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The Future of Work: Digital Nomad, or a Hybrid Worker? A short introduction to digital maturity

Friday, 18 June, 2021
@Monika Ciesielska

While we may wonder if it’s already happening, or if it will only be some time before we can talk about post-covid-reality, preparations for returning to the office are underway, and companies are trying to figure out how and when this should happen in the most optimal way.  At the same time, leaders, based on the observations made during the lockdown, are thinking about how to develop best practices and embed processes in the new reality.

Digital nomads – that’s US

The term digital nomad has so far been attributed mainly to programmers, writers and creative positions.  The definition says that this is a person who does their work online from a location of their choice, instead of going to the office every day.  Did you know that a good portion of us, over the past year, have become digital nomads?

Harvard Business Review, in its published findings from a survey of white-collar workers, draws the following conclusions about working from home:

  1. Work efficiency: the lockdown has helped us focus on work that actually matters.  We spend 12% less time in lengthy meetings, and 9% more time interacting with clients and external partners.
  2. Prioritizing tasks: the lockdown has made us take responsibility for our schedules.  We do 50% more activities by choice, favoring those that have more value in our eyes.
  3. Positive evaluation of our own activities: we began to perceive and evaluate our work as more valuable to our employer and ourselves.  The number of tasks rated as burdensome dropped from 27% to 12%.  The work we do is rated as tiring to me and contributing to our goals.

Analyzing the results of the HBR survey, we come to the positive conclusion that working from home is:

  • Definitely more effective.
  • Focused on completing meaningful tasks.
  • Employees are more intrinsically motivated.
  • Employees take “ownership” of their tasks.
  • Employees are much more autonomous, which promotes creativity. 
  • The company’s leadership has become more aware of the importance of management by objectives.

Threats and concerns of leaders with regard to working from home

Staying the course in an already functioning project group is not very difficult.  But building something new, formulating structures, and resolving internal conflicts remotely – all these are challenges. Theoretically, we can get everything done through online messaging, but many leaders feel that they are losing some kind of connection with their team.

Regular online meetings with employees are mainly focused on keeping the team’s morale up and discussing the tasks at hand. However, there is a lack of space, and even more of a lack of form, for long-term team development.  It is more difficult to throw an employee in at the deep end if that employee does not have the opportunity to observe colleagues and learn from them.  They are left alone with theoretical knowledge without the opportunity to gain empirical knowledge.

Leaders also worry about their own development.  Paradoxically, the offer of webinars and courses from the world’s top universities has increased.  Online learning is a way to acquire knowledge. But without opportunities for experimentation and personal reflection, this is not a sufficient ingredient for development.

The sweet face of hybrid work

A recent Accenture report indicates that 83% of employees consider the hybrid work model to be optimal.  We’re talking about a model where employees have the option to work remotely 25% to 75% of the time.  The survey was conducted among 9,326 employees from 11 countries around the world.

The appeal of the hybrid model comes from the ability to bridge the two worlds and take advantage of both work models that most of us are comfortable with.   Employees who used a hybrid work model during Covid-19 enjoyed better mental health, built stronger social relationships at work, and were more likely to feel in the right place doing the work for their employer.  What’s more, hybrid workers also experienced less burnout than those who worked entirely on-site or entirely remotely.

The typical workplace no longer exists. A very wise statement was made in the Accenture report:

It is wrong to ask  – where should people work in the future? The right thing to ask is – what unlocks a person’s potential, enabling them to be healthy and productive, regardless of where they work?

What do employees want?

Accenture identifies six specific aspects that, when present, ensure high employee performance regardless of where they work.  Let’s start with the soft aspects among which employees indicate the following:

  1. Autonomy at work, specifically realistic goals, a culture of ongoing feedback, and the ability to manage your own time.
  2. A positive organizational culture.
  3. Clear policies on hygiene and prevention, such as staffing levels and disinfecting surfaces.
  4. Supportive leadership based on active listening and concern for the well-being of team members and their personal development.

The next two aspects reflect the need for digital transformation that the vast majority of organizations now recognize.  A need that has grown in importance over the past few years, so that eventually Covid-19 will crank up the sound of the digital tune that is now resonating in most market sectors.  Employees surveyed by Accenture by no means left these areas undeveloped, signaling the need for organizations to increase their digital maturity:

5. Improving skills in emerging technologies such as cloud computing, digital security, robotics, virtual reality and digital collaboration tools.

6. Building a strong digital vision within the organization.  A vision that is clearly communicated and supported through employee training and upskilling opportunities, and that encourages the use of digital tools to drive innovation, collaboration and employee mobility.

Digital nomads, or a hybrid model?

I encourage you to discuss and share your views on the choice of working model in your organizations.  Digital nomads, or a hybrid model?

In my organization it is three days working from the office and two days working from home. Thanks to this division I have more and more personal meetings with candidates, see clients and rediscover the joy of interacting with people.  Additionally I have a chance to cook more often, practice yoga and pet Czarek the cat, which my daughter and I recently took in from a shelter.  Office and home work allows me organize my week differently, I find space to expand my knowledge, I read a lot more and I enter completely new areas. 

Spoiler alert: I will soon share the results of my explorations in a completely new form.  It will be about human capital and digital maturity of an organization.

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