A Hybrid Work System Built to Last

Mar 8, 2023

by the Staff at Great Place to Work

For many companies, work will never look the same.

And we believe that is a good thing.

—DJ Casto, Synchrony

As a return to in-person work faces continued scrutiny, workers’ relationships to the corporate office and the future of work have never been more uncertain. Many employees who have spent the past two years working remotely are reluctant to return to the office on a full-time basis, even as their employers offer in-person benefits. Instead, many employees hope to find a middle ground in which both salaried workers and hourly workers can retain the flexibility that virtual work affords without risking the cohesion of the company as a whole.

Redefining the Workplace

The success of Synchrony, a Connecticut-based consumer financial company, is one heartening case study for flexible work. Synchrony learned early in the pandemic that the hybrid model can flourish and drive success by amplifying employee satisfaction. In March 2020 the company moved nearly its entire workforce home to better protect employees from COVID-19. In doing so, it recognized that it needed to transform how employees worked, how the company supported its people, and how workers connected and engaged with one another.

“We found that people could still be innovative,” recalls DJ Casto, Synchrony’s executive vice president and chief human resources. “We were actually making decisions faster, and we were leveling the playing field in a sense because it no longer mattered if you were in a conference room or on the phone.” These results—combined with a company survey revealing that 85 percent of its workforce wanted some form of remote work

after the pandemic—pushed the company to move away from traditional offices to a new model that gives employees who want to work at home the option to do so while still ensuring that groups can come together at a physical office location when needed.

The use of these “hubs” for brainstorming sessions, networking, cultural events, and other business activities enables staff to retain the flexibility to work from home when desired. Synchrony’s innovative hub approach has had a significant impact on its workplace culture. Workers appreciate the option for hybrid work, and in a recent survey conducted by Great Place to Work, 93 percent of its employees stated that this new system gives them the flexibility they need.

Flexible scheduling (such as flexible monthly schedules and split schedules) was another huge win for employees, even among hourly workers who do not typically have the option to influence their own schedules. (For example, Casto says, “If parents need to take care of their children during a certain part of the day, they can adapt their time to what works best for them while meeting the needs of the business.”) Other initiatives such as “Flexible Fridays”—which encourage holding few meetings on Friday mornings and none in the afternoons—have also helped.

Building something special together

Still, a degree of pioneering was required to put this groundbreaking model of flexible work into place. To build a model of hybrid work that truly met the needs of all workers, Synchrony recognized that it needed to proactively check in with its employees to determine what was working and what needed adjustment. Once the company became comfortable with the idea that some ideas would not be successful, it was able to adopt an agile approach while seeking feedback and responding to employees. “Everyone across the organization knew we were building something special

together,” says Casto. In doing so, they discovered vital components to ensure that a hybrid work model could succeed.

For example, continuous, proactive listening is an important element of building and optimizing systems of flexible work. “We worked with employees to codesign and experiment with flexible work options that lead to creative solutions,” he says. “Start with a pilot and constantly iterate and adapt. Stay close to the data to validate ways the new model supports all employees.”

Investment in the right technology and intentional coaching have also been vital to the success of these programs. “Moving toward a coaching style of leadership ensures that everyone actively takes part in new ways of working,” Casto explains. “Managers must build a continuous feedback loop that energizes employees to be innovative and nimble and to work to maintain connections in a digital or hybrid environment.” This means ongoing, honest conversations and clarity around expectations and outcomes, as well as a willingness to test, learn, adapt, and fail.

Looking Forward

The Great Resignation highlighted employees’ drive to speak up for what they want and to take action to get it. “Now more than ever,” Casto observes, “employees value the ability to continue working while caring for themselves and their families without worrying about sacrificing one over the other.” A company’s ability to attract new talent and retain current workers will depend on its willingness to embrace hybrid work.

This article was paid for by UKG and produced by FORTUNE Brand Studio. Fortune editorial staff was not involved in its creation or production.

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