Point of View

Develop a hyper-personalized employee experience

July 27, 2021

Designing the ideal hybrid working environment post-pandemic will be a mission-critical issue for employers to grapple with in the years to come. Employees’ needs differ drastically based on the individual and their circumstances. Leaders must over-communicate with empathy and design working environments that work for both businesses and individuals. HFS is developing some foundational thoughts on how to put this into practice. We all need to treat this as an open and ongoing conversation to create the best hyper-personalized employee experiences with a win-win-win effect for employees, customers, and overall business performance.

WFH is not defined—it is not consistent for everyone

Working from home (WFH) differs dramatically, and, despite trends, you cannot make blanket statements within geographies, demographics, industries, or any other grouping. It’s the specifics of an individual’s office and home environments that make or break WFH. Therefore, you should not treat WFH or hybrid working rigidly. Instead, support flexibility and what works for an individual within specific job and company boundaries. Our latest data from 800 Global 2000 enterprise leaders suggests employees will spend 40% of their time at home over the next 12 months—that means 60% back in the office, varying by industry, business function, and company culture (see Exhibit 1). If COVID-19 has taught us anything, we’ve learned a hybrid approach must be flexible for individuals, and lockdown does not equal working from home.

Exhibit 1: Employees will spend their time 60% in-office and 40% working from home

Sample: 800 respondents from Global 2000 enterprises
Source: HFS Research Pulse Survey, April 2021

Lockdown does not equal WFH—we must reset boundaries for a healthier work-life balance

Offices, in many cases, will become “creativity centers,” and the home office will be the “delivery hub.” Space for communication and socializing is a plus, absolutely, and for many, it will be an essential part of an employee’s job and ability to perform at their best. But, do not make the critical error of equating WFH with the experience of so many during lockdown. Many of us are ready to break free from the lockdown lifestyle and all its negative connotations. For so many, the lockdown experience meant that the office, home, social space, eating space, and sleeping space were all one space. It is time to make the best of WFH, when applicable, and set healthy barriers between work and home life. Employers must factor in this past negative experience and not make assumptions about what works best for individuals. WFH experiences will differ dramatically in normal times—let alone locked down during a pandemic.

A leader’s trust, empathy, and change management are fundamental to creating a hyper-personalized employee experience:
  • Motivation is personalized, too; treat each individual as a whole person. One of the most challenging parts of being a leader, especially in the ante-pandemic era, is understanding your employees’ unique motivators and trusting them to know what’s best for them as individuals. Your employees will be more motivated if you treat them right and trust them to make the best decisions for themselves and their work. Show clear leadership and empathy—connect with employees, help them be resilient, grow, and find their purpose. Lead with compassion.
  • Understand your culture, and leverage its strength. To drive change, champions are essential—both top-down and bottom-up—and this can apply to WFH, too. Have problem solvers in leadership positions outside the chain of command available for employees to approach with any WFH problems they might not want to take directly to their line managers… although ideally, you’d have line managers who employees feel they can go to!
  • Change management is a secret sauce alongside trust and empathy. It’s about planning and being open and transparent in your communication. Everyone must have clear expectations and be on the same page. Now is the time to have more formalized change management best practices, all of which you must deliver with a culture of empathy and personalization.
  • We need to keep changing how we work and keep helping our employees adjust to whatever WFH level is required. For example, younger generations have been working remotely for years—including while studying at all levels. For them, WFH is native, so maximize your talent and listen to the balance between office and WFH that works for your younger employees, your older ones, and everyone in the middle, too. You must also address skills gaps. Our data in Exhibit 2 shows that improving digital fluency in the workforce is the most critical change for organizations, particularly as technology is increasingly migrating to the cloud.
  • Hybrid working environments need to be flexible. You need to experiment and push agile working to its limits. Get the best of both worlds; it’s not an either-or situation. You don’t have to accept some of the old downsides of either office or home working; build a system that maximizes the best of both and eliminates the worst.
Exhibit 2: Training staff to be digitally fluent as we head to the cloud dominates our immediate future

Sample: 800 respondents from the Global 2000 enterprises
Source: HFS Research Pulse Survey, April 2021

The Bottom Line: Everyone’s ideal work-life balance is different—that’s the only case you need to create hyper-personalized employee experiences.

Maximize your talent, and empathize with your employees’ differences. Trust them to know what is best for them. Change management needs over-communication. Consider “champions” or touchpoints outside the chain of command during transitions. Incorporate all the benefits of WFH, and don’t settle for the negatives of “how it used to be.” Lockdown is not the same as a healthy WFH environment. Lockdown was tough, but that doesn’t mean everyone desperately wants to get back to the office.

And, finally, while it may be an obvious point to finish on… bad flexibility is worse than no flexibility. Flexible working does not mean “you must be in office 8-4 rather than 9-5.” (Especially when anyone leaving early encounters negative comments and is passed up for promotion… see our take on diversity and the barriers to retaining talent).

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