The global unlock, triggered by the plateauing (or in some cases, diminishing) numbers of new COVID-19 infections, has started drawing people back to the office. However, some companies have issued a blanket work-from-home rule for the next year while others like Twitter have announced WFH as a permanent option.

Dave Adams, President and CEO of CU Solutions Group, warns, “Remote work is NOT for everyone and leaders should take this into consideration to develop a hybrid approach vs. a universal one-size-fits-all arrangement.” Also, some organizations hesitate from returning to 100% capacity and so we can expect working arrangements to stay fluid in the near term.

This presents a good opportunity for business leaders to explore new working models and Novartis sets an example, in this context, with its new charter for employee culture.

Novartis – next-gen workplaces starting from the top

Novartis has rolled out a hybrid work approach called ‘Choice with Responsibility’ with the underlying themes of flexibility and empowerment. The policy has some interesting lessons for leaders wondering how to transition to newer models of working:

  1. Re-look at job design

Novartis’ new work policy extends mental health resources and other support systems to give employees a seamless work experience wherever they are in the world.

Lessons: Business leaders should re-examine existing job designs and tailor them to meet new expectations and include the tools of the future workplace. For instance, health and safety will become a new priority until inoculation is provided to specific risk categories. Moreover, job specialization, enrichment, and motivational methods will need to be tweaked for different personalities while considering the cross-generational aspect of existing teams.

  1. Renew the employee charter with freedom and responsibility

Novartis commits to instilling freedom, choice, and responsibility among its employees by offering customized support to facilitate the transition to hybrid models. Novartis also aims to conduct regular pulse check-ins among its employees to track their adjustment. Key takeaways will be accepted for improvement in the next cycle.

Lessons: Collaborative work is a crucial element of success. Leaders can empower employees who choose remote working to have open channels of communication with their associates, no matter the location. A comparison of two PwC studies, 6 months apart, reveals that leaders see an increase in employee productivity since the pandemic induced work-from-home began. That being said, the winners were those that invested in the right approaches, styles, and tools to adapt. Parallelly, the workplace culture too will evolve. Giving employees the choice to work where they want, the freedom to be part of the decision-making process, and the responsibility to meet their targets, will make this model a success.

  1. Discover a new tone of leadership

Novartis’ new policy shifts the style of leadership from manager-approved to manager-informed, giving more power and responsibility to the employees.

Lesson: Following up on the previous point, leaders too will need to change their mindset since older leadership styles may prove ineffective in the new normal. Guiding and managing a team that is geographically scattered needs innovative approaches. Flexible leadership styles that lean towards manager-informed rather than manager-approved will be key.

Implementing hybrid models could be operationally challenging for businesses, especially those involved in multi-country operations. Instead of aiming to build a perfect hybrid model at one go, businesses can try to implement an acceptable model and keep tweaking it based on employee feedback. 

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