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The future of work? It’s a hybrid experience

Ben Whitter, Author of Human Experience at Work, and CEO - HEX Organization

One of the great successes across the UK workforce in the past year has been the sheer scale of adaptation that businesses have delivered through new and flexible models of work. But will this new found respect for flexible work last and what does the future of work really look like for the workforce? Ben Whitter, Author of Human Experience at Work, and CEO of HEX Organization, discusses the rise of the hybrid experience of work.

Any arguments about the viability of flexible and remote working practices have simply faded away, for good reason. UK Plc has proven conclusively that when the need arises, business can and will find a way to adapt and sustain themselves. At least this is what new research from Microsoft is concluding. Indeed, a study of over 4,000 workers has revealed that almost 9 out of 10 (87%) employees that work in an office and work from home say their businesses have adapted to hybrid working, which is usually a combination of time spent at home, in the office or on the go.

The Work Smarter to Live Better report by Microsoft documented examples of how companies have been achieving this level of adaptation. They’ve been busy transforming their systems, processes and polices, to better serve their workforces. In effect, they have been designing a new hybrid organisation and it’s proving to be immensely popular. Employees have been given more control and autonomy over their work, and guess what? They like it. In fact, people have thoroughly embraced this new mode of work, with many polls of employees continuing to indicate a strong preference for a more balanced approach to how they dice up their time between home and office.

Incredibly, according to the research, only 10% of companies still do not have a home working policy. These companies are the outliers, as the hybrid organisation is now having its moment in the sun. Yet, CEOs continue to challenge this narrative in the belief that people work better when they are together in one location. Some companies are firm in their plans to get people back to the office, but are they missing an opportunity to better serve their people, and in turn, their customers?

No doubt this is an exciting period of change and transformation, but the smart money is on the hybrid model. Why? Because the demand is there from employees. A lack of supply by companies in this regard will lead to serious differentiation and potentially a talent exodus. If one company offers a well-designed hybrid experience that is built around the person in a holistic way, and another offers an experience of work that best suits the company, there will only be one winner, especially for those with highly sought-after skills and experience.

Naturally, without any meaningful co-creation between the organisation and the workforce, gaps will emerge in expectations and the performance of the employee experience may well suffer and generate a less than positive impact on the business. Yet, there are major opportunities here for all types of UK businesses to accelerate their growth and enhance their performance through a considered and thoughtful approach to designing the workplace.

This brings us to some pretty firm conclusions that we can draw from Microsoft’s research, which took place at the back end of 2020. Notably:

Greater support for hybrid working
Companies will need to revitalise all of their processes and people management practices, and design an employee experience that works for everyone, wherever they are rather than their designated office space. This is detailed and difficult work – a renewed appreciation for human-centred, empathetic, and experience-driven professionals would serve organisations well in this regard given some of the communication rhythms that will need to change, and a focus on delivering positive mental health outcomes.

Fair is fair
Just because people work from home or any other location doesn’t mean they’re any less valuable. Firms will need to ensure that wherever people get their work done, they get the same opportunities for reward, recognition, and career growth. Out of sight, out of mind is the last thing we want as we develop the hybrid work experience. Indeed, a new presenteeism is emerging that will need to be managed well. Employees can often struggle to separate work and life, and this becomes a critical issue if there is an underlying perception within a hybrid workforce that to get-ahead, people must be always-on. The remedy is to create an inclusive and supportive hybrid workplace. If employers rise to this challenge, people will be given what they need and the flexibility to thrive from anywhere.

Health is wealth
One element emerging from the global pandemic has been the focus on health and wellbeing within workplaces. Any companies not putting this front and centre already look very old-fashioned, and if they continue to ignore it, they will likely be replaced in their markets by companies who do. It’s not just a good business decision, it’s also the right thing to do. It’s that important. Building trust within the workforce is critical and time-consuming work, but it is time very well spent. Making sure people understand this commitment as the most practical of levels will be a key element of successful hybrid approaches. Meet the moment –companies will need to be constantly thinking about the mental health and wellbeing of their workforces. How do they do this? Well, the truly great companies create a supportive environment for their employees through human-centred policies and practices.

Work in your own way
While the emphasis for many is largely focused on remote or home working, there are opportunities to tailor and design a more inclusive and powerful hybrid experience at work. There is much untapped potential in this regard as the research points out – changes to job roles, working hours, job shares, and policies all make a contribution to a stronger and more flexible workforce. With the right tools in place, and a much firmer commitment to flexible working, companies have the opportunity to personalise their employee experiences in a way that resonates with each unique individual.

When it comes to the experience of hybrid working, there is a lot to consider, as Microsoft’s research uncovers. Connection, communication, and compassion all come into the company building playbook – not as gimmicks or short-term fixes – but as genuine commitments by employers to help their people thrive. We can’t leave the hybrid experience to chance – it needs to be designed with people and co-created at every stage if it is to be sustained as a powerful management idea long into the future.

Interestingly, this hybrid work model was an unavoidable business response to a global pandemic. It was forced on the workforce, but now in large part, it is favoured by the workforce. Let’s make the most of this opportunity to deliver a human experience at work that works for everyone.

You can read the full Microsoft report HERE

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