Posted: 05 Sep. 2023 9.5 min. read

Hybrid work strategies for your organization

Optimizing work in a distributed environment

Authored by Gary Parilis, Andrea Wilp, Charles Cornwell, and Carissa Kilgour.

Today’s workforce landscape

Over the past several years, habits in the workplace and expectations for ways of working have changed dramatically. The COVID-19 pandemic required organizations to quickly pivot to a primarily remote model. As the pandemic wound down, organizations sought to implement the best workplace strategies and plans for their business, including the mix of onsite and remote work, recognizing that an extended period of remote and hybrid work fundamentally changed the culture of the workplace, and made it necessary to rethink where and how the workforce will function going forward. According to the Deloitte 2023 Human Capital Trends survey, most business leaders believe that developing the right hybrid workplace model is important to their organization’s success, yet only 24% feel their organization is ready to address this need.1

The labor market continues to be tight, with unemployment at an all-time low. Workers have more power than ever before—and the fact that so many job openings are remote hugely expands their opportunities to find alternative positions. According to the State of Remote Work 2022 report by Owl Labs, if the ability to work from home were taken away, 66% of workers would immediately start looking for a job that offered flexibility.2 Furthermore, 52% would take a pay cut of 5% or more to have flexibility in working location.3 While remote work has paid dividends to employees (increased well-being, created better work-life balance, etc.), it may also result in increased performance. At organizations where employees work full-time in the office, Gartner found that only 36% of employees were high performers, in contrast to 55% when organizations shift to a flexible approach where employees have a choice over where, when, and how much they work.4

Planning for a hybrid workforce

While some organizations have required returning to the office for all, many business leaders are exploring and testing to see what types of plans work best for their organization and individuals across the flexibility spectrum, from rigid mandates to hybrid workforce choice. But how do business leaders know what’s best for their company?

Since this is new territory for many organizations and their workforce, it’s been typical for managers and executives to rely on their hunches: what they’ve read in the media and previous cultural norms as a basis to plan remote and hybrid work policies. But optimizing policies, practices, and habits in a distributed workforce environment can be empirically informed through data and analytics, linking the actual preferences, behaviors, and habits of workers (and teams) to the resulting performance, productivity, and retention. Organizations have a wealth of behavioral data, which can be augmented by surveys and other forms of employee listening to drive more insightful approaches to work, location, and behaviors.

Defining outcomes

To apply a data-driven approach to defining where work should take place, the first step is deciding what outcomes to focus on, and how to measure them. Two critical outcomes center around measuring productivity and employee experience.

Measuring employee productivity

Measuring the productivity of employees is difficult in many organizations and functions, and begins with defining it, which is a challenge. While some roles have objective measures of employee productivity (for example, widgets assembled, lines of code written, and cases resolved), it’s much less straightforward for many roles, particularly knowledge workers, where the debate about working location is especially relevant. Instead, we often rely on subjective measures of employee productivity to examine how effectively these workers balance their time. The dimensions of time that most influence a knowledge worker’s ability to be productive include deep thinking/focus, collaboration, people and culture, well-being, and work about work. Organizations should consider using passive data (such as collaboration and communication workstyle trends) to understand how and where workers are spending their time, and couple it with active data (such as workforce research and surveys) to better understand why workers have adopted certain workstyle behaviors. We can compare this with performance analytics to strategize a model that optimizes productivity. This allows employers to identify habits and norms of highly productive teams—identifying opportunities to improve the employee productivity of other teams, and monitoring the impact those measures have over time.

Measuring employee preferences, experiences, and engagement

We’ve previously stressed the importance of improving employee experience and engagement in the digital workplace, and that starts by effectively measuring it. In this context of the hybrid work environment, it’s important to measure employee preferences for the work structure they consider best suited to their role and needs. Understanding and delivering on employee workplace preferences requires insights through workforce listening. Clever application of survey methods, including tradeoff techniques such as conjoint, can quantify employees’ priorities and preferences for where and how they work in a distributed workforce environment. This allows the employer to get creative—for example, aligning corporate events with when employees are most likely to be in office. Ongoing measurement and analyses of employee engagement and sentiments are essential to determine the effectiveness of these policies and initiatives to make adjustments over time.

Determining optimal practices through modeling

Organizations have a wealth of behavioral data that can be mined to build analytic models for measuring and determining ways of working that benefit employee experience and productivity.

These sources include:

  • Meta data from email and messaging platforms
  • Meeting invitations and acceptances
  • Digital meeting platforms, such as Zoom, Teams
  • Room reservations
  • Badge swipe data
  • Travel & expense data

Data from these sources can be converted into a plethora of valuable indicators of team habits for use as inputs to predictive models. Such models can use the measured data to determine the ideal combination of team habits and practices to maximize both employee productivity and engagement, with a separate model built for each team archetype, which can be derived through statistical procedures, such as cluster analysis. It’s helpful to follow these statistical analyses with qualitative research to refine recommendations for each archetype.

The effects of distributed workforce policies and recommendations need to be measured on an ongoing basis through analyses of performance measures and employee listening channels such as surveys and focus groups. Organizations that are willing to adjust and course-correct based on results realize the greatest improvements and desired outcomes.

Organizations can begin with evaluation of the habits and norms of their workforce and the results of those behaviors by querying workers and managers and using qualitative methods such as interviews and focus groups. This provides a view of where the greatest issues are in the organization and where to begin deeper investigation.

A note on transparency and ethics

Use of behavioral data may make employees uncomfortable, with concerns over individual monitoring. With the increased media reports of organizations implementing activity tracking software, this can be a rational concern. The best practice is to explain the objectives and benefits openly and clearly to employees and use results only in aggregate, assuring that individual behaviors will not be examined. Lack of such openness may have unintended impacts on employee morale and trust in the organization.

Moving forward

Hybrid work is here to stay for many organizations, and while it may feel more daunting to solve than maximizing work effectiveness in traditional in-office environments, it offers business leaders an opportunity to plan and make data-informed decisions in response to workforce preferences. By taking a data and analytics approach to discovering the optimal configurations of where and how employees work, businesses can make decisions that are uniquely right for their organizations.



1 Deloitte Insights, 2023 Global Human Capital Trends, January 9, 2023.
2 Owl Labs, State of Remote Work 2022, 2022.
3 Ibid.
4 Mary Baker, “What is the new employment deal?,” Gartner, October 13, 2020.

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