Getting Hybrid Right Takes Curiosity, Openness, Thoughtful Deliberation and (Lots of) Change Management

“My advice for senior leaders who are moving to a hybrid model: Don’t do it in a vacuum. These are decisions that can’t be unilaterally decided in an executive boardroom. Once you’ve made your decisions, don’t underestimate the level of change management required. You need to build your coalitions and communicate ad nauseam. It’s one of the toughest changes I’ve ever led.”

Michelle Perry, Chief Human Resources Officer, Walter P Moore

Looking for a stellar example of hybrid done right? Look no further than Walter P Moore, a global consulting engineering firm based in Houston, where Chief Human Resources Officer Michelle Perry has led their Hybrid Remote Firm (HRF) Core Team on what’s one of the most thoughtful and (so far) successful moves to a hybrid remote model I’ve seen.

With 800 employees in 29 office locations around the world, Walter P Moore officially became a hybrid remote firm in April 2022, a decision not taken lightly, coming after more than 18 months of planning. Michelle, along with other core team members including the CEO, CFO, CIO and the Facilities Manager, created a hybrid/remote model that balances the needs of employees, managers, clients and the business overall.

What’s made the company’s HRF implementation strategies so successful? A great deal of open dialogue across the firm, collaborative design activities, and a real commitment to learning and getting better at this giant “future of work” experiment. It’s no surprise that a firm renowned for the reliability of its spectacularly innovative designs would approach the transition to a new work model with such thoughtful deliberation and curiosity.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: According to the company’s October 2022 employee pulse survey results, 80% of employees gave an “overall favorable” score on their engagement-related questions, a 4% increase from February 2022. Close to 90% reported being able to work productively and produce quality outputs in HRF, and 69% said they feel engaged and well connected with their teammates, a 7% jump from just eight months ago.

Here are excerpts from my recent interview with Michelle, who shares insightful tips that all organizations can learn from.

Note: This is one of a series of articles where I’ll be sharing tips from senior leaders who are navigating their organizations to a new hybrid model

  • We decided early on that we would become a hybrid remote firm, after gathering extensive internal input. When it came to making policy decisions, we knew that each location and group needed the flexibility to decide what would be best for their employees and clients. Putting arbitrary parameters in place would not be doing anyone any favors. Currently, about 75% of our workforce is in the office 1-3 days per week on average. Most teams maintain core hours on at least some days.
  • We want to make the office a destination where people look forward to working. We solicited input from employees and engaged a design firm experienced in such office transformations to help us determine how our ideal HRF office should function. The result: each company office has been redesigned and carved into four distinct zones: 1) A Hub, or gateway area, supports gathering, relationship-building and touchdown spaces; 2) A quiet zone allows people to work either in open or closed settings; 3) A team zone is ideal for project and team collaboration; and 4) A service zone houses equipment, storage, supplies, a library, and a mother’s room. Leaders in each location worked with our facilities team to configure these four areas to meet their unique needs. Today, about two-thirds of the company’s offices have been fully reconfigured.
  • We believe the flexibility that comes with HRF can be a key differentiator for us. We have been careful to clearly explain the difference between an HRF, a WFH (work from home) and WFA (work from anywhere) firm. With few exceptions, we require that all employees live within a daily commutable driving distance from a company office, meaning they can’t count on always working from home, and they can’t work from anywhere. For example, we might have an employee living within driving distance of our Austin office who reports into our Houston HQ office.
  • For many of our supervisors, the move to HRF has been especially tough, as managing in HRF was a new skill to learn and can take more time than when everyone worked in the office. Early on, we heard comments like: “This won’t work because…” and “It will be easier if we just all go back to the office,” and questions like: “How will we track performance?” and “How will we know what people are working on?” Most had never managed in a virtual world until COVID, and even then, most hadn’t had training or developed the skills needed to be an effective remote leader.
  • We provided all supervisors with training (Leading in the New Normal: Six Habits for Leading Hybrid Teams) and have had multiple working/discussion sessions.​ Our most recent virtual session included 75 leaders. We divided people into groups, using Mural to gather responses, and assimilated responses by theme, creating a best-practices document all can access whenever they like. We plan to do many more of these in the year ahead.
  • The consistent use of communications and collaboration tools has helped make the transition easier. We have standardized on using MS-Teams for meetings and asynchronous collaboration, SharePoint as a document library /information resource, and Mural for collaborative work and brainstorming. We have also implemented Workplace, which is like an internal version of FaceBook, where employees can connect socially by joining any one of many channels based on their interests. About two-thirds of our employees have registered to date.
  • We use a hoteling concept, and wanted to make it easy to book space. Employees use a tool called SpaceIQ to reserve desks, find out who else will be in, and let colleagues know where they’ll be sitting. We’re using office density sensors on a trial basis in at least one office to help make well-informed decisions about how and when certain kinds of space are needed at any given time.
  • Technology was a big focus point for us. We clearly outlined to employees what IT equipment would be provided for them in their home office. In addition, Space IQ delineates what IT equipment is available in each workspace so an employee can choose an appropriate space that works for them. Our conference rooms are also outfitted with tools to assist in maximizing hybrid meetings, such as the Microsoft Hub, rally bar sound systems, Owl cameras, etc.
  • We don’t consider our journey “complete.” Looking to 2023, we’ll continue to experiment and learn from each other. A key area of focus will be the connection piece. How can we enable and encourage people to make fruitful connections, professionally and socially?

Summary

For some organizations moving to a virtual/hybrid model, simply maintaining pre-COVID business performance and employee engagement levels is achievement enough. But unlike many organizations who have seen the move to virtual/hybrid as a necessary evil, Walter P Moore has embraced the challenge and see HRF as the new way of work and imperative to attract, engage and retain talent. Their HRF journey has focused on thoughtful planning, extensive internal input, and impeccable execution.

Links

Walter P Moore’s office zones – downloadable file

“Best practices” document assembled from ideas generated by 75 company leaders at Walter P Moore – downloadable file

Maintaining True Equity in a Virtual/Hybrid World – Guided Insights

Creating a Level Playing Field Across Your Hybrid-Remote Team – Guided Insights

Practical Steps for Creating a Team Communications Map that Everyone Embraces – Guided Insights

Why Culture Must Transcend Work Location for Healthy, High-Performing Teams – Guided Insights

Leadership Tips for Retaining Top Talent During a Time of Turbulence – Guided Insights

Creating and Adopting Norms for Your Virtual Team – Quick List (guidedinsights.com) – downloadable file

4 Imperatives for Managing in a Hybrid World (hbr.org)

Forget Flexibility. Your Employees Want Autonomy. (hbr.org)

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