Tools such as organizational network analysis (ONA) can provide insights into less visible but arguably more important informal networks within the organization. ONA examines the structure of social relationships in a group to uncover the informal connections between people (figure 6). It is the science of making visible the key pathways of collaboration and information flow across these networks, beyond the often-hierarchical, formal reporting structures. ONA illuminates how work gets done and who is driving value, where collaboration is breaking down, where talent and expertise can be better leveraged, and where opportunities for diffusion and innovation are being lost.20
In designing adaptive workplaces, ONA can help leaders, managers, and workers understand how they work together, identify potential issues, and lead to actions that ensure the continued well-being and productive engagement of the workforce.
Well-being and connection: Listen to your workforce
Data can be a great asset in informing decision-making, but without the context provided by real stories and the experiences of the workforce, valuable insights can get buried in spreadsheets and statistics. The period following the start of the pandemic has been an involuntary, large-scale experiment in remote work and revealed gaps, challenges, and opportunities from a workforce perspective. What challenges do employees face? What is working and what isn’t? Pulse your people to get an understanding of the current culture, their feelings toward the future, and what they need to perform their best. Most importantly, give your employees a voice in how or where they work.
Working remotely during the pandemic has led many people to reveal a larger part of their whole selves to their coworkers. From their taste in books to family pictures in the background to appearances from noisy pets and curious toddlers, virtual/video calls have quite literally provided a peek into the lives of those we work with. An individual’s personal circumstances impact their well-being and work, so understanding their challenges can be key to adapting the workplace to the new normal.
At the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), chief human capital officer Angie Bailey has been focused on weekly communication with the workforce through blogs, emails, and surveys. She receives (and responds to) thousands of emails sharing real stories and ideas from employees. “We used all of that information, the thousands of emails I’ve received, as well as the town hall meetings we’ve had, the reach-outs to our employees to really help think, shape, and form our policies going forward with the workforce,” she says. Through these emails, the absence of childcare and school emerged as a theme that was troubling employees. In response, the DHS started virtual family days to help engage kids and make parents feel less burdened. The agency also enhanced flexibility and reevaluated how work schedules might work. “If you have an 80-hour work week, maybe that 80-hour work week consists of working, you know, from 3–9 at night versus 9–5 in the morning kind of thing,” says Bailey.21
Workforce experience: Adapt organizational processes to meet hybrid work needs
In a hybrid setup, systems and processes designed for a purely in-office model (or a purely virtual model)—whether it’s performance management processes, technology, or employee well-being initiatives—might not be as effective. A “lift and shift” approach simply won’t work.
The workforce experience must support the workforce in doing their best work—irrespective of their work location. A holistic workforce experience considers multiple dimensions—work, organization, workforce, technology, well-being, and places (not simply the office or home).
Consider performance management: One of the challenges of having employees both on and offsite is the perception that those who work from the office have greater visibility and have an advantage in terms of promotions and career opportunities. To unleash the true potential of hybrid work, processes and systems designed to reward behaviors that only apply to an in-person setting need to be adapted to serve the needs of the whole employee—no matter what their location.
More frequent check-ins with supervisors and feedback on a regular cadence rather than annually play a big role when managing a hybrid workforce or where in-person interactions are reduced. At the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), front-line managers convene their staff and virtual teams for weekly “huddles,” or 15-minute flash meetings—a way for EPA teams to pivot from their growing to-do lists and instead concentrate on the big picture.22 “This pandemic has made us really rethink how we manage the workforce and what tools we have at our hands to manage the performance of the workforce and interact with one another. I’m excited to see what comes out of this in terms of how we manage individual behavior and organizational behavior,” says Rebecca Ayers, manager of the Office of Personnel Management’s USA Performance tool.23