber security threats and how to protect company assets. When the employees work remotely they are more prone to cyber attacks. Further as per data, most cyber attacks happen due to behavioural issues i.e. people clicking on links, people sharing passwords etc. So it becomes extremely important that during remote working people need to be made more aware of the ways to avoid cyber attacks.

Having read the above, always consider your exployees’ real-time situation when designing your organization’s hybrid working culture.

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  • Whatever strategy you choose, it’s critical to balance what’s crucial for the business while listening and adopting ideas.

While developing a hybrid workplace model, one must not forget the end goal of the company, which is to increase the overall revenue. Similarly, every design thinking project has an end goal: 

To be desirable –  A hybrid working experience that is desirable to the employees keeping in the mind the professional outcomes for the employees and organisation

To be feasible – to foster connections on a day-to-day basis and face-to-face to connects to strengthen bond within teams

To be viable – to manage the cost of working in a hybrid model, with minimal impact on performance and rather increasing the speed of organisational growth.

As rightly said, that only if the people working in an organisation grow, the organisation will grow and vice or versa. Using the design thinking technique of desirability, viability, and feasibility, you may test ideas, concepts, and hypotheses to see whether you have a distinctive value proposition (also known as a unique selling proposition) and if it’s worthwhile to pursue. The key to managing a hybrid workplace is to keep in mind these design-thinking led goals.

  • Keep asking the team for improvement in your hybrid working culture.

Start discussing and implementing your setup in tiny batches — think team by team — after iterating and confirming your return-to-office strategy (much like in human-centred design). Keep asking for input on how your team is responding to these changes. Give them the freedom to offer changes and express what is effective.

  • Track objectives and performance indicators while you work in hybrid working culture.

Employee performance must be enhanced by management of performance goals, constant communication, and ongoing growth. Deploy tools for productivity and communication that support mobile use and are independent of devices. Supply tools for a secure and healthy home workplace, including big monitors, sturdy desk chairs, and standing workstations, if your company’s budget allows for it

Hybrid Working Culture with Design Thinking: The Bottom Line

One of the main aspects of our lives that got stimulated due to the outbreak of the pandemic is the way we work. The radical shift to remote working and then eventually to a hybrid working culture broke the traditional working norms, which has now become the most demanded workplace model amongst employees. Employees often have greater work-life balance and more autonomy in hybrid workplaces, which results in higher levels of engagement. A hybrid work environment combines office and remote work to give employees flexibility and assistance. With design thinking principles, building a more productive, healthy, and stable workforce can become a smooth and relatively easier project for employers. Not to mention that Design Thinking has already been used by many organisations to solve many complex and wicked problems, one of which is cracking the hybrid working culture.

About the author, Ajay Aggarwal

A Haryanvi by origin, an entrepreneur at heart and a consultant by choice, that’s how Ajay likes to introduce himself! Ajay is the Founding Partner at Humane Design and Innovation Consulting (HDI). Before starting HDI, Ajay founded the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG India. His 16+ years of professional career spans across various roles in product and service design, conducting strategy workshops, storytelling and enabling an innovation culture. He has coached 50+ organizations and 2000+ professionals in institutionalizing design and innovation practices. He loves to blog and speak on topics related to Design Thinking, Innovation, Creativity, Storytelling, Customer Experience and Entrepreneurship. Ajay is passionate about learning, writing poems and visualizing future trends!

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