Hybrid work model: Qualcomm IT, HR execs share 6 priorities for leaders

As leaders reimagine the future of work using a hybrid model that blends remote and office, what's essential? Two Qualcomm leaders share how they're rethinking flexibility, benefits, engagement, and more
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Traditionally, the workplace has been where employees have developed a sense of belonging. In addition to getting lots of work done, it’s where we’d connect with others while walking to a meeting, share hopes and hardships over a cup of coffee, and set and achieve career goals and aspirations. As we all know, COVID-19 has forever changed that. 

We’re now in a unique position to reimagine work through new technologies and by reframing the employee experience to imagine something even better than before. At Qualcomm, human resources and IT have partnered to spearhead the future of work. This partnership has provided us with a unique, well-rounded perspective on how we work with our employees, what we need to support them, and has helped us envision what the dynamics of hybrid work will look like in the years ahead.

The hybrid workplace model: 6 key priorities 

In reimagining the future of work, our efforts have focused on a few areas: providing flexibility and accessibility, prioritizing communication, championing balance, and supporting engagement as we look ahead.

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1. Flexibility

In a survey of our employees last May, 88 percent said they wanted greater flexibility – it was something they valued highly and was key to their productivity and engagement. One of the experiments we’re trying is reconfiguring several of our office floors to allow those employees flexibility in how often they come into the office.

We want to embrace small and sustained experiments to give employees the flexibility they need

We’ve purposely shied away from mandating a set number of days a week that employees will need to be in-office versus remote because every individual’s situation is different. To support flexibility, these employees will be able to reserve offices, individualized spaces, and collaborative spaces when in the office.

This is an example of something we’re trying to be very thoughtful about. We want to embrace small and sustained experiments like this to give employees the flexibility they need while also ensuring that we can preserve our company culture and  spirit of innovation.

[ Does remote work leave you exhausted? Read our related story: Remote exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]

2. Accessibility

We’re aware of the unique challenges and opportunities that a hybrid work environment presents. It’s well known that women, for example, tend to take on more responsibilities around the home and with their children. For some, coming back into the workplace full-time might be a stressor that results in turnover. That’s something we’re keeping in mind as we build a future workplace that’s accessible to and supports everyone. In fact, we recently launched a “returnship” program that provides a way to re-enter the workforce for people who may have needed to step out for whatever reason during their careers. We’re pleased with the results thus far. 

By thinking more broadly about location and being more open-minded about where and how people work, we’re able to access a much wider talent pool.

Monitoring our organizational health is important for these reasons. We want to keep an eye on the attrition and advancement of all groups – women, people with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities, for example. This will enable us to design programs, support, and interventions to ensure our organization is as diverse and inclusive as possible.

Hybrid work also presents opportunities to attract and retain diverse talent. By thinking more broadly about location and being more open-minded about where and how people work, we’re able to access a much wider talent pool. That’s a big competitive advantage.

3. Benefits

In the past, companies provided employees with a variety of perks, whether it was free dry-cleaning for those who traveled frequently or free meals for employees on-campus. Because the past year has impacted how and where we work, we think it’s necessary to re-examine the perks and benefits we provide our employees so they’re in-line with this new future of work where some people are in the office and others aren’t.

Will people still want memberships to gyms, or would they rather have a Peloton subscription?

Will people still want memberships to gyms, or would they rather have a Peloton subscription? What will be more meaningful for our people as it relates to how they experience their job? We plan to perform a “would you rather” analysis to help us ensure that the programs we put in place are valuable to everyone.

4. Check-ins

Over the past year it’s become clear that our interactions and the role they play in our day-to-day lives are extremely important for engagement. Regular meetings, for example, are opportunities to set the tone for the week. Every Monday morning, we hold a CIO staff meeting that serves as a quick check-in to go over what our week looks like, as well as weekly performance management meetings where we’re checking in with the operations and how we’re executing against our deliverables and objectives.

Those status meetings are important, especially as we move toward hybrid, more global work. What’s just as important, however, are private one-on-one check-ins where people feel safe to have conversations they don’t want to have in front of 10 other people. You need to find time for both.

5. Balance

One of the challenges with remote work is that it’s difficult for employees to find balance; they’re working too hard and too long, and the fear of burnout is real. To establish a better sense of balance, we introduced global well-being days where we shut down the whole company. Just as we’ve enabled connectivity – through the smartphone revolution and now through 5G – it’s equally as important to enable opportunities for employees to take time for themselves and their families.

One approach that many leaders have embraced is setting weekly meeting-free zones.

This balance is something we need to inject into our day-to-day. One approach that many leaders have embraced is setting weekly meeting-free zones. While this is becoming more common across workplaces, at Qualcomm it’s a message that comes from the top where we give teams permission to block out that time in their calendar. This has been very well-received and has allowed people to get work done for a period of time without being bombarded by meetings. 

6. Engagement

Since we’ve been remote, and as we plan for a hybrid workplace, we’ve had to reconsider how we engage. Before, it used to be in-person through travel, town halls, one-on-one meetings, and water cooler chats. These moments are invaluable, and it’s important not to lose them. 

Today, we host virtual employee group connecting meetings with about 10 randomly selected employees and give them the opportunity to share what’s going on with them and any thoughts they might have. We make it clear that these meetings have no rules or agenda—it’s about understanding their perspective and opening up dialogue. When we’ve been remote – and as we move toward a hybrid environment, you need to be purposeful about starting conversations that might not otherwise happen.          

As we look ahead to the next year, we know the future workplace will look different for different teams. What’s important to us is that we create a hybrid work environment that’s flexible, accessible, and inclusive, while prioritizing balance, engagement, and communication. When IT and human resources partner together on these efforts, the future of work will be transformational. 

[ Need to make more thoughtful decisions? Get 4 styles of decision-making: A leader’s guide. ]

Mary Gendron
Mary Gendron is senior vice president and chief information officer for Qualcomm Incorporated. As the leader of Qualcomm’s global IT organization, Gendron provides strategic direction within the IT organization and drives operational excellence across the enterprise.
Heather Ace
Heather Ace is executive vice president of human resources for Qualcomm Incorporated.

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