With 74% of U.S. companies transitioning to a permanent hybrid model, leaders are turning their attention to measuring the success of their hybrid work model. That’s because there’s a single traditional office-centric model of Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 in the office, but there are many ways to do hybrid work. Moreover, what works well for one company’s culture and working style may not work well elsewhere, even within the same industry. So how should a leader evaluate whether the model they adopted is optimal for their company’s needs — or whether those needs require refinement?
The first step involves establishing clear success metrics. Unfortunately, relatively few companies measure important aspects of the hybrid work transition. For example, a new report from Omdia suggests that 54% of organizations find that productivity improved from adopting a more hybrid working style, but only 22% of organizations established metrics to quantify productivity improvements from hybrid work.
Hybrid work is a strategic decision
From my experience helping 21 organizations transition to hybrid work, it’s important for the whole C-suite to be actively involved in formulating the metrics and for the board to approve them. Too often, busy executives feel the natural inclination to throw it in HR’s lap and have them figure it out.
That’s a mistake. A transition to a permanent hybrid work model requires attention and care at the highest levels of an organization. Otherwise, the C-suite will not be coordinated and fail to get on the same page about what counts as “success” in hybrid work and find themselves in a mess six months after their hybrid work transition.
It’s a best practice for the C-suite to determine the metrics at an offsite where they can distance themselves from the day-to-day bustle and make long-term strategic choices. Prior to the offsite, it’s valuable to get initial internal metrics, including getting a baseline of quantitative and objective measures. While there are plenty of external metrics on hybrid work, each company has a unique culture, systems and processes and talent.
Which success metrics matter in the hybrid work transition?
Based on the experience of my clients, companies focus on a variety of success metrics, each of which may be more or less important. Each of these metrics should be measured before establishing a permanent hybrid work policy, to get a baseline. Then, the metrics need to be evaluated every quarter, to evaluate the impact of refinements to the hybrid work policy.
Retention offers a clear-to-measure hard success metric, one both quantitative and objective. A related metric, recruitment, is a softer metric: it’s harder to measure and more qualitative in nature. External benchmarks definitely indicate offering more remote work facilitates both retention and recruitment.
Thus, if the C-suite chooses to adopt a more flexible policy, I recommend my clients put it on their website’s “Join Us” page, as did one of my clients, the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute. HR will inevitably find they get an uptick in inquiries from job applicants referencing this policy, as well as, potential hires showing enthusiasm for it in interviews. That enthusiasm is something that can be measured.
A key metric, performance, may be harder or easier to measure depending on the nature of the work. For instance, a study published in the National Bureau of Economic Review reported on a randomized control trial comparing the performance of software engineers assigned to a hybrid schedule vs. an office-centric schedule. Engineers who worked in a hybrid model wrote 8% more code over a six-month period. If there is no option to have such clear performance measurement, use regular weekly assessments of performance from supervisors.
Collaboration and innovation are critical metrics for effective team performance, but measuring them isn’t easy. Evaluating them requires relying on more qualitative assessments from team leaders and team members. Moreover, by training teams in effective hybrid innovation and collaboration techniques, you can improve these metrics.
Several hard-to-measure metrics are important for an organization’s culture and talent management: morale, engagement, well-being, happiness, burnout, intent to leave and quiet quitting. Getting at these metrics requires the use of more qualitative and subjective approaches, such as customized surveys specifically adapted to hybrid and remote work policies. As part of doing the survey, it’s helpful to ask respondents to opt into participating in focus groups around these issues. Then, in the focus groups, you can dig deeper into the survey questions and get at people’s underlying feelings and motivations.
One way to measure the wellbeing and burnout of your employees involves a hard metric: employees taking sick days. By measuring how that changes over time — seasonally adjusted — you can evaluate the impact of your policies on employee mental and physical health.
Diversity, equity and inclusion represent an often overlooked but critically important metric impacted by hybrid work. We know that underrepresented groups strongly prefer more remote work. Thus, my clients who chose to have a mostly office-centric schedule had to invest substantial resources into boosting their DEI to compensate for the inevitable loss of underrepresented talent.
Measuring DEI is quite easy and objective: look at the retention of underrepresented rank-and-file staff and leaders as the hybrid work strategy gets implemented. Also, make sure that your surveys allow staff to self-identify relevant demographic categories so that you can measure DEI as it relates to engagement, morale, and so on.
Last, but far from least, my clients also consider professional and leadership development and onboarding and integration of junior team members. A Conference Board survey finds 58% of employees would leave without adequate professional development, and that applies even more so to underrepresented groups. Leadership development is critical to the long-term continuity of any company. And onboarding and integration of junior staff is a fundamental need for success. Yet most companies struggle with figuring out how to do these well in a hybrid setting.
Measuring professional development is best done through more subjective tools, such as surveys and focus groups. You can also assess how much staff improve in the areas where they received professional development and compare in-person vs. remote modalities of delivering learning. Evaluating leadership development is easier and more quantitative and objective. Assess how well your newly-promoted leaders succeed based on performance evaluations and 360-degree reviews. Onboarding and integrating new staff involves performance evaluations by supervisors and measurements of their productivity.
Once you have the baseline data from these diverse metrics, at the offsite the C-suite needs to determine which metrics matter most to your organization. Choose the top three to five metrics, and weigh their importance relative to each other. Using these metrics, the C-suite can then decide on a course of action on hybrid work that would best optimize for their desired outcomes. Next, determine a plan of action to implement this new policy, including using appropriate metrics to measure success. As you implement the policy, if you find the metrics aren’t as good as you’d like, revise the policy and see how that revision impacts your metrics. Likewise, consider running experiments to compare alternative versions of the hybrid policy. For instance, you can have one day a week in the office in one location and two days in another, and assess how that impacts your metrics. Reassess and revise your approach once a month for the first three months, and then once a quarter going forward. By adopting this approach, my clients found they can most effectively reach the metrics they set out for their permanent hybrid model.