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Are Distributors Ready to Embrace a Hybrid Work Model?

Hiring Advice

What’s the best post-pandemic working model — remote, hybrid or in-office? Workers and their employers don’t always agree on how to answer that question. The ‘we’ve always done it this way’ approach has worked in electrical distribution for as long as I’ve been around, but it isn’t going to work for long. Everyone agrees that possibly half of your workforce can’t work from home, you can’t pick orders from home, manage a counter, or deliver product, but what about those who can? Many of your administrative roles have been done remotely at some point in the last two years…the more forward-thinking companies have made the switch to a full-time work from home strategy, or hybrid flex schedule and are just now starting to quantify that switch. Roles such as inside sales, project management, quotations, administrative support roles, finance, human resources, marketing, legal and IT have made a significant shift to a work from home model….and it is working! I have clients who are generating revenues ranging from $50M to over $6B and surprisingly, the adoption of this strategy has paid off most for the mid-sized distributor (less than $500M) Over the course of 2022, my clients who do embrace this new strategy are seeing everything from improved productivity to overall job satisfaction. Some companies have taken advantage of this shift in business to free themselves from real estate that is no longer necessary and in turn have seen marked improvements in profitability. I’ve seen more branch consolidations and the emergence of more and more distribution centers than at any other time in the last 20 years. The landscape is changing, the industry will certainly not escape those changes. Are you ready?

Recently AT&T ran a survey of employees and leaders at large US companies, and the results are telling. This survey was composed of 303 United States-based respondents, 87% above director level, across five key industries, with more than one-million employees represented and 34% with companies over $1 billion in revenue.

Based the survey; 86% of employees would prefer hybrid work while 64% of businesses would prefer a full return to the office. The discrepancy could be rooted in a lack of preparation.

72% of businesses reported having no hybrid strategy and 76% reported not having the right performance indicators to support permanent hybrid work. At the same time, 100% of respondents agree that a hybrid work model will help court talent in one of the tightest labor markets in years.

  • Hybrid work isn’t without challenges. For instance, people complained that they were forced to commute three hours roundtrip to work in a cubicle, only to find that the folks they need to collaborate with aren’t even in the office. The person is left feeling frustrated, fuming that they are sending emails and jumping on Zoom calls in the office by themself, when they could have been home, saving the commute time and money for gas.
  • The results reveal that while hybrid is the preferred choice by many businesses, 72% of businesses lack a clear hybrid-work strategy.  The findings also show other sentiments and challenges around Covid-driven hybrid working, including lack of innovation, insufficient oversight, and cultural shifts.
  • Alicia Dietsch, senior vice president of business marketing at AT&T, said about the survey, “There’s been a non-reversible shift in the way business is done thanks to the constraints of Covid-19. It’s clear that a successful talent program now requires a hybrid work policy, but that policy needs to be supported by a strategic tech-first cultural reset, to ensure business growth and competition.” Dietsch pointed out, “Firms need to ask themselves if they have the in-house expertise to achieve this, or whether it’s now time to go beyond a partner in remote infrastructure rollout to a partner in tech-first remote business strategy.”

Highlights Of The AT&T Study

  • Hybrid work will be the default by 2024, half of work will be performed offsite: 81% believe hybrid work will be the foremost working model by 2024, with 56% of work done off site
  • Vast majority of businesses lack a detailed hybrid work strategy:72% lack a detailed strategy and 76% don’t have the right key performance indicators (KPIs) to support hybrid working models
  • Tension between what employees want and what organizations prefer: 86% believe their employees prefer a hybrid work model, but 64% believe their organization prefers an on-premises work model
  • 100% of respondents believe a hybrid work model will help attract young talent

It’s interesting to note how quickly things have changed. Last year redefined how companies conducted business with just 24% of respondents’ employees working onsite. Before Covid-19, these nontraditional work models were more likely to be viewed as employee perks.

Lack of workplace innovation, insufficient oversight and cultural shifts were identified as three barriers to successful hybrid work, but respondents believe they’re not insurmountable. With investment in strategy, building culture remotely and the application of technology—specifically AI—in critical business use-cases, firms can transition to a successful hybrid-first work environment.

The top challenges to effective hybrid work identified by the chief experience officer—a C-suite business executive responsible for a company’s overall experience—include maintaining employee oversight, losing institutional or tribal knowledge, and sustaining company culture—all traditionally highly associated with in-person work.

Mass adoption of new work models has shown to be partially effective, with 79% of firms believing that employees have been productive, although not without resulting challenges, with only 45% confident in employee innovation throughout the period.

Gaurav Pant, cofounder, and chief insights officer at Incisiv, said about artificial intelligence and machine learning, Covid-19 has been the single most transformative event in shaping the future of work. Attitudes toward working models have dramatically transformed over the last 24 months, and the ‘hybrid’ working model will soon become default. Firms need to upgrade their employee technology stack and undergo a cultural reset to prepare for this new normal.”

Artificial intelligence and machine learning were identified as the top transformative technologies in the survey, with their intrinsic value identified specifically in the areas of employee training, intelligent enterprise search and learning and conversational help.

The research shows that while employee productivity is maturing, with high analytics adoption, other areas like revenue leakage and employee retention require further investment. A need for deeper analytics and insights, driven by AI, into both the customer and employee can be accomplished by mining and transforming data from remote conversations and interactions to build new models of operation in targeted business functions.

Businesses moved with urgency to distance employees. Now, we need to do the same when it comes to deploying the tools needed to overcome distance. Closing the gap between a business and their customers and employees should be a priority for every electrical distributor in the industry.

Prudence Thompson

Senior Partner, Electrical Distribution Recruiter

Egret Consulting Group

847-307-7126 office 847-571-7080 cell

Read the full Forbes article here