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When virtual happy hours aren’t enough

How hybrid workforce worries are signalling the need for better engagement and equivalence

With 86% of US tech leaders expecting hybrid working models for their companies, serious discussions around how to re-engineer the workplace and workday will likely be needed as we emerge from the pandemic.

As tech companies start to implement their back-to-office plans, they are trying to realise the best of both at-home and in-office work. Companies are pursuing a spectrum of return styles—some are putting in place mandatory requirements for in-office time (e.g., 2 or 3 days per week), while others are leaving it solely up to employees.1 It is a fine line between providing the flexibility that employees are demanding and balancing the overall needs of the business. What is needed to create a long-term, sustainable approach to hybrid work that “works” for everyone?

In a survey of about 150 US technology industry leaders, we found that they expect three main changes to their working models as pandemic restrictions are removed.2 Shifting to a hybrid working model was selected by 86% of respondents, less overall business travel selected by 78% and more employees working fully remote by 76%. This is a future where virtual work is the norm, which could cause a range of issues, including potential breakdowns in companies’ established cultures. No matter what the “correct” approach is to manage this new world, tech companies will face common struggles.

In our survey, the biggest worry because of changes to working models was difficulty integrating new hires into the organisation (66% of respondents). New hires not being fully in person could potentially stunt the development of relationships, make training more difficult and create barriers to fully adopting company culture. This worry was followed by concerns around developing and maintaining personal relationships (43%) and falling levels of creativity due to a lack of personal interactions (37%). In these new hybrid environments, what can be done to help ensure enough quality interaction to maintain company culture and establish strong connections.

  • Drive purposeful engagement: Although virtual social gatherings have benefits, they are likely not enough to create the levels of connection needed for an organisation to thrive. Employee engagement isn’t something that can be simply left to chance. To reduce isolation, prevent new hires from feeling lost and help employees feel part of a team they may have never met in person, deliberate action is needed. Creating formal buddy systems, beyond traditional mentors, could prove useful. Looking to engineer moments that will foster loyalty is another—things that bring emotion to the forefront (e.g., celebrating team accomplishments and milestones together). Finally, first-line managers should have dedicated training and tools to drive engagement; they shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves.
  • Create employee equivalence: Hybrid work environments should show no discernable difference for virtual and in-person workers. Creating this equivalence is easier said than done. Technologies, processes and cultural changes should support fairness and get everyone equally involved, regardless of location, individual sensitivities and working styles. New technology can play a major factor in the success or failure of this approach. Workers at home and in the office will need shared information and collaborative spaces that are as accessible and intuitive as possible—sensing who you are and what you need at every moment.

Doing things as they have been done in the past and even during the pandemic, may not be the best approach in the future. We will have to reimagine our workplace and workday and start creating new habits. To improve engagement and equivalence, we should bring all our talent, strategy, organisational structure and technology tools to the table.

Technology, Media & Telecommunications

Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) industry practice brings together one of the world’s largest group of specialists respected for helping shape many of the world’s most recognised TMT brands—and helping those brands thrive in a digital world.

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  1. Mark Sullivan, “How 15+ tech companies are transitioning back to the office,” Fast Company, July 26, 2021; Ron Miller, “Tech companies are looking at more flexible work models when offices reopen,” TechCrunch, June 11, 2021.

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  2. Deloitte conducted a survey of 152 technology industry professionals from US-based companies between August and October 2021. Respondents came from a variety of industry segments, including enterprise applications, IT services, consumer applications, enterprise hardware, networking, consumer devices and semiconductors. Seventy-two percent came from companies with US$1 billion or more in annual revenue (36% more than US$10 billion in revenue). Eight percent were C-suite executives, 37% were at the senior vice-president or vice-president level, and 34% were at the senior director or director level.

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Cover image: Jamie Austin

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