The workplace has changed. Following years of a global pandemic, organisations have found themselves having to explore new, flexible ways to operate.
What has emerged is a permanent shift towards hybrid workforces. “Hybrid working is a type of flexible working where an employee splits their time between the workplace and remote working”. In fact, Accenture found that 63% of high-growth businesses now use this model.
However, some organisations are starting to look beyond the hybrid model to poly-work.
Poly working is the evolution of the hybrid model. While organisations have adopted remote working, many HR processes are still rooted in a pre-pandemic traditional approach.
A poly work approach takes the hybrid work model to the next step. For a more fundamental shift to new ways of working and building agile organisations that better meet the needs and expectations of a new generation of workers. And ultimately, benefitting the business.
So what is poly-work?
Poly derives from the Greek word ‘polys,’ meaning ‘many, much, or multiple’. Poly-working refers to the various ways that a person can fulfil a role or deliver a service – and more effectively. This covers the different employment types:
- Full-time employees
- Part-time employees
- Agency workers
And the working practices agreed, such as:
- Remote/hybrid – some or all work done from home
- Job sharing – roles divided between two or more employees
- Compressed hours – completing regular duties within a shorter time frame
- Flexitime – workers can vary hours around core periods
- Annualised hours – a commitment to work certain numbers of hours per year
In essence, poly-work is a divergence from traditional work structures and roles. Providing a fluid and adaptive modular approach that allows greater control over where, when, and how people work.
How is poly-work different from a hybrid workforce?
A hybrid model typically refers to an organisation that has a mix of employee types: home-based, office-based, or a combination of both. A hybrid model only changes where people work, but not how they work.
Poly-working reimagines how, where, and why work is done. And creates environments in which workers have many different ways they can operate. Ideally to improve their efficiency and output.
“It’s not about blending the two locations, it’s about creating approaches that enable individuals to construct a professional life that’s wrapped around them,” Chris Preston, co-founder of The Culture Builders explained. “We call it ‘poly’ because, quite simply, there will be many, many variations of a working pattern.”
It’s a change that organisations like Pfizer are harnessing. – Offering employees a level of flexibility that goes much further than the simple option of whether to work from the office or home. For Pfizer, this has meant replacing statutory hours with a flexible approach that’s designed to improve employees’ well-being, allowing them to build work routines that are best suited to their lives.
It’s a goal-oriented relationship with six-month assessments used to monitor performance, well-being and to review the arrangements.
What are the features of poly-work over hybrid?
The poly-work approach looks to create more flexible and fluid working relations and processes which empower employees. Some of the key elements include:
Increased workplace flexibility
A poly-work approach looks to remove boundaries and provide people options over how, when and where they work. It looks to enable hires to find what works best for them rather than to impose strict limits and schedules.
Poly-work focuses on outcomes. It focuses on how well things are done and not so much about how and where they are done. Are tasks being completed and goals reached? Are standards being maintained and policies adhered to?
It’s a goal-oriented approach that moves away from traditional micro-management and the ‘surveillance’ of remote workers to try to keep track of their daily work hours and activities.
The traditional model of one person per role is replaced by a more agile approach. Jobs can be split with shared responsibilities that remove the boundaries of more traditional roles.
For employers, it adds flexibility – allowing the skillsets of different employees to be mixed and matched against the demands of each role. It also offers greater continuity with tasks not being dependent on a single worker.
For employees, it offers support and flexible working arrangements that are better able to meet work-life balance requirements.
For a company like Pfizer, well-being has been the main driver for the move to poly-work. It’s a way to create more supportive and engaging organisations that are better attuned to the needs of their workforce.
The 2021 HR Sentiment Survey found more than two-thirds of HR leaders regarded well-being as their top priority. The benefits of a healthy workforce include reduced absenteeism and staff churn along with improved levels of engagement and productivity.
A key feature of poly-working is the innovative use of technology and tools to explore new ways of working. Cloud-based management tools and real-time processes have helped employers to rethink what’s possible.
Workers can access the data and tools they need from wherever they have an online connection. They can easily collaborate and communicate with colleagues remotely.
Technology allows HR teams to manage and monitor these new kinds of distributed workforces with automated systems to handle a more complex and diverse range of working practices.
What are the benefits of poly-work?
Poly-work represents a significant shift away from a more traditional hybrid model, but for many businesses, it’s a change that’s well worth taking. The potential benefits include:
Increased employee retention and recruitment
Poly-work is a progressive approach that focuses on people first. In turn, this creates a positive work atmosphere. And a positive organisational culture is key to both retention and attractiveness to new recruits.
Improved employee performance
Research by Gallup estimates that poor well-being costs organisations between 15 and 20% through sickness, absence, and reduced performance. These are losses that can be tackled with a poly-work approach that promotes a healthy working environment and builds a happy, content, and engaged workforce.
Businesses can find more effective ways to best align human resources to an organisation’s goals because poly-work removes traditional role-restrictive boundaries. It helps to create more adaptive and resilient workforces that can develop talent from within the organisation.
A McKinsey and Company study found that 63% of workers want employers to offer more flexible and remote work options. A resulting change in attitudes and expectations that happened during the pandemic as home-working became the norm and the rigidity of traditional office-based 9 to 6 structures were questioned.
Poly-work is a way for employers to meet these changing attitudes and to create organisational structures that meet the growing demands for a more flexible approach and a better work-life balance.